Back in the 2014 NBA season, then a rookie, Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo was the team’s 8th playmaker on the roster with a usage percentage of 15.0% (when looking at players from that squad who played over 1,000 minutes that season).
In his sophomore season, Giannis became the team’s fifth option on offense, with a usage percentage of 19.6%. Then last season, his third, Giannis was now one of the Bucks’ top-3 playmakers, with a usage percentage of 22.3%.
After 18 games this season, Giannis is not only the number one option for the Bucks with a usage percentage of 28.3%, but he’s having an early All-Star level season and keeping the Bucks with a winning record (10-8) with his play on both ends of the floor.
Only five players in the NBA currently average more than 20 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds, and they are Russell Westbrook (November Western Conference Player of the Month), James Harden, LeBron James (November Eastern Conference Player of the Month), Giannis and Kyle Lowry.
Westbrook: 31.0 points, 10.8 rebounds, 11.3 assists, 35.8 minutes
Harden: 28.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 11.8 assists, 37.2 minutes
James: 23.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 9.4 assists, 36.3 minutes
Giannis: 22.4 points, 8.6 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 34.4 minutes
Lowry: 20.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 37.3 minutes
Here’s where Giannis stands out compared to the other four – he’s putting up his numbers in less minutes per game than any of the other four, and he’s the only one doing it by shooting over 50% from the floor (52.6% FG for Giannis).
Outside of Lowry, it wouldn’t be shocking if the other three (Westbrook, Harden or James) end up winning the MVP trophy by the end of the season, and Giannis’ name, at age 21, is in that company.
So, how has Giannis gone from not even making the All-Star team a year ago to now having his team on a path toward the playoffs and putting his name in MVP-type categories? Let’s dive into how his playmaking has expanded thus far.
As you’ll see from his shot chart below, Giannis’ biggest flaw still is his inconsistent jump shooting ability.
But, when you’re 6’11” and have a variety of tools in your offensive arsenal, you can compensate for not having a strong jumper because you can almost get into the paint whenever you’d like, and that’s just what Giannis is doing.
Of his 285 total shots attempted this season, 119 of those looks have been jumpers, the other 166 have come within the restricted area, where Giannis is an efficient monster at scoring in the paint.
58.2% of Giannis’ shots are coming in the paint, and when he takes shots in the restricted area, he’s making 69.9% of them, which is 10% better than the league average.
As you’ll see in the video clip below, it’s so tough to defend Giannis because of his length and size. Stick a small player on him and he’ll easily post them up, and once he’s close enough to the rim, he can just use a hook shot, or even just flat out dunk over the dude like he’s not even there. When a taller player like a 4 or 5 has to guard him, Giannis can just take them off the dribble, then use his speed and creativity to score layups around them. When he has a natural defender at the 3 guarding him, maybe someone like 6’7” or 6’8”, he can go into post-ups or use his spin move to score baskets.
Giannis is quite dangerous in the open court too. When he’s on the break, he’s an easy alley-oop target for teammates. In the half court, he knows how to play off the ball and can easily use a post spin to cut backdoor for alley-oops as well. Plus, with his size at 6’11”, he’s able to crash the glass for putbacks on offense, as he’s grabbing 1.6 offensive boards per game.
As mentioned earlier, the jump shot is still the area of Giannis’ game where he needs improvement. When the ball’s not in his hands, defenses will help off of him and leave him open on the outside to prevent drives. When the ball is in his hands, defenders will usually back off of him to try to prevent a driving lane, and when he uses the pick-and-roll to get free, defenders usually go under the screen daring Giannis to shoot.
I wondered why his shooting is still an area of concern, so I first looked at his 3-point shooting. In the clip below, Giannis makes four 3-pointers. Each made three is from each season he’s been in the NBA.
While the release and guide hand have improved over the years, it looks like Giannis still doesn’t have a fluid gather into the shot. His shooting motion still looks very robotic, as if he’s going from gather in step one, then you see as he releases in step-two. It’s like there’s a little hitch instead of the shot just coming together like natural shooters display.
The other issue visible with Giannis’ shot is that he tends to shoot with his back fading away. He’s not shooting into the shot, but rather, his leaning back is preventing the shot from getting its best arc and angle.
When Giannis uses the hop shooting motion, he seems to be making more shots that way. The fading back is still an issue even with the hop, but when a shooter uses the hop motion to shoot, it tends to naturally give a shooter more balance in the gather and release formations.
