MILWAUKEE — YouTube is full of highlight material on Bucks “small” forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, the slender, 6-11 “Greek Freak.” But the one that best captures his otherworldly athleticism is when he crosses half-court and uses only one dribble before going into his patented “Euro-step” and taking off about 13 feet from the basket to dunk.
That’s the sort of thing the Nets (18-30) are hoping to prevent Friday night at the BMO Harris Bradley Center when they face the Bucks (24-22), who recently fired Jason Kidd as coach but still hold the eighth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference. Antetokounmpo, who will start for the East in the All-Star Game, is averaging 28.2 points (second in the NBA to James Harden), 10.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks per game.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson puts him in a category with Cleveland’s LeBron James and Golden State’s Kevin Durant as the toughest players to cover because the 23-year-old can play any position on the floor.
“It’s so different, because he’s a five, a [6-11] guy handling the ball,” Atkinson said after practice on Thursday. “It’s not a 6-4 guy doing it, it’s a 6-11 guy.
“I’ve seen teams just get messed up in their coverages because it’s so different from what they’re used to seeing, a big guy with that kind of versatility. He can be in a lot of different positions with the ball or setting ball screens . . . You really have to have versatile defenders.”
Three Nets who should see plenty of Antetokounmpo are starting forwards Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and DeMarre Carroll and backup center Jarrett Allen. Hollis-Jefferson said Antetokounmpo is “up there as one of the toughest covers for me just because of how athletic he is, how long he is and then how skilled he is on top of that. High IQ.
“In transition I feel like is where he gets going, his energy. If he gets a Euro-step dunk, his team is amped up and that kind of gets the momentum going for him. We try to limit that.”
Antetokounmpo missed the Bucks’ previous two games to rest his sore right knee but is expected to return against the Nets. Carroll suggested the Nets might tire him out by throwing different defenders at him.
“When he’s in transition he’s like a walking bucket,” Carroll said. “You could sit back and want him to shoot a three, but he’s not going to settle. He’s going to still try to get to the rim. That’s what makes him really difficult . . . He’s a freak of nature.”
Rookie center Allen has finished the past two games for the Nets, and Atkinson likes the rim protection he provides but is worried Allen lacks experience guarding the pick-and-roll to handle Antetokounmpo in that situation.
Asked about the incredible space the “Greek Freak” can cover in a few strides, Allen said, “It’s like he’s a triple-jumper almost. He can go that far with only one dribble. It’s another experience, an All-Star. He’s going to have a lot of tricks up his sleeve, and we’re going to have to find the best way to deal with it.”