Giannis Antetokounmpo has been drawing favorable comparisons to some of the game’s iconic players, one being the legendary Earvin “Magic’’ Johnson.
And that’s understandable.
Johnson, at 6-foot-9, was an exceptionally tall point guard in his day with the Los Angeles Lakers. Likewise, Antetokounmpo, at a shade under 7 feet, is an exceptionally tall point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks.
Bucks general manager John Hammond, who has been around the NBA game for 27 years as an assistant coach, scout or front office executive, is among those who see the “Magic’’ in Antetokounmpo’s game.
“You watch him handle it and see him looking over the top with that size. That’s kind of what Magic did,” Hammond said. “Magic laid on top with the ball, and one of his unique abilities was he was so much bigger and could see over the top of the defense.”
Indeed, Antetokounmpo’s lanky frame – just like it did for Johnson — gives him a distinct advantage over most of the league’s point guards who, in many cases, are almost a foot shorter.
But that’s where the comparisons between Johnson and Antetokounmpo should stop. Antetokounmpo isn’t remotely close and will likely never be the extraordinary floor general Johnson was during his hall of fame career.
Johnson was an assist machine – he averaged 11.2 assists even while averaging 19.5 points in his career — unequivocally made the players around him better – even when he was Antetokounmpo’s age.
When Johnson was 22 years old, he averaged 9.5 assists – almost twice as many as Antetokounmpo is averaging, which is 5.5 and which ranks the Greek Freak a lowly 24thin the league in that category.
Making matters worse, and making Bucks coach Jason Kidd’s decision to convert Antetokounmpo into the team’s lead guard look more questionable, is this: He turns the ball over way too much. Entering Wednesday night’s game against Utah, Antetokounmpo was averaging an alarming 3.0 turnovers a game.
Do the match and Antetokoummpo’s assist-to-turnover ratip is 1.83 – the worst of the top 30 assist leaders in the NBA.
When the orchestrator of your offense has such a dismal turnover-to-assist ratio, it’s almost inevitable his team is going to struggle. The Bucks are struggling and in a big way.
They have lost eight of their last 10 games, with only the inept Brooklyn Nets having posted a worse mark at 1-9. In that same stretch, Antetekounmpo averaged under five assists a game and had a mere three assists in a loss to Miami and just two assists in another loss to Philadelphia. In two games during that span, he actually had more turnovers than assists.
“In defense of him (Antetokounmpo), he’d probably have a few more assists if not for their (the Bucks) lack of shooters,’’ said a veteran NBA advance scout. “At the same time, he’s a high turnover guy. It’s tough to win when you have a high turnover guy like that.
“Personally, I wouldn’t play him all those big minutes at the point. I would play him just spot minutes there.’’
An NBA exec concurred: “I wouldn’t be playing him all those minutes at point guard, that’s for sure. And not just because of his turnovers, although that is disconcerting.
“I just think they’re asking him to do too much. I think he’s wearing down. He looks exhausted at times. I’d use him a lot more off the ball and take the load off him.’’
So, while there isn’t any doubt Antetokounmpo is a gifted player – his selection to the Eastern Conference All-Star team validates his talents — the question remains, just as it did when Antetokounmpo entered the league four years, ago: Which is the best position for him and, more importantly, for the Bucks? Point guard doesn’t seem to be it.