Six Month Gianniversary

by Alex Boeder Writer

Nine Lives

In NBA history, 97 teenagers have suited up for a season.

Nine of those players ranked in the top three on their team in minutes played.

Here is that full list of nine:

  • LeBron James
  • Carmelo Anthony
  • Kevin Durant
  • Dwight Howard
  • Chris Bosh
  • Stephon Marbury
  • Kevin Garnett
  • Tony Parker
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo

This is not to suggest in any way that Giannis is on his way to a career like the list of mostly superstars above. But it does mean that he is part of a very select group to have featured so prominently on an NBA team as a teenager. On the last night of the regular season during the Bucks/Hawks game, Bucksketball told me that someone asked him on Twitter why Giannis wasn’t playing more, something along those lines. Now this is a story you are reading.

Going into the season, a lot of people wanted the Bucks to play their new group of young players – namely Giannis – and a lot of people wanted the Bucks to get in position for a high draft pick. Given those wants, and I know was a rough road, a lot of people could be somewhat pleased.

Six Month Gianniversary

In a casual late-October interview, GM John Hammond gave Larry Drew his blessing, even his encouragement, to let Giannis play.

"We want to expose [Giannis] but not overexpose him. Any time that Larry Drew can find a way to get him on the floor, sneak in minutes for him, get him out there but not put him in too uncomfortable a position early on. But we'll see how things go in training camp, how things go in exhibition season, really see what he's capable of doing."

John Hammond, Bucks General Manager

Then he played four minutes on Opening Night. One month to the day later, he was the sixth man in 27 bright minutes against the Celtics. Three weeks after that, he earned his first NBA start, the first of 21 starts in a row. Giannis played 17+ minutes in every game for three straight months to conclude the season.

Today is exactly six months after Opening Night, perhaps exactly six months until Opening Night.

Next season will be about a lot more than minutes, so here are a few numbers to build on.

Six Numbers To Build On

43.9% According to Player Tracking Data (fun first public year), Giannis rated as the best non-center in the NBA in terms of opponent field goal percentage at the rim (minimum: three attempts guarded per game). Just ahead of Serge Ibaka, Andrew Bogut, Taj Gibson and co. Very encouraging stuff, and it makes some sense, because Giannis blocks a lot of shots and gets up there for a non-center.

But teammates Miroslav Raduljica, Ekpe Udoh, and John Henson also ranked among the leaders in this category, and the Bucks finished dead last in defensive efficiency.  Despite the at-the-rim heroics, Giannis struggled to recover through screens and walk the line between help and man-to-man defense – and plenty of other advanced stats didn’t paint such a flattering photo. This is par for the rookie course, and he otherwise showed awareness and instincts that suggest major capacity for improvement on the defensive end. He is his own player, but out of all the comparisons, prime Andrei Kirilenko, an absolute terror in his day, is a fun one.

39.2 % That represents his three-point percentage post-All Star Weekend. And it is a quite a few ticks up from the 31.4 % he shot from three before the break. The second half surge bumped him up to 34.7 % overall in his rookie campaign, which is pretty close to the league average of 36.0 %. The really interesting part about his three-point game is his shot chart distribution. He made just 1-17 (5.8 %) on threes from the corners, but 9-14 (64.2%) on straightaway threes. His favorite spot by far was the center-right-side, where he made a solid 18-43 (41.8%).

Giannis didn’t show off much of an in-between, mid-range game, which is not atypical for a rookie. In the meantime, cheer for him to move up into the high 30s on threes and continue what should be an inevitable progression into a very strong finisher at the rim. Those are the two highest percentages shots on the court, and he gets that.

.483 Giannis posted a really nice .483 free throw rate, which measures the number of free throw attempts per field goal attempt. The good news is that this is the third of the three most efficient types of shots, along with the two mentioned above, and Giannis already is better than most of the league at getting calls at the rim.

However, one reason that his free throw rate was so high (second best on the team behind Ramon Sessions) is that he hardly ever attempted field goals. In fact, only Ekpe Udoh among teammates attempted fewer shots per minute, which means Zaza Pachulia, Miroslav Raduljica, Nate Wolters, and everyone else managed to find more shots. Again, it is encouraging that Giannis recognized his limits even as a rookie, but to make an impact moving forward, he will need to find an offensive niche or two.

68.3% His first-year free throw percentage. If getting to the line is to be a heavy part of his game – and we should hope it is – then Giannis will want to get up into the 70s (and then 80s). Let’s do that.

67% Giannis played 67% of his minutes at small forward, 31% at power forward, 1% at shooting guard, per basketball-reference. Those numbers feel a bit off in a few ways, he played more two guard and less power forward, to start. In any event, he looked most like a three both offensively and defensively. And though he can run some point forward in transition and though he is growing into power forward heights, he is really just a tall small forward for now.

5. Giannis accumulated five assists in five different games, and that season-best number should go up next year as he diversifies offensively and evolves into a more confident off-the-dribble prober. His modest assist numbers are less a reflection of his court vision or passing skills (which are pretty good) and more a product of his limited involvement in the half court.




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