Giannis Plays Defense

by Alex Boeder Writer

On the same night that Giannis scored 50 points against the Jazz, the guys he was directly guarding scored a total of three points (on 1–4 shooting) according to player tracking analysis.

Those three points came on a Royce O’Neal three-pointer at the end of the shot clock when Giannis helped off the ball. As the ball went through the net, it bounced to Giannis, who grabbed it with one hand and slammed it to his other hand in frustration, because only a perfectionist can be this close to perfect.

Among forwards and centers facing heavy traffic, he again ranks as an elite individual defender when it comes to opponent field goal percentage. Last season, he ranked second in the league on this list, just a tick behind Siakam.

Defensive Field Goal Percentage
1. Kawhi Leonard — 33.3%
2. Anthony Davis — 37.3%
3. Jimmy Butler — 37.4%
4. Rudy Gobert — 38.5%
5. Giannis Antetokounmpo — 38.8%
6. Pascal Siakam — 38.9%
7. Bam Adebayo — 39.4%

Giannis roves on defense, so his value on that side of the ball goes far beyond individual matchups. He is not tasked with locking up one player.

Most of his value stems from surveying any given play and having the freedom and responsibility to read what is going on and make himself useful. Basketball these days is played in a nearly-perpetual state of semi-transition, and we know how well that suits him on offense. Same goes for defense.

Turned the ball over? No time to sulk.

That is the highlight play, but the Pacers scored 83 points that night. Giannis is here for the highlight play, but not just the highlight play.

One year after helping make the Bucks the number one defense in the NBA, he has them within a strong game or two of the top defensive efficiency spot once again.

Team Defensive Rating
1. Nuggets — 101.9
2. Raptors — 102.1
3. Bucks — 102.7
4. Lakers — 102.8
5. Jazz — 103.2

Like last year, Giannis is making himself at home on defensive advanced stat leaderboards such as Defensive Win Shares (first), Defensive Box Plus/Minus (fourth), and Defensive Rating (ninth).

He is also again an elite defensive rebounder (eighth in Defensive Rebound Percentage), helping close defensive possessions, which should not be understated when looking at team defensive success. Giannis has made a habit of following his own shots and cleaning up his own misses around the rim on offense, but he rarely allows opponents the same chance.

Opponent Second-Chance Points
1. Sixers — 9.9
2. Bucks — 10.3
3. Nuggets — 10.8
4. Pacers — 11.7
5. Clippers — 12.0

Defense is a tough thing to judge. All signs point to Donte being a plus defender. Same story for Sterling. Brook is more than a shot-blocking and shot-deterring menace and should again be in the running for an All-Defensive Team spot. Ersan is (and has always been) one of the wisest fellas out there. Go down the line, and this is a solid defensive roster.

Giannis will make the spectacular defensive play, but he will also be around, to muck things up a bit, to cause hesitation. That is hard to quantify, but consistently elite individual and team defense numbers are a start.

He will also do the right thing, the small things…

Remember, kids: Keep your hands up on defense.


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