BOSTON — When it comes to NBA players, Giannis Antetokounmpo is as good as it gets.
He has length, size, athleticism, pogo stick-like leaping ability.
And oh yeah, he’s the reigning league MVP and the focal point of the Greek National Team which is on to the medal round of play for the FIBA World Cup where they will face Team USA on Saturday.
The World Cup is full of talented players who have kept their talents overseas, forcing Team USA to do quicker studies of opponents that they never see play with regularity.
Uh, they know him well — better than they wish they did.
Because as we saw last season, Antetokounmpo is already one of the leagues’ top players whose game, as good as it is now, has clear and undeniable levels of which he can clearly get better, be more dominant and in doing so, become an even bigger problem than he is now for opponents.
“Giannis is pretty special as far as good players are concerned,” said Team USA head coach Gregg Popovich. “But when they play for their countries, we like to say that they become superheroes. They get together and ... they fall in love with each other, they enjoy playing with each other.”
Chemistry was indeed one of the chief concerns for Team USA heading into pool play which ended with a 98-45 win over Japan to cap off an undefeated 3-0 record.
But the loss to Australia in exhibition play soon followed by a 93-92 overtime win over Turkey in pool play has galvanized this team in a way that has made them better and even more complete.
“We haven’t been together very long,” said Popovich, who added, “and I think our players are enjoying playing with each other and understanding that consistency is necessary and what we have to do as a team to be successful.”
And while much of the build-up to the Team USA vs Greece game will center on Antetokounmpo, Team USA players know all too well that spending too much time locking in on one player is a sure-fire way of setting themselves up for a loss if they’re not smart about the preparation process.
“For us, understanding that he's a great player, he's obviously the MVP, but it's not just him on that team,” said Team USA and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell. “They have other guys on that team who can really get going and we've got to be able to lock everybody down and pressure defensively and I think we'll be in good shape.”
The Greek roster includes players who have spent some time in the NBA, such as 7-foot-2 center Georgios Papagiannis who was a former NBA lottery pick in 2016, and point guard Nick Calathes.
Khris Middleton knows all too well the challenge of balancing the proper amount of attention to pay to his Milwaukee Bucks teammate, while not letting his Antetokounmpo’s teammates get too comfortable.
“He (Antetokounmpo) is the MVP, but at the same time, they do have other great players on that team,” Middleton said. “They have a couple of bigs, a couple of shooters, so it’s not just all about Giannis. He’s a smart player. He knows how to use his teammates, so you can't just focus all on him.”
And if anyone knows that lesson, it’s Team Shamrock.
Jaylen Brown, one of four Celtics players on Team USA, was asked about that experience of having played against Antetokounmpo in the playoffs and whether that gives Team USA an edge.
“I guess we’ll see pretty soon,” said Brown who wasn’t offering up anything close to bulletin board material for the Greek Freak and his teammates. “I’m looking forward to it.”
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