DiVincenzo: I want to be able to guard whoever

“He can guard anybody.”

That’s awfully high praise coming from Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Without description you’d probably assume he was talking about All-Star Khris Middleton, or Wesley Matthews, or point guard Eric Bledsoe.

Undoubtedly safe assumptions. The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the top rated defenses in the NBA, Bledsoe was first-team all-defense last year, Middleton is one of the team’s top perimeter defenders and Matthews has made a career thriving on guarding the opposing team’s biggest offensive threat.

However, Antetokounmpo was answering a question about second-year guard Donte DiVincenzo.

“He’s done a great job just guarding and getting in passing lanes,” the 2019 NBA MVP added. “Getting deflections, rebounding the ball. He’s everywhere.

“He just plays with confidence, that he’s arrived. Really hype about that and he’s going to help us.”

On separate occasions this season, DiVincenzo has slid into the starting rotation for consecutive games when fellow teammates have been sidelined with injuries.

First he started seven games while Middleton was out with a thigh contusion. DiVincenzo averaged 10.3 points per game during that stretch. Then, while Bledsoe sat with a fractured fibula, DiVincenzo moved right back into the starting rotation, scoring 8.2 points over that eight game stretch.

In total, DiVincenzo has started 20 of his 33 games played this season and in total contributes 8.1 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists.

“He’s been given a big opportunity and he’s taken advantage of that opportunity,” head coach Mike Budenholzer said of DiVincenzo’s increased role. “That’s what our league is about. When you get a chance you got to take advantage of it.

“Defensively, I think Donte’s defensive has stood out. He’s disruptive, he does things without fouling. He has kind of developed a discipline there.”

An injury-riddled rookie season, DiVincenzo played just 27 regular season games last year and was inactive for all 15 of the Bucks post-season games. His prowess on the defensive end of the floor is one of the bigger reasons his sophomore campaign has caught the eye of his teammates, but also the league.

“That’s my biggest thing, I want to be able to guard whoever they put me on,” he said when asked about Antetokounmpo’s compliment. “If I can make it easier for (Middleton), for (Antetokounmpo) and (Bledsoe) and George (Hill) and those guys, if they don’t have to run around, they don’t have to guard a million ball screens and they can kind of gain their breath on the defensive end, and still defending hard.

“If I can take the pressure off of their shoulders, and they want to play with me, that’s what I want.”

Players who can contribute consistently on offensive, and are assets on defense, are likely to carve out effective and lengthy careers. Every locker room needs that type of weapon in their arsenal.

A perfect example of that is DiVincenzo’s teammate, sixth man of the year candidate George Hill.

Hill has a career average of 11.2 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Budenholzer has called him an extension of the coaching staff while running the team’s second unit this season. He’s shooting an unprecedented 56 percent from the floor, 52 percent from three and 83 percent from the free throw line.

“Donte is like my little brother,” Hill said. “Just sitting with him, talking to him, watching him develop, it’s been tremendous. Believing in himself, having confidence to go out there even when he has a bad game. Staying on him, telling him ‘you’re going to come back and bounce back and have a better one.’

“That kid is going to be special. He’s still developing, still learning. I think he has high expectations for us.