If I had to summarize the NBA debut of Thanasis Antetokounmpo in a single word, it would be #Stouthearted.
Kristaps Porzingis (@kporzee) January 30, 2016
The way Derek Fisher doled out minutes in Friday night's blowout win over the Phoenix Suns probably speaks volumes for how Thanasis will be used for the remainder of his 10-day contract -- even with a massive lead against one of the league's worst teams, even with Sasha Vujacic dropping dookie on both ends of the court, the head coach waited until the last possible moment to give the kid some run. Thanasis is just another body; once Jose Calderon is healthy, he'll probably slide onto the inactive list until it's time to head back to the D-League.
Now forget about all that negative bullshit ... this is a celebration! Thanasis earned this contract -- and the distinction of being the second Westchester Knick ever to make the big club -- by playing some damn good basketball this season. More importantly, he showed himself to be the kind of player the Knicks should look for in their D-League affiliate.
Most of us D-League prospect hounds fall into the trap of seeking out the big numbers: the scoring leaders, the top rebounders. That's all well and good for places like Sioux Falls, Reno and Grand Rapids, but it rarely translates to the NBA. The big clubs are looking for players to fill a very specific role, and in the case of the Knicks, they're looking for kids who will play within the Triangle offense. While Thanasis still hasn't developed a reliable jumper, he worked hard at mastering the various Triangle cuts, and improved his finishing around the basket, becoming a far more efficient player despite fewer shots and fewer minutes, per NBA.com:
Thanasis molded himself into a fine role player, and while "D-League role player" doesn't sound great on the ol' resume, a guy who knows his role in the offense while working hard on D is more useful to the big Knicks than minor league scoring champ.
Recall the first Westchester player to debut with the Knicks. Langston Galloway wasn't sitting atop any statistical categories during his stint in the D-League -- he averaged a perfectly respectable 16.5 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game -- yet he has become one of the NBA's most successful D-League alums. He is the blueprint for Knicks D-League success; Thanasis merely followed the blueprint.
After the game, Thanasis relayed a pep talk he received from the head honcho himself, Phil Jackson. Per Marc Berman:
"Mostly he told me what the team needed from me and if it doesn't matter if I play two seconds or 12 minutes, just be a good teammate,'' Antetokounmpo said. "Play hard, be smart, make smart plays and help the team defensively.''
For nearly two years now the kid from Athens has done everything the franchise has told him to do, never giving up on his NBA dream. Friday night that dream became a reality. Live it up, Thanasis #Stouthearted.