Has Giannis Antetokounmpo Made the Leap?
When the Milwaukee Bucks selected that Greek kid in the first round of the NBA draft three years ago, basketball fans had every right to be intrigued.
They may not have known much about Giannis Antetokounmpo, but his highlight tapes were enough to show off his incredible length, his ability to run the floor, and the potential for what could become a versatile skill set in the league.
Not every European player is Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming, or Pau Gasol. Making the jump to the NBA is more than just a long flight and a new jersey. It takes time for the player to get acclimated not only to a new brand of basketball but also to his new surroundings. It takes patience and learning and coaching. And after all that, then it's fair to ask whether or not Player X has made the leap.
It may still be a bit premature to pose the question in search of a definitive answer when it comes to Antetokounmpo, as he enters just his third NBA season, but the numbers are there for us to at least discuss it.
We've only seen four games from Antetokounmpo so far this season, and clearly, a lot can change over the course of 78 games, but progress and development seems imminent. Aside from the fact that he can't even enjoy a post-game pint at a local bar until next month (he'll turn 21 in December), Antetokounmpo is taking advantage of the experience.
The large uptick in True Shooting Percentage from last season can be attributed to Antetokounmpo's efficient start from both behind the arc and at the free throw line this season, both of which should remain areas of development and progress moving forward.
And while he's averaging just over 37 minutes per game this year as opposed to his 31 per game last season, we're seeing a more productive player.
Two key pieces to Antetokounmpo's game when it comes to his success on the offensive end of the floor is his presence of mind without the ball in his hands and his ability to run the floor and finish in transition.
According to Synergy Sports, the Bucks rank second in the league in points off cuts, and that's far from accidental. Thanks in large part to Antetokounmpo -- as well as offseason addition Greg Monroe -- Milwaukee keeps the opposition on their toes by way of players moving without the ball.
Despite his lack of experience, Antetokounmpo totes some impressive instincts and natural feel for the game. He can anticipate lanes before they're clear and read his teammates handling the ball, while also feeling the weight of the floor and finding ways to put himself in opportune dashes to the basket, which can be extremely hard to defend when we're talking about a 6'11" erector set with tentacles for arms and the ability to gobble up lots of floor space in a single step. And when his teammates find him, Antetokounmpo finishes -- his 62.8 percent shooting from inside 10 feet is good for ninth in the league among players with at least 30 attempts.
Antetokounmpo's power and skill in transition can often times be even more impressive than his feel off the ball, and there's more finite numbers to prove it. Even after missing the season opener due to suspension, Antetokounmpo ranks third in the league in transition points behind only Stephen Curry and Isaiah Thomas, and his 75 percent shooting from the floor in transition is highest among all players with at least 20 possessions.
Certainly his length comes into play here -- those gigantic strides covering enough ground to force you into numerous replays from the couch -- but it's a knack for being around the rim as well. Antetokounmpo is drawing and-one opportunities on 20 percent of his transition attempts, which is by far the best in the NBA, and that shouldn't be completely chalked up to a result of his length. Scoring at least one point on a whopping 70 percent of your transition attempts isn't dependent on length alone; that takes skill and know-how, too.
And when you continue to remind yourself of his age, that's where the amazement factor really begins to take form.
Last season, we saw a big jump in Antetokounmpo's defense, as his Defensive Rating improved from 110 in 77 games and 23 starts as a rookie, to 101 in 81 games and 71 starts as a sophomore. And during their six-game playoff series, the Bucks' team Defensive Rating improved by nine points with Antetokounmpo on the floor. So far this season, Milwaukee is holding their opponents to six fewer points per 100 possessions with Antetokounmpo out there doing his thing.
Regularly interrupting passing lanes and using his long arms as reliable tools in the area of blocking shots has come to be commonplace for Antetokounmpo. His average steal and block per game marks over his young career have set a decent floor, and there's room to build there. He's holding opponents to under 35 percent from the field, according to Synergy Sports, and his average distance traveled on defense per game (1.3 miles) is second only to Victor Oladipo (1.4).
Needless to say, he has the capacity to be anywhere and everywhere, all at the same time.
Weighing the question of whether or not Antetokounmpo has made the leap leads to a definitive yes, if not for the sole reason of his playing good basketball and helping his team win. But it'd also be wise to follow up with the notion that he has even more room to develop and improve, with experience serving as the lone gateway to help strengthen his smarts, sharpen his skills, and provide us selfish hoops fans with an even greater Giannis.
Player comparisons are usually a fun source of entertainment, but we also know they're rarely accurate. It's difficult to observe a new and unique player and try to squeeze him into the mold of players past or present, and that's pretty much the case with Antetokounmpo.
The fact is that Giannis Antetokounmpo is a damn good basketball player who's shown substantial progress as a pro, and the safest bet is to assume there's a lot of untapped potential we've yet to see, all of which is extremely exciting stuff.