Is it time for the New York Knicks to sign Thanasis Antetokounmpo?

Jul 13, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; New York Knicks forward Louis Labeyrie (5) dunks the ball as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) defends during an NBA Summer League game at Thomas & Mack Center. The Knicks won 76-66. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 13, 2015; Las Vegas, NV, USA; New York Knicks forward Louis Labeyrie (5) dunks the ball as Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle (30) defends during an NBA Summer League game at Thomas & Mack Center. The Knicks won 76-66. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /
Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports /

After two seasons in the NBA Development League, Thanasis Antetokounmpo is looking to prove himself at the next level. According to ESPN, the 22-year-old’s agent has given the Knicks, who drafted him with the 51st pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, an ultimatum: call him up or he’s going overseas.

Last summer, Antetokounmpo received a two-year offer from Varese, one of the best clubs in Italy, for $550,000. In the hope of getting a shot with the Knicks, he turned it down and signed with the Westchester Knicks for a far less lucrative contract of $25,000.

While he had the luxury of spending the entirety of the season learning the ins and outs of the Triangle Offense, Thanasis is left fighting for one of the final two roster spots as the summer winds down. Whether the Knicks choose to sign him or someone like Ricky Ledo depends entirely on their expectations heading into next season.

Attacking the Basket

The Triangle Offense plays rather well to Antetokounmpo’s strengths. While not a knockdown shooter, he’s an effective cutter off the ball and finishes at a high rate around the basket (61.6 percent on lay ups) thanks to his 7-0 wingspan and 39.5 inch vertical. He’s not a big time in-game dunker, either, but he can sky above the rim and finish through contact.

Unlike when he was with the 87ers in 2013-14, Antetokounmpo showed flashes of a post game this season. By sizing up in the mid post, he’s able to maximize his quick first step and athleticism by blowing by opponents and finishing at the rim. His low post repertoire is basic, but he has a go-to move — strong jab step followed by a drive in the opposite direction — and a counter — strong jab step, drive and spin back — that serve him well.

Still improving in the half court, Antetokounmpo is a handful to contain in transition. He’s quick from end-to-end as he uses long strides to beat opponents up the court, and he’s an easy alley-oop target for teammates. It’s just too bad the Westchester Knicks played at the slowest pace in the D-League and we didn’t see more of it.

As good as he is around the basket, Antetokounmpo relies heavily on his teammates to set him up for easy baskets. Because his game is restricted to 3-pointers and drives to the rim, he tends to force his way to the basket when his jump shot isn’t falling.

The problem: His jump shot is rarely falling.

Antetokounmpo is still very much a straight-line driver and his handle isn’t quite up to scratch. Mixed in with him struggling to read defenses at times, and he makes for an inconsistent scorer in the half court. He’ll often barrel his way into the paint when there are multiple defenders anchored in the key or put his head down instead of pulling up for an uncontested mid range jump shot. It’s why in-game reps remain Thanasis’ biggest need moving forward.


Given his physical tools, it’s hard not to get caught up in Antetokounmpo’s potential. But his ceiling as a rotational NBA player hinges greatly on his shooting ability.

With the 87ers, Thanasis made encouraging strides. His 3-point shooting numbers fluctuated greatly as the season wore on, but converting 40 percent of his attempts in the month of February (10 games) planted seeds for future growth. Sadly, that didn’t translate into this season. He converted 23.2 percent of his 3-pointers with the Knicks, and with little-to-no in between game (less than 10 percent of his overall shot attempts were from mid range) he developed into a predictable player.

The encouraging news is Antetokounmpo has proven the ability to knock down 3-pointers, albeit in a vacuum: In the two games he scored 30-plus points this season, he did so shooting 7-for-15 from the perimeter. However, two seasons in the D-League shooting under 31 percent from 3-point range is slightly concerning.

