Editor’s Note: Welcome to our “2020 Lakers Season In Review” series, where we’ll be looking back at every member of this Lakers roster as the offseason commences, and answering some questions about what they contributed (or didn’t) to the team’s 17th championship, as well as discussing what their situation is moving forward. Today, let’s discuss Kostas Antetokounmpo.
How did he play?
In the playoffs, he didn’t. Neither Antetokounmpo — or Devontae Cacok, the Lakers’ other player on a two-way contract — played a single second in the postseason. That wasn’t much different than the regular season, which saw Antetokounmpo play just 20 minutes total, fewer than every Laker other than Cacok (9) and the already-waived Zach Norvell Jr. (5). On a veteran-heavy team with plenty of big men already, there just wasn’t room for the 22-year-old sophomore in the rotation this season.
As a result, Antetokounmpo spent most of his season trying to develop in the G League. Our own Christian Rivas summarized his underwhelming season there thusly:
In 38 appearances for the Lakers’ G League affiliate, the South Bay Lakers, Kostas averaged 14.1 points on 62.3% shooting from the field, in addition to 7.8 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game, while averaging 25.4 minutes per game. On the surface those don’t seem like bad numbers, but it doesn’t take much digging to see that Kostas has struggled to be an impactful player even at the G League level.
Despite shooting 62.3% from the field, Kostas has posted an offensive rating of 109, which can be largely attributed to the fact that he’s a bad shooter. Of the 324 field goals Kostas has attempted this season, only 42 of them have come from outside of the paint. On 3-point attempts, Kostas has shot 6-39 (15.4%) from the field, and on mid-range attempts, he’s shot 0-3.
Kostas can still be a valuable player without a 3-point shot, but he’d have to be elite on the other end to do that. While he has all the physical tools to be an elite talent on the defensive end, the fundamentals aren’t there and, as a result, he’s posted a defensive rating of 114.4 for an overall net rating of -5.4. Again, it doesn’t take too much digging.
None of that is great, but it also wasn’t completely unexpected for a young and raw big man. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said during the seeding round in the bubble that he still saw enough in the G League and in practice to be optimistic about Antetokounmpo’s potential.
“Kostas has incredible length and has shown promise as an elite rim protector,” Vogel said in July. “(He) can fit right in with JaVale and Dwight and the length that we present at the basket. Both of those guys (Cacok and Antetokounmpo) have bright futures and I would trust using them if we needed to.”
The Lakers evidently never felt like they needed to.
What is his contract situation moving forward?
The Lakers claimed Antetokounmpo’s two-way contract off of waivers in the 2019 offseason. His deal is expired, but the Lakers can make him a restricted free agent by tendering a qualifying offer, which for Antetokounmpo — by virtue of only having one year of service with the Lakers — would be another two-way contract with $50,000 of guaranteed money.
It is unknown when they’d have to do so by, because a date for free agency and its related processes has not been set yet.
Will he be back?
NBA teams can only have two players on two-way contracts at any given time, but even with Antetokounmpo’s somewhat underwhelming and infrequent play last season, it would still be surprising if the Lakers didn’t use (at least) one of their two-way deals on him again.
Why? Because of his brother.
There is a reason that Shams Charania of The Athletic says that “an antenna went up around the league” when the Lakers claimed Kostas: Because his brother, Giannis, is the two-time reigning league MVP and can be a free agent in 2021, which just so happens to be the offseason that most of the Lakers’ current contracts end, leaving them at least theoretically in the hunt for the superstar as they potentially look to retool around Anthony Davis.
Now, the Lakers have repeatedly tried to make it clear that they like Kostas on his own merits, but even if that’s true, it surely doesn’t hurt that he could possibly serve as an emissary to tell Giannis about how nice it is to be a Laker. And as often as Giannis has said he doesn’t want to play in Los Angeles, it’s not like another year of falling short in Milwaukee couldn’t potentially change that. If it does, you don’t think the Lakers want Kostas talking up how great their organization treats its players and how nice living in the South Bay is?
That’s why the NBA is watching the Lakers carefully, even hitting then president of basketball operations Magic Johnson with a tampering fine for saying Giannis will win a title in Milwaukee. But the NBA can’t do anything about the Lakers signing a different player. It worked with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who gave them an in with Klutch Sports and LeBron James, and we saw how that worked out. Might as well keep running the same action straight out of the Rob Pelinka playbook and keep a different ambassador with a K name, especially if it’s cheap to do so.
The devil works hard but Rob Pelinka works harder. https://t.co/sH8tLGJv9P— Christian Rivas (@RadRivas) February 16, 2020
That’s why the purple and gold faithful are going to keep going crazy when Giannis mentions hypothetically playing in L.A. with his brothers., or when his girlfriend reveals she was a Lakers fan growing up. Even if Kostas doesn’t pan out on the court, having him back on the roster could be humongous off of it.