One of the great Bucks debates of 2016 has centered around Giannis Antetokounmpo’s position. Well, maybe that debate has only happened here at Brew Hoop, but still. Throughout the summer, our Locked on Bucks podcast has debated whether or not Giannis Antetokounmpo should be called a “point guard” or a “point forward” or a “small forward” or a “power forward.” So after months of jabbing at one another about it, my co-host Frank Madden and I have decided to each make our cases and
confuse you clear things up once and for all.
Now, there is a line of thinking that would suggest none of this matters. If Antetokounmpo is on the floor and the Bucks are playing well, why does it matter what you call him? Being called a point guard does not unlock a new set of plays that can only be ran if you designate a certain player as a point guard, nor does it give Antetokounmpo special powers that can only be granted when someone is called a point guard. So, ultimately it should not matter, but that just doesn’t seem to be the case.
Over time, the archetypal descriptions of basketball positions have led to a team’s point guard taking on an elevated level of prestige. The point guard is the floor general. He is the quarterback. He is an extension of the coach on the floor. He is (insert other cliche here). There is a level of importance, and often leadership, ascribed to any player filling that role. In the lead-up to the upcoming NBA season, it appears as though the Bucks as an organization are very aware of this, but they don’t seem to necessarily share the same approach to its nomenclature.
Bucks head coach Jason Kidd has never shied away from calling Antetokounmpo a point guard. In fact, much of the excitement of “Point Giannis” has stemmed from Kidd handing Antetokounmpo point guard responsibilities after the All-Star Break and happily declaring Antetokounmpo the team’s point guard following the Bucks game against the Lakers last February:
“Giannis is playing at a very high level right now. After the break, we’ve made some changes, we’ve kind of given him the ball as the point guard. We haven’t announced that he’s the point guard, but we’re letting him start the offense. On misses, we’re trying to get the ball to him as quick as possible and have everybody else run. And he’s made some incredible passes.”
Since that moment, Kidd has alternated between referring to Giannis as the team’s point guard and “just a basketball player”, but during Antetokounmpo’s extension press conference, we were given a bit of an inside look at how the Bucks coach might actually feel.
“I think it was in Atlanta and coach decided to make the decision for me to be the point guard and I wasn’t expecting that. So, it was like 15 minutes before the game and Coach was like, ‘You’re handling the ball tonight,’ so I think after that game...we won. Right, coach?” Giannis said. “After that game, I was like you know my teammates trust me with the ball in my hands. Coach trusts me. It gave me a lot of confidence that night., so I was like, ‘Okay. I might be able to take the next stop right here. And I think I took it. This is not the finish line. It’s just the beginning. I know that I have a lot of steps forward to take.”
And on Media Day, when asked about Antetokounmpo’s work at point guard, Kidd didn’t bristle at the question, but rather talked about Antetokounmpo playing point guard when he was first scouted by John Hammond, the ways in which Antetokounmpo could improve in that role, and how he struggled the first time they put him at the position. Yet while Kidd doesn’t shy away from naming Antetokounmpo the team’s point guard, Hammond has been somewhat adamant in keeping Antetokounmpo away from that vaunted position -- or at least the semantics of the term point guard.
After the press conference announcing Antetokounmpo’s contract extension, the media contingent had a chance to talk with Hammond about Antetokounmpo. In our short chat, Hammond mentioned the great vision and passing ability Antetokounmpo has always had with the ball in his hands and how Kidd “playing him on the ball so much” really allowed him to show off those skills. I followed up on his comments with a question asking if he ever imagined Antetokounmpo playing point guard as a possibility. Hammond answered:
“Well, to me....we can use that terminology, point guard, but I always say, ‘You are what you guard, you are what you defend.’ We’re not going to march Giannis Antetokounmpo out there and say, ‘Starting at point guard...’. We’re going to start somebody at point guard. He’s a facilitator and a playmaker, but I do think he has great abilities to do that.”
Why the reluctance to just call him a point guard? It’s a strange quirk from Hammond and a number of Bucks fans (**cough** FRANK **cough**) that has become a borderline obsession for me.
Is it simply the elevated expectations for leadership and playmaking that comes along with being a point guard? That seems like a strange thing to try to avoid as Antetokounmpo is now undoubtedly the team’s best player with the Middleton injury and the team’s most capable playmaker as a point guard or wing player.
Is it because he doesn’t defend point guards? That seems silly when it should be really helpful/interesting/awesome that while your point guard may struggle to cover point guards, he can capably defend the other four positions on the court.
Is it because there are times when someone else brings the ball up the floor? That one kills me. Antetokounmpo is disqualified from being the point guard because when he shared the floor with Tyler Ennis last season there were times when Ennis brought the ball up the floor. Bringing the ball up the floor only 80 percent of the time after being switched to point guard means he is still just a facilitator and playmaker. Come on.
Keeping up the facade of Antetokounmpo at any position other than point guard is especially bizarre now that Antetokounmpo calls himself a point guard. When asked about playing point guard at Media Day, Antetokounmpo talked about how he actually prioritized his development at point guard over everything else this offseason.
“You know, I thank God for our coaching staff. Sean Sweeney was with me basically all summer. He was helping me work on my jumpshot, but he was helping me how to learn the game more too. How to learn the point guard position more. And I think I sweat a lot. I put a lot of work in this summer, but my main focus this summer, I’m not going to lie, wasn’t even my jumpshot. It was how to be more comfortable being able to run the team and be a point guard and put my teammates in the right spot and make plays.”
The questions about playing point guard continued throughout the day, but Antetokounmpo never wavered. He never once questioned the premise, but rather embraced the irregularity of his new position.
“I know that it’s something that’s never been done before. Even like, people still don’t realize that I’m actually going to be the starting point guard of this team and I’m almost seven feet. People don’t realize that,” Antetokounmpo said. “You can see they still have my position listed as small forward or forward, but J Kidd helps me a lot, Sean Sweeney, of course. The entire coaching staff, they keep me grounded and try to put my main focus on how I’m going to run the team this year.”
If Antetokounmpo is going to embrace it, you can too. Enough of these rhetorical games. Deal with it. Accept it. Love it.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a point guard.
[Stay tuned for Frank’s incorrect counterargument this weekend]