Shooting is a skill that not only takes time to improve upon like in the summer, but it also requires consistency and discipline to not try to fall back into previous habits once the season is in progress. I don’t know Giannis’ training situation over the summer, but one would assume, since players work on their weaknesses in the summertime, it’s something he worked on and the Bucks’ coaches will likely continue to try to work with him in getting his jumper near a league average percentage.
If Giannis can add a consistent jumper to his already dangerous skill of scoring in the paint, he’ll only be that much tougher for defenses to guard in the future. One other thing to keep in mind, Giannis will BARELY turn 22 on Tuesday. There’s still a lot of time to fix that jumper.
Lastly in scoring the basketball, Giannis is a tough assignment for any defender, since he’s also getting to the free throw line 6.7 times per game, and when he visits the line, he’s making 76.9% of those freebies.
It’s not just about scoring, but Giannis’ playmaking is being seeing in his ability to read defenses, especially when they double team him now that he’s the focal point on offense, and he’s starting to find teammates in all sort of situations.
Giannis has gone from 1.9 assists his rookie season, to 2.6 his second season, to 4.3 assists last season, and now, he’s averaging 6.1 assists per game.
As you’ll see in the video clip below, Giannis’ IQ and court awareness have improved so much this season. He’s able to make passes out of the post to opposite corner open shooters, he can drive and kick either inside or outside, he can run the pick and roll or pick and pop action, he can make a very tough pass in the air while he’s driving out of bounds toward the baseline, he can find teammates in transition, and he’s added some highlight plays, like his behind the back, no look bounce passes.
With more possessions being run through him, Giannis’ turnovers have increased to 3.4 per game. Considering he’s in the 20-5-5 club with James, Westbrook, Harden and Lowry, Giannis is actually averaging less turnovers per game than all of them except Lowry (3.0 turnovers).
Other Areas of Impact
It’s not just the offensive end where Giannis is helping his team, but it’s the defensive end as well. Giannis grabs 8.6 rebounds per game, makes 2.2 steals and 2.2 blocks per game as well.
On defense, he mainly guards 4s, because that’s a position in today’s NBA where most 4s first get to their spot at the top of the arc, before initiating a play. Having Giannis stationed at the top of the key allows him to automatically switch any pick and roll and he’s very comfortable guarding any positions 1-5 because of his length and speed. In being kind of like a free safety from the top and guarding 4s, who don’t shoot a ton from the outside, it allows Giannis to pick off passes with his length, or supply help defense on attempts near the rim. Plus, because of his 6’11” frame, it’s easier for Giannis to rotate and recover onto shooters and drivers, compared to average defenders.
Overall, the Bucks have a Top-10 defense in holding teams to 101.8 Points Per 100 Possessions (8th). The Bucks can switch pretty much almost every position with their starting five because they feature a lineup of players that go from 6’4” in height to 6’11” – Matthew Dellavedova (6’4”), Tony Snell (6’7”), Jabari Parker (6’8”), Giannis (6’11”), and John Henson (6’11).
In their last four games, that starting five unit is holding teams to 97.8 PP/100, scoring 113.3 PP/100, which gives them a net rating of +15.5 PP/100 in 68 minutes.
With Giannis on the floor for 620 minutes this season, the Bucks score like the 9th best offense of the Boston Celtics (106.9 PP/100) and hold teams to 100.3 PP/100 on defense, like the second best defense of the Atlanta Hawks.
When Giannis goes to the bench in 249 minutes this season, the team performs like one of the worst in the league without him. The Bucks score like the 29th ranked Orlando Magic on offense (96.8 PP/100) and get scored on like they were the Washington Wizards, who have the 20th ranked defense (105.6 PP/100).
It’s still early in the NBA season and as teams continue to scout the Bucks, they’ll start building more schemes on defense to try to keep Giannis out of the paint as much as possible and force him to take the jumper.
It’ll be up to Giannis to try to improve that shooting percentage from the outside and the coaches to anticipate counters by defenses when they try to take the rim away from him.
But, overall, through 18 games, not only does Giannis have the Bucks on pace to win 46 games this season, which would be a large improvement compared to the 33 games they won last season, but, at age 21, Giannis is throwing his name in the hat with some of the premier players in the league.
Statistics via NBA.com/stats