The root of Antetokounmpo’s shooting woes is his shooting form. He tidied some of the more glaring issues last offseason (there’s much less of a hitch in his jump shot and it’s generally more fluid), but his motion is still too inconsistent. He has a tendency to shoot on the way down instead of releasing the ball at its peak, and he doesn’t carry himself like a shooter. Instead of getting into shooting position on the wings, he’d occasionally stand upright, leaving more room for error in his form.


What Antetokounmpo lacks on offense, he makes up for on defense.

Thanasis averaged 1.7 blocks per game on the season, putting him in the same class as Khem Birch and Willie Reed, two of the D-League’s premier shot blockers. Whenever he turns the ball over in the half court, he sprints back on defense and calculates each and every step to meet his opponent at the rim. He’s effective as a weak side defender, too, acting as a rim protector when guards attack the paint. He won’t likely be a reliable shot blocker in the NBA, but it’s a nice quality to have in a small forward.

Another nice quality: Antetokounmpo isn’t afraid to get dunked on. Whether it’s Seth Curry splitting a pick-and-roll or Reed attacking an open lane to the basket, he treats his opponent the same by putting his body on the line. Sometimes it ends badly; often times it does not.

Thanasis’ versatility gives him a huge upper hand on defense. At 6-7 and 215 pounds, he’s capable of guarding four positions, giving the Knicks the luxury of switching everything on the perimeter. Throw in an enormous wingspan and good agility, and he makes for a pest in the passing lanes. It’s a big reason why he finished the season on the All-Defense Second Team.

Much like on offense, Antetokounmpo’s defensive awareness is shaky at times. When he’s engaged, he moves his feet well and anticipates shots at the rim. When he’s not, he makes costly decisions.

For example, in a matchup with the Bayhawks on March 13, Thanasis found himself guarding Peyton Siva on a pivotal possession late in the game. The Bayhawks ran a simple pick and roll between Siva and John Bohannan, and Darnell Jackson switched onto Siva, forcing Thanasis to drop back into the paint. Instead of sticking with Bohannan, though, Thanasis kept his eyes on the ball and planted himself in no man’s land not far from his teammate. Siva made the simple pass for an easy two points.

From not closing out on perimeter shooters properly to failing to watch the ball and his man, it’s the attention to detail that could cost Thanasis at the next level.


On December 12, the Knicks won a nail biter against the Vipers. Despite it being a close game that came down to the final possession, it was a relatively meaningless one. It was still early in the season, with the outcome having little-to-no impact on the playoff standings. But that didn’t stop Thanasis from celebrating as though he had just won a championship once the buzzer sounded, jumping up in the air and pumping his fist at half court.

Even his own teammates can’t help but marvel over his enthusiasm and energy.

You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who plays as hard as Thanasis on a nightly basis. On the court, he’s like a bat out of hell, constantly playing the passing lanes, dropping back to the rim to block shots, leaking out on the fast break and attacking the glass on both ends. He was the heart and soul of the Knicks in their inaugural season, and he genuinely wants to win over being praised as the No. 1 prospect in the D-League.

For a team like the Knicks, that’s not a bad prospect to have on the sidelines.


Having only started playing basketball at 16-years-old, it’s clear Antetokounmpo is still learning the game. Unfortunately for him, that casts a hazy cloud over his immediate future with the Knicks.

After their worst season in franchise history, the Knicks have retooled to make a run at the playoffs while Carmelo Anthony is still in his prime. Thanasis isn’t fighting for minutes amongst many small forwards, but throwing out a developing rookie with Anthony, Arron Afflalo and Robin Lopez isn’t likely what the Knicks have in mind.

In reality, the 2014-15 season was the perfect opportunity for Thanasis to dip his feet in the NBA waters. Next season, not so much.

By not signing Thanasis, the Knicks run the risk of losing him overseas. Based on his potential, that’s something they may not want to happen. Making him the 15th man on the roster puts them in a position to keep him in New York, where he can practice with the Knicks and continue learning the game, and assign him to Westchester whenever they see fit.

While he may not have improved as much as the Knicks would’ve liked in 2014-15, Thanasis is still a prospect worth stashing in the hope that he finds his feet sooner rather than later.