Editor’s Note: For the second year in a row, the Silver Screen and Roll staff is counting down the most interesting Lakers heading into next season. We will be going through all 20 training camp spots before the season begins, and today we continue with No. 17, Kostas Antetokounmpo.
Within minutes of the Lakers claiming Kostas Antetokounmpo off of waivers, the jokes had already started.
Well, I guess they’re going after Giannis in 2021.
Rob has to get word to Giannis about how the Lakers are somehow.
He’s basically the new KCP.
While that might be a cynical way of looking at things, it’s also probably a realistic one. The Lakers did seem to use Kentavious Caldwell-Pope — LeBron James’ fellow Klutch Sports client — in much the same way the year before James signed, so we know this is in their playbook. And it’s not an unreasonable thing to want, either. What team wouldn’t want the league’s reigning MVP to hear good things about them from his younger brother?
But even if there is probably a kernel of truth to such speculation, we also know that the Lakers reportedly also see Kostas as a legit prospect, even if they also do hope he says good things about them to his brother. Decisions can be made with multiple motivations, and they wouldn’t have brought someone on if they weren’t at least close to being an NBA-caliber player, because that would be embarrassing for the organization. Kostas is at least on the fringes right now.
Kostas himself is probably working with just one driving force, though: To prove he’s more than just Giannis’ brother, and someone worth keeping around in their own right. Whether or not he can do so is what will make him interesting to watch this year, something that isn’t always said about two-way players on a contender.
Due to that contract status — and because the Lakers are loaded in the frontcourt — Kostas probably won’t see a ton of playing time on the parent roster this season, instead mostly plying his trade for South Bay in the G League.
And just as the Lakers will surely be trying to show Kostas they’re a first-class organization, they’ll also have an up-close-and-behind-the-scenes look at whether or not the 21-year-old big man can develop into a legit NBA player.
We recently had Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report, who wrote a must-read profile of the Antetokounmpo family last month, on our podcast. It’s worth noting that she spoke to Kostas before he was claimed by the Lakers, and how motivated he already was to step out of Giannis’ shadow and pave his own NBA path as a player teams want outside of any perceived connection to his brother.
Still, does this sound like the type of guy that would see all the jokes about the Lakers signing him just to tamper and not try to prove them wrong?
“There was so much pressure on him, there is so much pressure on him, and he told me he’s felt that since he was 12 (years old). People would always say in Greece ‘you’re not as aggressive as your two older brothers,’ so Giannis and Thanasis. (People would say) ‘you’re lazier than them.’ And that just used to drive him nuts, like that used to motivate Kostas so much, and he would just stay out there, and stay out there, and just shoot, and shoot, and shoot to just try to prove all of these people wrong.
“He has felt slighted since he picked up a ball, to be honest, and he still carries that with him now. And people always ask him all the time, ‘how do you deal with the pressure, how do you handled being third in line,’ … And Kostas was telling me, ‘I just look at it differently, pressure is a good thing. Pressure makes you work harder. When you’re scared, you push yourself beyond your breaking point.’ And he says pressure makes diamonds, you have to keep working. So he has that mentality about him.”
So this is where we have to offer the important disclaimer that Kostas is not Giannis. It is unlikely he’ll ever get anywhere in his brother’s stratosphere.
With that out of the way, we should note that Giannis wasn’t even Giannis at 21. He had shown more promise than Kostas has, and didn’t need to spend time in the G League, but I only bring this up to point out that some players take more time to develop than others. Kostas may not go from averaging 16.9 points per game to MVP-winner in four years (mainly because he’s not going to average 16.9 points per game this season), but he may be able to build on the skills he’s already shown, and seems to have the right mindset to do so.
Kostas averaged 1 point and 1 steal in two games for the Mavericks last season, production that does not portend a high-level of success in his sophomore year. He likely won’t even get many opportunities, outside of the G League. But if he can continue to hone the skills he showed in the G League while averaging 10.6 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes per contest over 40 games for the Texas Legends last season, all while also improving his defensive awareness, he might be able to turn himself into a prototypical modern big.
For most second-year two-way players, even that kind of praise would seem lofty, but Kostas has the physical tools to make it happen. It sounds like he has the work ethic to put in the time on it, too. The only question remaining will be if the latter quality can allow Kostas to maximize the former, which is precisely what will make him an interesting Laker to watch this year.