December 30, 2013
By Alex Boeder
Today we celebrate the two-month anniversary of the union between Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks (and playing basketball).
You probably remember some of the firsts: the first game, the first time he did antlers after making a three, the first start. You probably don't remember the first dunk, because the season has been a beautiful blur of Giannis dunks.
Firsts are always nice, but to have something really everlasting? That is the challenge. That is the best.
Maybe things just seem right, right now. Maybe it is just because everything is so new.
But maybe someday we will celebrate an anniversary together with a ring.
In the meantime (nice-time), here are 10 reasons why we are at least "in like" with Giannis. Because, thank you 2013, for Giannis.
Free throw rate
Here is a list of players who have made the most free throws this season: Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Damian Lillard.
Free throws are important. They increase efficiency. You don't become a great player simply by getting to the line. But rarely can you become a great player if you can't get to the line. Good news: Giannis already leads the team easily in Free Throw Rate (.516). This stat simply compares the number of field goal attempts and free throw attempts, and it shows that Giannis spends a relatively large amount of time at the line. It makes sense: Giannis glides to the basket with grace and force. He needs to do it more often (particularly in the half court), but this bodes well.
Also: After early struggles, he has made 31 of his last 35 free throws (88.5 %)
Tonight is also the first time that Giannis has attempted 10+ shots in an NBA game. This was game #24.— Alex Boeder (@alexboeder) December 28, 2013
The youngest player in the NBA already gets what he can and cannot do on the court. Some players never really learn or embrace this. Notably, Giannis affects the game in positive ways when not shooting.
Despite increased minutes and starter status, Giannis did not attempt 10+ shots in a night until his 24th game of the season. That remains the only such game. Speaking of which…
Not only does Giannis refrain from taking too many shots, he also chooses his actual shooting spots keenly. In addition to the aforementioned free throws, the two most efficient shots in basketball are shots at the rim and three-pointers. Thankfully, if Giannis is shooting, he is probably shooting from one of those three places.
The shot chart percentages above show the distribution of his shots (not accuracy). The point is, he lives at the rim, sprinkles in some threes, and virtually never shoots the dreaded long two-point jumper. Again, he will need to diversify a bit eventually (in order to increase a currently-low usage rate), but these are wonderful young habits.
In his first NBA start, Giannis had a different look. He was noticeably aggressive yet still under control (three shot attempts in 41 minutes). He was all over the place defensively (2 steals, 1 block, 6 fouls). He was up for the challenge of helping hold down Carmelo Anthony (29 points on 29 shot attempts).
After asserting some leadership qualities on the court, he asserted some leadership qualities off the court in the locker room. Speaking about Carmelo:
"He's one of the best players, but he can't come out and start bullying my teammates and me..."
Respectfully demanding respect? A good look for the 19 year-old.
Over the summer, I asked Billy McKinney (the team's Director of Scouting) about what might be the potential strengths of Giannis.
"Being able to play multiple positions. He is a player, with his size, who could play point guard, shooting guard possibly, and small forward."
The point forward talk seemed understandable but really optimistic. We all saw him carry the ball up the court after rebounds in those grainy YouTube videos in tiny gyms, but this was the NBA. This would be different.
Actually, Giannis has often looked at his best after corralling defensive rebounds and pushing the ball (something coach Larry Drew encourages, by the way). He still looks most like a small forward for now, but he can capably run a little point, and he has recently been starting at shooting guard. One of the most intriguing things about watching Giannis is that you get the sense that he will always fit in really well around other very good players.
Lots to like here. Defense was the other big thing that McKinney had singled out as an area of potential strength after the draft. So far, so good.
The Bucks are statistically better on defense with Giannis on the court than off the court this season. He has quick reflexes and a nice block rate, and is a terror-in-the-making when it comes to open court chase-down blocks. He can guard at a few positions. Opponents are shooting 41.1 % at the rim against Giannis, which makes him one of the best defenders in the NBA at the rim by that metric.
And he should only get stronger and better on this side of the ball.
More and merrier
We are still working with relatively small sample sizes, but Giannis has actually played better as his minutes have risen. At the very least, his production has not suffered while playing against opposing starters in the last six games.
So tonight's game ends on a perfect cross-court inbound pass from Giannis.— Alex Boeder (@alexboeder) December 24, 2013
The above is just one example, but the closer you watch Giannis, the better he looks. Usually. He still needs to move off the ball better. He needs to learn how and where to assert himself within the half court offense. He needs to cut down on turnovers. He needs to be aware of the ball and his man. There is much room for improvement everywhere, but the right instincts seem to be there.
Of course, Giannis also does really well at the things that show up on YouTube and in GIFs. And there is value in aesthetics.
I think I like Greek Freak more than anyone in the 2014 Draft. I'm not even kidding.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) December 28, 2013
Everyone in like with Giannis
The Bucks are rarely on national television. They don't get a lot of attention from national media, generally.
And so usually, we dismiss the national media, we quietly tell each other that they don't pay attention, so who cares what they think anyway.
But sometimes, it is nice to hear nice things about Milwaukee's nice players. Andrew Sharp of Grantland wrote that it is all about Giannis. ESPN.com's Marc Stein recently said that if there was a re-draft, he would select Giannis at #1. Bill Simmons, same kind of thing.
The best part? They can all watch, but can't watch him like we do.
Writing and the Bucks. Two of my passions. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009. I started writing for the Bucks in 2012. Before that, I co-founded and wrote for BrewHoop. I have written for the Milwaukee Brewers, SB Nation, ESPN Milwaukee, Slam Online, and so on. Feel free to follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.