A look back – Pero Antic’s NBA Journey

Pero Antic's NBA career has ended. Image used under CC.

Pero Antic’s NBA career has ended. Image used under CC.

Pero Antic’s NBA odyssey has come to an end with the Macedonian signing for Turkish giants Fenerbahce Ulker. The first NBA player from the tiny Balkan nation, Antic spent his time largely as a back-up center for the Atlanta Hawks.

Featuring in 113 games including 29 starts, Antic averaged 6.3 points, 3.5 rebounds and shot .314 from the three point line – a set of numbers the hawks may have wanted to be higher despite the franchise offering him a qualifying offer when he became a restricted free agent.

However, his career in the United States will be remembered for much more than that. At six feet eleven, Antic set new heights and allowed hundreds of thousands of children in Macedonia to dream.

Speaking to the Atlanta Journal, Antic shared his pride of becoming the first Macedonian NBA player.

“Playing in the NBA was always a life-long goal and I’m proud that I was able to represent Macedonia and be the first, of hopefully many, from my great country to play in the NBA,” Antic said.

Meteoric Rise

Pero Antic’s signing at the Atlanta Hawks came at a surprise that many European basketball experts did not envisage for the then 31 year-old. Coming off back-to-back Euroleague championships with Olympiacos, Antic turned down big offers in Europe to chase his NBA dream.

Antic started the 2013-14 season steadily, coming off the bench and sharing the back-up center role with Elton Brand. That was until the December 28 home game against the Charlotte Bobcats when Antic hit a one-legged three pointer to send the game into overtime.

Antic soon found himself as the Hawks starting center with Al Horford out injured and responded with a 16-point game in his first start against the Golden State Warriors.

Antic’s reward was an All-Star weekend call up in the Rising Stars challenge after a social media campaign calling for his selection went viral. Antic was forced to miss the game due to an ankle injury.

2014 Playoff series against the Pacers

Despite losing more games than they won during the season, the Atlanta Hawks finished eighth in the Eastern Conference and claimed the final play-off spot.

With Al Horford out for the season, Pero Antic was put in charge of stopping an Indiana Pacers frontcourt featuring All-Star Roy Hibbert.

Despite losing the series, Antic’s physicality became the launch pad of the Hawks fight sending it to the maximum seven games after his face-to-face confrontation with David West that was the talk of social media.

Hawks become the talk of the NBA

Atlanta entered the season with NBA experts predicating them to be on the borderline to make the play-offs. The experts looked to be right with the Hawks beginning the season with a 7-6 record. However, an inspired 19 game win streak led to a 60-22 season and the Hawks claiming the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.

Antic had a mixed regular season, playing 63 games and only three starts due to the return of All-Star Al Horford. He averaged 5.7 points, 3 rebounds and .301 from the three-point line. He scored career high 22 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder on March 20, 2015.

Despite coping criticism from Atlanta fans and pundits during the season, Coach Mike Budenholzer had only praise for the Macedonian when speaking to ESPN in January.

“He’s so unique,” said Budenholzer.

“He does things, you just go back and watch film and usually it’s brilliant. It’s not necessarily anything that we’ve told him. He’s just a really, really smart, instinctive player, including the defensive end. You go back and watch tape of him and learn a lot.”

Antic bows out

Pero Antic played all twelve games in the 4-2 playoff series victories against the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards. Antic got a rare start with Paul Millsap out on the May 9 loss to Washington, playing 15 minutes for only one point and one rebound.

After only scoring one point and securing eight rebounds in the first two games in the Eastern Conference finals against Cleveland Cavaliers, Antic only received 13 seconds in game three for an inbound pass in overtime for the Hawks to win the game – which failed. Antic was not seen in the final game of the series, with the Hawks exiting the play-offs with a 4-0 loss.

Antic would go on to sign a two-year deal with Fenerbahce on June 29, 2015.

“Anyone who knows me knows how important family is to me and being closer to my family was the deciding factor,” Antic told the Atlanta Journal.

“I would like to thank Coach Bud, the entire coaching staff, the trainers, equipment managers and the entire Atlanta Hawks organization for how they welcomed me to the franchise. Most importantly, I want to thank the city of Atlanta and all of the fans for their support.”