Giannis Antetokounmpo scored a career high 33 points on national TV against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. What's behind his rapid improvement?
Last March, in Quick Bucks, I did a film breakdown of the offense of Giannis Antetokounmpo. Antetokounmpo had recently become a bigger focus in the Bucks offense and was struggling while taking a larger number of shots. Particularly, I was very critical of his pace, balance and strength, and even went as far as to say, “Antetokounmpo is nowhere near ready to become a primary scorer.” (Watch the video from that post. More than half of it is cringe-worthy.)
After last night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, I’m forced to ask if someone can develop from “nowhere near ready” to “ready” in just 8 months.
As we did in March, let’s take a closer look at the film (h/t to DawkIns for the Giannis Highlights and all of his amazing film work).
Last year, Antetokounmpo would often make a nice initial move on a drive, but ultimately fail to control his pace as he reached the basket.
His mistakes based on pace came in many forms. Sometimes, he would move too fast, lose his footing, and turn the ball over. Other times, he would slow down too soon, allowing a defender to recover. Ultimately, Antetokounmpo struggled with managing his tempo on drives.
On this drive, Antetokounmpo gets a step on his defender and masterfully uses his defender’s desperate attempt to recover against him by controlling his pace and allowing his defender to fly by him at the rim.
The above play likely looked very different just last year. Even this year, there have been times where Antetokounmpo makes this same drive, but tries to beat his defender to the opposite side of the rim, and the foot race either results in a blocked shot or a rushed shot that flies off the backboard.
As Antetokounmpo began realizing his abilities last season, there would be times where he would fail to keep his speed and length under control. His head and shoulders would get a bit too far in front of his feet and he would lose control on his drives. Even sometimes, on his oft-used spin move, he would get moving just a bit too fast and be unable to control his body to finish.
That was not the case last night. He was able to not only beat his defender to the basket with the spin move, but have enough balance to throw down a two handed dunk as LeBron James came to help from the backside.
Even as recently as last week, Antetokounmpo was a bit overeager when trying to exploit a size mismatch in the post and was called for a charge.
That was not the case last night. Antetokounmpo took his time, kept his movements in control, and punished a smaller defender in the post. He even pivoted through a backside helper with some great footwork.
But perhaps the most important development Antetokounmpo has made is his improved strength. Last season, Antetokounmpo would beat opponents to the basket, but simply wasn’t strong enough to handle a bump as he went to the rim.
Now, this play was probably an offensive foul, but was nevertheless an amazing sight to see. Not only does Antetokounmpo use a change of pace and maintain his balance on a drive, he also physically moves LeBron James back three feet with a lowered shoulder. That is some improved strength, folks.
With improved pace, balance, and strength, Antetokounmpo posted a career high 33 points in the Bucks’ first regular season appearance on TNT in 13 years, while facing off against four-time MVP LeBron James. Now, there will still be plenty of growing pains and ugly games from Antetokounmpo, but if you can’t get excited about his performance last night, you might not be human.
Clip of the Week
You guys, this happened the other night and we’ve barely even talked about it… pic.twitter.com/oYwMmwUZcX
— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) November 19, 2015
Though it is probably best to forget most of the Bucks game against the Wizards on Tuesday night, this play should be remembered. Though regularly showcasing a game nearly exclusively below the rim, Greg Monroe rose up out of nowhere and tried to dunk on the entire Wizards roster. There is no way of knowing if this was just a once in a lifetime occurrence or sign of things to come…
What to Read
How the quiet Khris Middleton keeps the Milwaukee Bucks in harmony – At SBNation, Britt Robson penned a lengthy piece in appreciation of the quiet excellence of Khris Middleton and attempted to explain just how important he is to the Bucks.
Kidd frank on reason for trading Brandon Knight – After not saying much of anything publicly about the Bucks Trade Deadline move that brought Michael Carter-Williams in to Milwaukee and sent out Brandon Knight, Jason Kidd explained the move to the Journal-Sentinel’s Charles Gardner before the Bucks game against the Wizards on Tuesday.
Rebounds, turnovers, and Johnny O’Bryant: What is and isn’t real after 10 games? – Bucksketball’s Mitch Vomhof took a look at some early season trends and attempted to sort through what is real and what is just a mirage for the Bucks going forward.
Week in Review
Saturday – The Bucks were able to fight off the Cavaliers in double overtime to secure a 108-105 victory, their biggest win of the young NBA season. Milwaukee had seven players in double figures with Greg Monroe (16 points, 17 rebounds) and Jerryd Bayless (17 points, 5 assists) leading the way.
Tuesday – It was all Wizards in the nation’s capital as the Bucks followed up their biggest win with quite possibly their most ugly loss. The Wizards beat the Bucks 115-86 and there wasn’t a single individual Bucks performance worth highlighting.
Thursday – The Cavaliers were able to get some revenge on the Bucks for Saturday night’s loss with a 115-100 victory. The Bucks shot over 52 percent from the field on the night, but it wasn’t enough as their defense just couldn’t stop the Cavaliers.
Next Week’s Preview
Saturday – Even though much was made about PAUL GEORGE AT POWER FORWARD in the offseason, he hasn’t really played a whole lot of it, but C.J. Miles has. With some funky lineups and a new spread offense, George has been great and the Pacers are off to a 7-5 start.
Monday – Another game, another Central Division foe. Hot-shooting Ersan Ilyasova and the Pistons will visit the BMO Harris Bradley Center for the Bucks’ first home game in over a week. After a fast start to the season, the Pistons lost four straight on a West Coast road trip before returning to Detroit for a win over the Cavaliers on Tuesday night.
Wednesday – The Bucks host Boogie and the boys in their second straight home game. It will be just the second game against a Western Conference opponent for the Bucks this season. The Sacramento Kings have won three of four games against Eastern Conference squads in the last week.
Stats of the Week
46.8 – Jerryd Bayless has never taken more than 38 percent of his shots from behind the three point line. Last year, only 23% of his shots came from behind the three point line. With some help from Greivis Vasquez, Bayless has doubled his three point attempt rate to 46.8 percent.
52.4 – Bayless also happens to be shooting very well from the three point line. On catch and shoot opportunities, Bayless is shooting the league’s 13th highest percentage at 52.4 percent.
43.1 – Among players that have defended at least five shots at the rim per game this season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has limited shooters to 43.1 percent, the 12th lowest shooting percentage. This is over a ten percent increase from last season.
Quick Bucks is Milwaukee Magazine‘s weekly roundup of all things Milwaukee Bucks written by Eric Nehm. You can also find his work at SBNation’s Brew Hoop or you can find him on Twitter @eric_nehm, where he would love to know if you thought Sam Cassell’s punts were cooler than his dance. (Happy Belated Birthday Sam!)