Update: According to The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Los Angeles Lakers have claimed Kostas Antetokounmpo off waivers.
Though the news has not been confirmed by any of the NBA’s most credible sources yet, it is heavily rumoured that the Toronto Raptors have submitted a claim to take the 21-year-old Kostas Antetokounmpo off waivers, just hours after the Dallas Mavericks dropped him there. Though he can’t ink a deal with the Raps until 72 hours have passed since he’s been released, there doesn’t seem to be a huge market for his services. According to Varlas Nikos of Eurohoops, the 6’10 younger brother of the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player should be making his way to the Danforth area of The Six in the coming days.
Kostas was born in Athens, Greece, and is the second youngest of five Antetokounmpo brothers. In the summer of 2013 after Giannis was drafted to Milwaukee, the whole Antetokounmpo family moved to Wisconsin to help their middle child feel at home. At the time of the move, Kostas was preparing to enter grade 11. He had been playing basketball with the junior youth team of Filathlitikos; a professional Greek basketball team, before he took his talents to Dominican High School in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. There, he led his team to a state championship in 2016 as a tall and lanky senior.
Upon graduating from high school, Kostas moved to Ohio to play with the Dayton Flyers. Due to him having played his first two years of high school in Greece, he was ruled a partial qualifier by the NCAA, and was forced into a red shirt year in the 2016-2017 season. The following season, he made his college debut, and went on to average 5.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 15.4 minutes in a game.
Though his numbers didn’t amaze scouts, his game did. His unique ability to be so quick off the dribble and drive past smaller players with a quick first step, then finish over the trees in the paint, all while weighing only 195 pounds with such a large frame presented similar potential to that of his older brother.
His athletic genes were enough to land him in the 2018 NBA Draft, as the Philadelphia 76ers took him with the final pick in the draft before trading his rights to the Dallas Mavericks on the same night.
In Dallas, he was signed to a two-way contract, and spent most of his time with the Texas Legends. He started in 25 of the 40 games that he played in the G-League, and put up 10.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 0.8 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game in 25.4 minutes a night – an improvement from his numbers in college just a season prior. Though he has proved that he belongs in the NBA, the Mavericks have an already crowded frontcourt after acquiring Kristaps Porzingis, extending Dwight Powell, signing Boban Marjanovic, retaining Maxi Kleber, and drafting Isaiah Roby, not to mention the likes of Dorian Finney-Smith, and Justin Jackson who are both capable of playing as bigs in small-ball lineups.
Ultimately, Donnie Nelson decided that a raw athlete didn’t have a place on that team, as they are looking to compete now with their new European duo.
For a re-building team like the Raptors, who are looking to be defensive-minded and athletic this year, a low-risk, high-reward flyer on Kostas seems extremely worth it, especially if he can pan out to be one fraction as good as Giannis is.
Though his stats would show that he is maturing quickly, he still has a ways to go before he can compete in the NBA. His .244% three-point percentage from beyond the arc this past season makes it hard to play him anywhere but the center position. Though Giannis has a similar frame and can’t shoot particularly well either, his ability to finish strong inside, and stride past his defender to create for his teammates allows for his coaches to slot him in at any position on the floor. Until Kostas proves that he can do all of that at the NBA level against bigger, quicker, better competition, he won’t see much success trying to do the same. Weighing less than Kyle Lowry, yet standing 10 inches taller than him is a sign that the sophomore will need to bulk up before he can add much value to an NBA roster.
We know that this wasn’t a win-now move, but if Kostas ultimately comes to Toronto, he has more value to the Raptors than just a reclamation project. Giannis’ pending free agency is the elephant in the room. Kostas is very close with his older brother Giannis, and claiming him off waivers might have been a masterful move by Masai Ujiri to try and lure Giannis to Toronto when he hits free agency in 2021. Ujiri already has a formidable relationship with the Antetokounmpo family, as he helped them immigrate to the United States in 2013. He had also shown some previous interest in Kostas, having invited him to Toronto for a pre-draft workout last summer, but any hopes of bringing him to play here were spoiled by the Mavericks’ contradictory plans – until now.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Giannis and Kostas filmed this commercial in which a young Giannis tells a young Kostas that “[he will] be good too”. In the end, Kostas tells Giannis, “above all, I see us always being together”. He likely didn’t mean that they would be playing together in the NBA, and rather that they would always share a brotherly bond with each other, but only time will tell.
After trying, and failing to trade for a pick to draft Giannis in 2013, and then again missing out on bringing Kostas here last year, Masai might look to scoop up the final Antetokounmpo brother 2021, where Alexis projects to be a late first round pick. It’s encouraging to know that the Raptors will hold their own pick – likely a mid-late first round selection – with an opportunity to draft Alexis just days before Giannis hits unrestricted free agency. Giannis has previously said that Alexis is even better than he is, but for now, scouts are taking the superstar’s words lightly.
In this moment, all of that is a pipe dream. The Raptors should soon have one of the Antetokounmpo’s. Kostas has a ton of room to develop, and that implies his intriguing potential. It remains to be seen how many Greek Freaks will play for Toronto come 2021, but for now we’re closing in on one of them. Let’s see what our world-renowned development staff can do with Kostas, and for the fans; spoil Kostas like you spoiled Kawhi. Do it for #Giannis2021.