“Hey, we know what that’s all about. It’s all about appeasing Giannis. But to answer your question, no.”
This was an anonymous NBA general manager’s response to a question posed by writer Gery Woelfel about Milwaukee Bucks forward Thanasis Antetokounmpo, the elder brother of basketball’s best player. Would Thanasis be on an NBA roster if not for his brother’s status?
The GM’s response is the general consensus amongst anybody not of Milwaukee fandom. The guy hasn’t exceeded 10 minutes per game in any of his four seasons with the Bucks and any burn he does get is rarely meaningful. If he never sees the court outside of junk time, there’s no way anything about Thanasis outside of his surname warrants a roster spot. The reality is the exact opposite— he’s the most valuable 15th man in the association.
To understand Thanasis’ significance, you have to pay attention to his activity on the bench. He is the ultimate good vibes guy. He celebrates every big moment like he just won the lottery, flexing, yelling, or high-fiving teammates from the bench before they run back on defense. Enthusiasm like that is contagious. Seeing someone smile makes you do the same—it’s science—and Thanasis is always smiling.
The importance of having guys like that in a locker room can not be understated. Most of Milwaukee’s core players are already champions. In order to do it again, they must stay focused on bettering the team instead of selfishly seeking the next thing (a larger contract, more minutes, etc.). Legendary coach and current Miami Heat president Pat Riley called this post-success desire to level up the “disease of more”. Thanasis is immune to this disease. He’s perfectly content in his role and does whatever he can within it to uplift the group. When Thanasis took a leave of absence for personal reasons in March, Giannis shared in a postgame presser how “the energy was kind of off” for the team without him. They say if you feel good, you play good, and people like Thanasis boost the mood of everyone around them.
Thanasis is the league’s premier hypeman, but his true influence runs deeper than that. More than anyone else, he can keep Giannis’ mental game sharp. Anyone who’s watched Giannis knows his emotions can sometimes run hot, and Thanasis is always there to be a calming voice in his ear. It’s common to see him pull his younger sibling aside, presumably delivering brotherly words of wisdom to help the MVP stay focused and play at his best.
Thanasis’ on-court ability is overlooked as well. He was a second-round pick in 2014 and spent two seasons in the D-League before briefly donning a Knicks jersey in 2016. Now as a Buck, he’s flashed real talent whenever he’s let loose, which is usually in matches where Milwaukee’s roster is severely depleted. In 13 career outings where he’s played 20+ minutes, he’s averaged a very respectable 10.1 points. That figure balloons to 18 PPG in games where he logged 30+ minutes, albeit just four contests. He posted a career-high 27 points in Milwaukee’s regular-season finale versus Cleveland last year.
Standout athleticism is not a trait exclusive to Giannis in the Antetokounmpo family. Thanasis can do real damage slashing and cutting to the basket. He’s constantly looking for a chance to rip the hoop down with a rim-rocking slam and goes about it fearlessly. He can always be counted on to throw down an exclamation-mark jam at the end of a Bucks blowout win.
It’s fair to say Thanasis isn’t even Milwaukee’s worst player (sorry, Meyers Leonard), but even if he was, he’s still a culture guy who raises morale, never complains about his role, works hard, and gives 110% when he does step on the hardwood. And, even if he couldn’t provide the same impact on another team, why not celebrate Thanasis for starring in his situation instead of knocking him because that situation is unique? Any GM should recognize what having a guy like him means for a team with championship aspirations. He’s the optimal last man for the Bucks and deserves respect.