Outside of some excited but quiet rumblings, not much was known about Giannis Antetokounmpo before the 2013 draft besides that he was from Greece and had a freakish body. The Bucks took a gamble on the then-18-year-old, and it only took one season for close observers to note his massive potential. Giannis’s excellent perimeter defense and impossibly easy drives to the rim have made him more of a household name in his second season. While the young wing has postponed his three-point attempts for now, there are almost endless reasons for Bucks fans to be ecstatic about his future. The dunks are quite fun, too:
Interestingly, the Bucks have been a bit better overall with him on the bench as the 20-year-old has slowly developed his game. For the season, they have a 0.4 net rating when Antetokounmpo is on the floor and a 1.8 net rating when he sits, per NBA.com. One major factor in this on/off court split is how the Bucks’ bench was superior to its starters for a long stretch. The departed Brandon Knight, Giannis and Jabari Parker struggled to mesh together before Parker’s untimely injury, but they provided Milwaukee with a deep bench that could feast on opponents.
Since the All-Star break, however, that hasn’t been the case. The Bucks have been a much worse team in that stretch, posting a -3.3 net rating when Giannis plays. When he takes the bench, the Bucks are hopeless, sporting a net rating of -10.4 that would be worst in the league. While the team’s recent play is obviously discouraging, the Bucks weren’t going anywhere further than the first round of the playoffs this season. Antetokounmpo’s development has to be more exciting for Milwaukee, especially if they never intended to re-sign Knight.
The main area Giannis has improved is in upping his usage of possessions to average this season, which is huge. His rookie year, his offense was all about flashes of potential mixed with lots of standing around and disappearing; he used just 15 percent of possessions, per Basketball-Reference. This season he’s up to 19.7 percent, which is almost exactly average. Lacking confidence in his jumper, he has focused more on dribble penetration and dominating comparatively tiny opponents in the post. Increasing his efficiency significantly with effortless drives into the paint was a huge step that has been positively compounded by his increased usage. He’s now an above-average offensive player, with one skill in particular that has already shown itself: drawing free throws.
Antetokounmpo has a truly killer free throw rate of .438. The cream of the crop at drawing free throws aren’t too far ahead: Jimmy Butler is at .500 and James Harden is at .560. It helps Giannis’s offense that he’s also a good free throw shooter, knocking down almost 75 percent after failing to convert even 70 percent last season. When he gets to work on his jump shot, opponents won’t have a way of stopping him.
Giannis’s obvious athleticism has predictably translated extremely well into fantastic steal and block rates. Since 1980, here’s the full list of non-centers aged 19 to 21 to average greater than a steal and a block per game: Kevin Garnett, Tracy McGrady, Antetokounmpo, Kobe Bryant, Andrei Kirilenko, Lamar Odom, Joe Smith, Kevin Durant, Darius Miles, Paul Pierce, Cliff Robinson, Josh Smith and Jerry Stackhouse. Only McGrady, Kirilenko, Garnett and Miles did so in less minutes than the Greek Freak. Giannis is in some rare company on the defensive end.
He’s a highly skilled rebounder as well, pulling in 6.8 rebounds a night, tops for all shooting guards. Butler is second at the position while Harden is third. It’s no coincidence those two All-Stars keep popping up: Giannis is already one of the game’s most talented players.
Since 1983-84, only seven guard/forwards have averaged greater than a steal and a block per game in addition to six rebounds per night: Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Antetokounmpo. While those other players all went on to have Hall-of-Fame careers, it’s unfair to use this as an accurate template for Antetokounmpo. Still, he has the size and skill to continue developing into the league’s best perimeter defender in addition to being a force on offense. Parker has a ton of potential and Khris Middleton might already be Milwaukee’s best player, but it won’t be long until Giannis is the Bucks’ MVP. In fact, he may compete for the real one in the not-so-distant future.