How Giannis Antetokounmpo's jaw-dropping work ethic made him unlike anyone the NBA has ever seen

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo is unique and has become one of the NBA’s most dominant stars because of his relentless work ethic, according to those who have been around him.
  • Antetokounmpo dominates inside like a center while playing like a guard, a never-before-seen player in the NBA.
  • Some think he’s still going to get better.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In his 19-year NBA career, Jason Terry never saw someone approach his “night school” program the way Giannis Antetokounmpo did.

In his two years with the Milwaukee Bucks, Terry and his teammates would return to the gym after practice, the night before a game, watch film, workout, then work on their games. Players usually didn’t do anything too strenuous, Terry, now an analyst with Turner Sports, said – they might work out, then get some jump shots up, then leave.

But Antetokounmpo took it to a new level.

“Probably about the second week of night school, he was in there actually working on defensive coverages,” Terry said.

“Now, this is unheard of. I’ve worked with Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki in some of these same type of settings. But to see him out there actually going over defensive coverages like he was in a game, it was amazing to me. Because I’ve never seen a star-level player work on that asset of his game.”

Talk to anybody who’s been around Antetokounmpo, 24, and these same type of stories about his relentless work ethic come up.

Bucks assistant coach Ben Sullivan heard the rumours about Antetokounmpo’s work ethic before joining the Bucks coaching staff last summer.

“You hear rumours and whispers about Giannis’ work ethic … You hear little chatter like, ‘Giannis has kinda got that work ethic like Kobe, Jordan,'” said Sullivan, who works with Antetokounmpo on his jump shot.

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“And then you get here, and you see it first hand, and you’re like, this dude, he really works hard. He really works on his game.”

Sullivan said it took just two minutes into his first workout with Antetokounmp to realise the 24-year-old star was better than he had thought.

“It was one of those rare times where the hype actually maybe even undersold it a little bit.”

So driven is Antetokounmpo that the Bucks have literally locked him out of the gym, according to ESPN’s Malika Andrews.

It’s that unparalleled work ethic that has helped Antetokounmpo turn into one of the league’s unique and most dominant forces.

The different and dominant superstar

Antetokounmpo’s work ethic, improvement, and personality have endeared him to the NBA world.

Shaquille O’Neal, who can be reserved in his praise of other stars, said on a podcast this season that Antetokounmpo is better than he was at his age. O’Neal said Antetokounmpo has “earned” such praise.

Terry, acknowledging that former players – like O’Neal -all seem to praise Antetokounmpo, said it’s because Antetokounmpo works so hard.

“I think it’s his work ethic, his commitment to being humble and then doing whatever it takes to get better,” Terry said. “Obviously, all the great ones do it. They possess this sort of obsession with getting better every single time they step foot in the gym.”

Antetokounmpo may have that next-level drive like other superstars, but other aspects of him are just …different.

He is fiercely dedicated to his family. According to Terry, for several years, Antetokounmpo lived in a two-bedroom apartment with his siblings and his mother – unusual for a superstar player.

Terry also confirmed that Antetokounmpo used to take sneakers that his teammates were throwing out, so long as they fit him.

“That’s just his humble beginnings,” Terry said. “That’s why you love the kid.”

Antetokounmpo differs from the NBA’s other superstars in every way. He has turned down workouts with other players in the summer, preferring not to be in cahoots with his opponents.

Whereas the pregame walk into the arena has turned into a runway for the NBA’s most fashionable stars, Antetokounmpo couldn’t be bothered.

“I just want to win,” Antetokounmpo told Andrews. “All that other stuff takes away from the game, and you just spend extra energy on looking good for five seconds. I don’t care about that.”

Most of all, he dominates differently on the court. Antetokounmpo’s immense potential used to showcase itself in flashes, like when he would go coast-to-coast to dunk in four dribbles. Those flashes are sustained now.

Giannis antetokounmpoMaddie Meyer/Getty

Part of realising his full potential has been understanding that he can’t be stopped around the basket. Defenders sag off of him, daring him to shoot, but Antetokounmpo, through a combination of force and finesse, can use his 7-foot-3 wingspan to finish over people.

It’s fitting that O’Neal compared his game to Antetokounmpo’s.ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry explained that Antetokounmpo is the most dominant player around the basket since prime O’Neal. Antetokounmpo scored the most paint points this year since O’Neal in 2004-05. He had the most unassisted dunks since 1996-97, as far back as the stat has been tracked.

Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said he’s never seen a player dominate around the basket like a center while also initiating plays from the perimeter like a guard, as Antetokounmpo does. Terry agreed.

“Shaq started from inside,” Terry said. “Giannis is definitely the only person I’ve seen do it. And that’s why he’s so unique and so special.

“The only other guy I would think of -and I’ve never seen him play – was Wilt Chamberlain, how he dominated, and they had to kinda change the rules of the game because of his domination. There’s no other comparison.”

It’s that outside-to-inside domination that makes some in the NBA world believe that Antetokounmpo’s biggest weakness – his jumper – is overstated.

“At the end of the day, quite honestly, he doesn’t really need it,” Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach Chad Forcier said. “He’s so gifted and does so many amazing things already without it and things that you can’t stop … He doesn’t have to turn into Steph Curry.”

“I think Giannis is already unguardable,” Sullivan said, adding: “He averages 27 points per game. It’s not like teams are letting him have 27 points. He’s already unguardable. He’s one of the top scorers in the league. So if you wanna say, if he can be an improved shooter, he’d be even more unguardable than he already is, then I’d agree with that … Everyone has a tough time stopping him.”

Another leap to make?

Bucks GM Jon Horst said Antetokounmpo has grown in leaps and bounds over the years, calling him humble and loyal.

“He’s changed in so many ways,” Horst said. “He’s grown physically in stature, he’s grown in his understanding of our culture, and he’s grown in his language. He’s grown in his interpersonal relationships and family dynamics that he has. He’s grown as a leader with our team and how he handles that. He’s grown in a lot of ways, a lot of which is maturity. Very proud of him. He’s extremely intelligent, extremely humble, extremely loyal. Really just a blessing to have part of our group.”

Antetokounmpo’s improvement over the last two years caught some on the Bucks off-guard. This year alone, Sullivan said Antetokounmpo’s shooting came along quicker than he expected while Budenholzer said Antetokounmpo’s play-making is ahead of where he thought it would be.

Terry said he still expects Antetokounmp to take another leap next year.

“It takes time as a young NBA player in this league, going from rookie to franchise player to superstar of the league, being the next one, the next guy to kinda carry the torch, so to speak. I’ve just seen that mindset he’s had this year and he’s literally put up an MVP season.”

What Antetokounmpo will look like going forward, the NBA world can only imagine.

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