Can Giannis Antetokounmpo, And The Milwaukee Bucks, Take Another Step Forward?

Giannis Antetokounmpo appreciated that teammate Khris Middleton made an effort to understand him early on. Video by Lori Nickel

Teammates Khris Middleton (22) and Giannis Antetokounmpo have become complementary offensive forces for the Bucks.(Photo: Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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Through thick and thin, through the ups and downs, through the streaks and the wild rides of inconsistency that have so far defined this young Milwaukee Bucks team, there has been one constant for nearly half a decade.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton have played 4 1/2 seasons together.

They have become a cornerstone of this team, but they had little in common when they met.

Antetokounmpo was drafted in the first round in 2013, just 18 years old. He moved to Milwaukee from Greece, struggled to speak English and everything in the U.S. was completely foreign to him.

Middleton came to Milwaukee from Detroit that summer in a trade. He is three years older – both men have December birthdays just two days apart – and he had college basketball experience at Texas A&M. But he made a good first impression on Antetokounmpo.

“I had a chance to practice with him my first day coming here,” said Antetokounmpo. “I thought he was a great guy, great teammate. He was a guy that I wanted to play with.”

Middleton also found the slim, talented teenager easy to get along with even if they had little common ground.

“When he first came here, he was a pencil,” said Middleton. “We’re both different guys. He spends a lot of time with his family; I spend a lot of time with my family. We don’t see each other too much off the court, but as soon as we step in, we click.

“You have those kinds of relationships with your teammates – and some are closer than others. On the court, we are one.”

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How did Milwaukee's leading scorers make that happen? The first step was  communication.

“At first, I don’t know if he did understand my accent, it was hard to understand; it still is,” said Antetokounmpo.

So it was up to Antetokounmpo to work on his second language of English.

“He wasn’t that fluent in English,” said Middleton. “His language barrier was always something that we tried to work through. We try to communicate and teach him some things. We joke around with him.”

When someone suggested to Middleton that he also try to learn a little Greek, he was up for it.

“It’s a two-way street with something like that,” said Middleton. “We used to joke around with me trying to figure out some of his words in Greek. … I won’t repeat any of those words.”

The two also developed nonverbal communication, which can be more effective in a noisy game anyway, with eye contact and head nods.

“We’re both kind of quiet guys but we’ll give each other different looks," said Middleton. "Or our body language toward one another will basically do the talking for us. It’s strange but for us it works.”

Middleton has since forgotten most of the Greek words, but the effort went a long way with Antetokounmpo.

“You want to make a guy feel welcome, especially coming from a foreign country,” said Middleton. “He was out here without his family at first. We tried to take him in, take him out some places. Once his family came over here, he’s a much happier guy. A much different guy – which was good to see.”

Together, they have become a one-two punch for the Bucks. Antetokounmpo averages 29.7 points a game, Middleton 18.7.

“They have grown together,” said Bucks center John Henson. “If you look at their games, they both need each other. Giannis is in the paint, attacks the rim, draws double-teams. Khris is a shooter.

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“Giannis needs Khris, Khris needs Giannis to both be successful, and that’s why I think it’s been a cool combination for us and has worked so well.”

Last year, when Middleton missed the first half of the season with a torn hamstring, Antetokounmpo felt the loss on the court.

“Definitely, and not just me – the whole team missed him,” said Antetokounmpo. “He’s one of the best players on the team and he’s the leader of the team.”

Without Middleton, “I can’t drive the ball,” said Antetokounmpo. “Khris helps me open up the floor a lot and helps spacing a lot. He’s a spot-up shooter, so when he’s on the court it’s easy for me to get lanes and drive in to make plays.”

But it was interesting that he called Middleton the leader.

In their time together, Antetokounmpo has emerged as the leading scorer and possible MVP candidate, but he make it clear he respects Middleton so much that he wants to share the leadership role with him. From Day 1 of the season, he deflected personal accolades from himself on to Middleton.

Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo had gotten physically stronger.

“He definitely put a lot of work into his body. He’s stronger than me,” said Middleton. “I can’t push him off like I used to. He enjoys that – when I try to.”

It’s a partnership that has developed over the years and it likely will be a key to whatever success the Bucks have going forward.

“The longer you’re with someone, the more you get to know them,” said Middleton. “We’ve been together five years. He knows how I like to play, I know how he likes to play.

“I’m a shooter, so that opens up the lane for him. He’s a driver, so guys might help and leave me open. It’s not that hard to figure out. We’ve grown together here in Milwaukee, so it’s kind of easy to have this guy as a teammate.”

“Khris makes the game easier,” said Antetokounmpo. “Just being out there, people have to guard him. He’s a threat. Defensively he always plays hard and offensively he’s a great scorer. He’s a great shooter. That’s everything.

“Playing with Khris, that opens … you can see the fluid offense. It’s totally different when he came back. It’s great having him out there.”

Source : http://www.postcrescent.com/story/sports/nba/bucks/2017/11/23/bucks-giannis-antetokounmpo-and-khris-middleton-have-grown-together/881266001/

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