Scaletta’s Summer Top 100 is a ranking of returning NBA players. For a full explanation of our methodology, read our intro.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been famed for two things during his NBA career so far: his lengthy name and his lengthier frame. Among my loftiest goals this year is learning to actually spell his name instead of going with the old “CTRL+C” and “CTRL+V”. So for this article, I’m actually going to type out Antetokounmpo every time. because I’m a pro like that.
The Grecian freak is 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan. He spent the latter part of last season as a point guard. Not too many players with the ball-handling skills to run an offense have the reach of a center, but that’s what makes this young man so special. And if he can pick up this year where he left off, he will become one of the NBA’s elite.
Antetokounmpo is the type of player who is most effective when he has the ball in his hands. According to NBA.com, after last season’s All-Star Break, his usage percentage went from 21.3 to 24.0, and his assist percentage skyrocketed from 12.9 to 31.1. Typically when you see a player handle the rock that much more, you see his turnover percentage go up, and his shooting go down.
However, Freak’s turnover percentage went from 12.9 to 10.6 and his effective field-goal percentage went from 51.8 to 52.4.
All of that indicates he’s much better on the ball than off it. Whether it’s as a point guard or point forward, the offense needs to run through him, and the signing of Matthew Delavadova seems to indicate that’s the goal. If Alphabet can approximate last year’s post-break numbers, an All-NBA team is almost a foregone conclusion.
There are two reasons to hesitate before making him the next statistical Russell Westbrook, though. First, any half-season split needs to contain a certain degree of salt. As teams get more book on a player in a new role, they have a better understanding of how to defend him in it. The league may just need to catch up. Being a great player requires being able to execute even when the defense knows what you’re going to do.
The more problematic issue is Khris Middleton’s injury. Antetokounmpo’s effectiveness could be mitigated by a lack of shooting around him since he’s not a shooter himself.
About those post splits I keep referring to? He averaged 18.8 points, 8.6 boards and 7.2 assists after the break. According to Basketball-Reference.com, the only other players to have 18/8/7 seasons while shooting over 50 percent are Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
That also included five triple-doubles — the equivalent of about 15 over a full season. For comparison’s sake, only four players have done that in a season since at least 1982.
He can be a top-five player, particularly if he can get that scoring up a bit more. He topped 25 points 13 times last year, so it’s certainly doable. But that’s probably still another year away.
The thing you have to love about Antetokounmpo is that he’s also already a two-way player who can become elite on both ends of the court. His defensive real plus-minus was a solid 0.27.
More impressively, opponents shot 1.8 percent below their season averages against him. Unlike some players, that’s not because he had some elite rim protector backing him up. What stands out with Antetokounmpo is that opponents were 8.7 percentage points below normal within six feet when he was the closest defender, and that was 4.8 of his 12.7 defenses.
When you have a point guard doubling as your rim protector, you have something truly worthy of the “Freak” moniker.