Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t get a summer trip to Brazil.
He did, however, get the next best thing.
The Milwaukee Bucks confirmed Tuesday that they had signed the “Greek Freak” to a four-year, $100 million contract extension that will kick in for the 2017-18 season. Antetokounmpo is the unquestioned star of a young, athletic Milwaukee roster that is packed with untapped potential, and now he’s locked in until 2021.
“Thank you for giving me this opportunity to be here for the next five years,” Antetokounmpo said to general manager John Hammond at a press conference on Tuesday. “I’m going to keep working hard and make the Bucks a great organization. Hopefully, one day, we’ll be a championship team.”
With Khris Middleton signing an extension last summer, Hammond and coach Jason Kidd are fully committed to their unconventional roster that also features Jabari Parker. Matthew Dellavedova was signed in free agency to likely start at point guard, and both he and fellow free-agent signing Mirza Teletovic will provide much-needed outside shooting for a team that ranked last in the NBA in three-pointers in 2015-16.
Antetokounmpo, though, is the key. He’s played three seasons in the NBA, so it is easy to forget that he doesn’t turn 22 until December. He’s a 6’11” wing who has the court vision to run the point on offense. His enormous hands make a basketball look like a softball, and his athletic ability allows him to get from the three-point line to the rim in a couple giant strides.
There are still holes in his game — he’s just a 28 percent three-point shooter, and while he sees the floor well enough to play the point, his brain often sees passes that his talent can’t quite handle. He posted a career-high 4.4 assists per 36 minutes last season, but also averaged 2.7 turnovers.
The addition of Dellavedova will take pressure off Antetokounmpo, allowing him to develop his passing skills without always having to be the primary playmaker. More importantly, Dellavedova’s three-point shooting means that Middleton’s deadly outside shot will no longer be the starting lineup’s only threat from behind the arc. Teams are going to have to work harder at defending the perimeter, which will leave more room at the rim for Antetokounmpo and Parker’s slashing attacks.
Moving Greg Monroe to the bench will also unclog the post, providing more lanes for Milwaukee’s more athletic youngsters. With Teletovic available off the bench as a shooter, the Bucks might finally have the kind of supporting cast that Antetokounmpo has always needed.
It will certainly be better than the one he started playing with this summer. In early July, Antetokounmpo flew to Italy for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament — Greece’s last chance to qualify for Rio. Playing alongside brother Thanasis, he scored 37 points in two lopsided group-stage games over Iran and Mexico, moving the Greeks into the semifinals.
As the world’s 10th-ranked team, they were favored to advance out of a final four that also included Croatia, the host Italians and Mexico, but things fell apart in the semifinals. Facing a Croatian team led by Dario Saric and Bojan Bogdanovic, Antetokounmpo went 3-14 from the floor, including 0-7 on three-pointers.
Croatia led 31-13 after the first quarter, and although Greece was only down by three going into the fourth, they lost 66-61 to be eliminated from the qualifying process. Croatia went on to beat Italy in the final, and made it to the quarterfinals in Rio before being eliminated by their archrivals from Serbia.
That was probably a relief for Hammond and Kidd. While they were supportive of Antetokounmpo playing for the Greek national team, their loss to Croatia meant he would be playing in seven fewer games over the summer, all of which brought the risk of injury.
Now he’s back in Milwaukee and he’s got his name on a nine-figure contract. The next step is leading the Bucks back into the postseason and, eventually, summer basketball with his NBA team.