What Can Thanasis Antetokounmpo Bring to the Knicks?

Jan 29, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo (43) reaches for the net over Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks won 102-84. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 29, 2016; New York, NY, USA; New York Knicks forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo (43) reaches for the net over Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) during the fourth quarter at Madison Square Garden. New York Knicks won 102-84. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports /

The Knicks signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo to 10-day contract, what can the “Greek Freak”‘s older brother bring to New York?

After much complaining and trying figuring out what the New York Knicks should do with that open roster spot, the New York Knicks shocked everyone when they signed Thanasis Antetokounmpo to a 10-day contract out of their D-League affiliate, the Westchester Knicks, early last week. Some thought that the roster spot would be used for a point guard upgrade of sorts, maybe someone like former Sixers guard Tony Wroten.

But maybe this was the best move for the Knicks. The move took me by surprise, as I didn’t see the wing as a position of need. However, considering the Knicks don’t really need to be playing Sasha Vujacic and possibly could benefit by moving Arron Afflalo to the second unit for some much-needed offensive firepower (Galloway would move into the lineup, I say), perhaps this was a move that could help the Knicks in the long run. Somehow.

Let’s talk about what the Knicks could receive from Thanasis.

If there was something to describe Thanasis’ stint in the D-League, it would be consistent. Thanasis averaged at least 10.0 points and 4.0 rebounds in all three of his NBADL seasons. At six-foot-seven with a seven-foot wingspan, Antetokounmpo’s best asset is his ability to impact the game defensively. Basketball-Reference’s defensive box plus-minus statistic has always loved him, and the W-Knicks had a 100.1 defensive rating this season, good for third in the league, thanks to the combination of Thanasis and rookie forward Darion Atkins.

In all three of his D-League seasons, Antetokounmpo has averaged at least 1.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per 36 minutes. However, the more dangerous thing about his game, at least in the transition from the D-League to the NBA, is that he may foul a bit too much. He’s very touchy on defense and when players attempt to drive on him, he doesn’t adjust well, but rather, bodies up, often leading to fouls in the NBA.

New York Knicks
New York Knicks /

New York Knicks

He’ll always be a decent defender, though, even though he can ball watch from time to time. He has the size of a legitimate NBA wing player and it shows on the perimeter. He kinda reminds me of Pistons guard/forward Reggie Bullock – not the largest man, but he’s tall and it shows when he’s going up against guys smaller than him, almost to the point where he looks physically imposing. Thanasis is strong enough to get through all kinds of screens and his wingspan can both alter shots and detract in the passing lanes.

Not to mention, there’s something to love about his energy on the defensive end. In short, he loves defense. Even though I have questions about the other side of the ball (getting there shortly), you have to love someone who can play defense and actually enjoys it. Thanasis will drive you crazy sometimes, but other times, when he’s completing a chase down block or getting an on-ball steal, you love it. It’s what New Yorkers and Knicks fan love about the Knicks when they’re good.

The offense? Well, I think it’s still a work in progress for Antetokpounmpo. Thanasis has always been a good driver, working into the lane with ease and either getting to the line or finishing at the rim. Before the call-up, Antetokounmpo was averaging just 3.4 free throws per 36, but the two previous seasons, he was around 4 and 5 per game. The rim work, however, was good, as Thanasis shot 63.2 percent at the rim. Below is his shot chart:

Shotchart_1454116180655 /

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The jump shot is his bugaboo, and honestly, what I thought held Thanasis down in Westchester for all of last season. He’s never been a big shooter, more so a get to the rim guy. However, he might’ve regressed on that end. He’s three-point rate dipped to .219 in his first season in Westchester but rose to .297. Still, for someone who isn’t going to be called upon to create his own offense right away, that’s going to be paramount for him both getting playing time and earning extending playing time for his career.

That said, he has knocked down 45% of his threes from one of the corners, an upgrade from 33%. Minor progression from that area, but other than that, not great for him shooting the ball. Below is him on a catch and shoot from the corner. Doesn’t look bad at all, but he doesn’t really use it. In the NBA, as the league turns into a league where you push the pace and get some threes up, he’s going to need that.

At 23, I don’t know how much better he’s going to get, which is interesting to me on several different levels, but it might not be such a bad thing, considering what he already brings to the table. Thanasis is good at finishing at the rim and he’s a long, active defender. In a league that’s moving to where you need wings who can provide defensive value, I like what he brings to the table.

The bigger question is if the Knicks can get him to improve as a shooter, specifically from the corners. If Thanasis can become a better shooter and provide a small bit of floor spacing, even if he can shoot 33% from three, I think he can stick for a bit. If he can make improvements and become a legitimate shooter, Thanasis would be a great addition to the Knicks and if they can sign him to a long-term deal, even better.

I’ve always been terrible with comparisons, so I’m going to mention people without comparing him.

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The Knicks would love if he turned into someone who can score the ball from the corners without soaking up a ton of possessions while defending a few positions across the perimeter. Harrison Barnes (again, not a comparison) comes to mind on the offensive end – he knocks down a ton of assisted threes while being an occasional threat in post ups. Thanasis, in theory, could do something similar, only substituting post ups for cuts and handoffs.

What would be nice if he can be something like Al-Farouq Aminu? A player who can defend a couple of positions and has slowly improved from beyond the arc. Early in his career in New Orleans and Los Angeles, it was something of an afterthought for Aminu to shoot and space the floor, but after a stint in Dallas where it was encouraged, Aminu went to Portland and is currently shooting 34.7%.

The Knicks have quietly found some good players by giving them a chance. Lance Thomas was on the street when the Knicks picked him up last season and he’s one of their better role players. Langston Galloway went undrafted, the Knicks sent him to Westchester and he’s one of their good players now, thanks to his ability to defend and masquerade as a point guard in spurts. Two of Jackson’s smaller moves turned out to be brilliant.

For the short-term, I don’t think you’re getting much. If you watch the game against the Suns, he didn’t come into a blowout until the final two minutes. Like Mike Breen said on the telecast, Thanasis was mainly brought up for practice work. However, if the Knicks do like what they see and think they can work with him, I think he has the size, athletic ability and defensive ability to at least get a few moments in the league. If he can knockdown a jumper…

Next: Making Sense of the Jeff Teague Rumors

For now, let’s just hope he dazzles.