Three decades ago, Don Nelson took a 6-foot, 5-inch forward out of the University of Tulsa and helped create a new position in the National Basketball Association – the point forward.
Paul Pressey was the player Nelson chose to help run his Milwaukee Bucks, an oversized (for the time) point guard that took two years to truly develop Nelson’s vision. In Pressey’s third season, the 1984-85 campaign, he averaged 16.1 points and 6.8 assists per game.
In a six-season stretch from 1984 to 1990 that began under Nelson and continued with Del Harris, Pressey averaged 15 points and 7.4 assists per game as the Bucks made the playoffs each season, a stretch which included one trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Milwaukee won 301 games over that period, a time of sustained success and competitiveness not seen again until George Karl and Terry Porter led the Bucks to another conference finals berth within five playoff appearances and a 246-214 overall mark from 1998 to 2004.
Three decades later, the Bucks return to those point forward roots with the selection of 18-year-old Greek Giannis Antetokounmpo No. 15 overall in Thursday’s NBA Draft.
"I started watching this kid – I’m not going to say who he really reminded me of watching," first-year Bucks coach Larry Drew said Thursday night, a smile curling as he spoke. "But I saw some things I really found to be really intriguing."
Antetokounmpo perhaps filled in that gap on Friday.
"I’ll be like Magic, you know?" he said with a wide smile. "Like ‘KD’ – mix ‘KD’ and Magic Johnson."
The initials are a reference to 6-foot, 9-inch Oklahoma City star Kevin Durant, a comparison presented to Bucks general manager John Hammond on Thursday after the pick was made.
"There was no question there were safer picks - but nothing with this kind of upside," Hammond said. "Nothing close to this. That's the real key component of what we have here. You know, how are we going to get ... who's our next All-Star?
"I think he has that skill set to become that if it all falls together for him."
The reason for the excitement is because Antetokounmpo didn’t start playing basketball until he was 12 when his older brother Thanasis – also a professional in Greece – pulled him into the gym off the soccer pitch. At the time, Antetokounmpo was a "normal" for a boy of Nigerian descent, which is about 5-feet, 5-inches. Then, he began growing. Now, he stands 6-9 without shoes (he’ll play at 6-10) and doctors have told him he could grow a few more inches.
"It’s very difficult because you lose your explosiveness," Antetokounmpo said of learning to manage his skill set while growing so much every year. "You lose that. It’s very difficult because your bones grow and your muscles stay little. But, I think it’s better I that I grow because I’m a point guard – 6-10 – maybe point forward as the coach says, and I think it’s better.
"I can play the point guard position. I can handle the ball very well. But the thing that makes me special in the game is I’m an unselfish point guard. I pass the ball to my teammates. And when the team needs a scorer, I’m that scorer."
Drew sees the soccer background in Antetokounmpo, from the way he can seamlessly change directions, move laterally, his endurance in running up and down the court, and his spatial recognition. And, it has provided a solid base to help him develop even as he adjusts to his height.
"You don’t find 6-9 guys that move up the floor and defend 94 feet," Drew said. "You just don’t find that. This kid does that. Certainly you do see where soccer did enhance his footwork. The footwork is there. His ability to move on the floor, to change direction, particularly when he has the basketball, you could see where soccer, I think, has really benefited him."
Antetokounmpo will play for the under-20 Greek national team this summer and will not participate in the Bucks’ summer league. Then, he will move to Milwaukee with his family prior to training camp.
"In the beginning it will be the culture, for sure, because I’ve lived in Greece for 18 years," he said. "I’ve never left the country. It’ll be a little bit difficult but I’ll have my family together with me and it will be easy."
On the court, Drew sees Antetokounmpo playing all over the court. He sees him in the post, and in the open court. It’s a mix Milwaukee has not seen in a long time.
"He’ll be able to play two, three, (the) one. Point forward. That’s what he plays," Drew said. "That’s what comes to your mind when you watch him play because he has the ability to take the ball off the glass and he can take it coast-to-coast. And he makes plays. That’s very, very, very intriguing. It’s just not a lot of guys that can do that."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.