“He was basically a back-cut guy… now, with the ball in his hands, he’s dangerous. We have to load up to him, put three or four guys in the paint, and try to force somebody else to beat us,” said Glenn Robinsion on Giannis Antetokounmpo, before the Bucks faced the Warriors earlier this season.
What he’s saying isn’t new.
Throughout his whole career, Giannis has been a force to be reckoned with in the paint. He uses his strength and skill to find the basket to his advantage. 63% of Giannis’ shots come from within ten feet from the basket. His height and strength pose a huge disadvantage for other Power Forwards, and even centers, that get matched up against him. Believe it or not, one thing that makes Giannis’ paint play easier (and more effective) is the Bucks’ focus on the 3-point shot.
When Mike Budenholzer came in, one of his main points of emphasis was that players had to pass until they could find that perfect, wide-open, three point shot. The Bucks listened.
Comparing the 2017-18 season to the 2018-19 season, the Bucks went from attempting 2,024 three pointers, to 3,134 threes. If you don’t feel like doing mental math, that’s an improvement of 1,110 threes. Shocking to some fans that have been around for the long haul, Milwaukee’s three point completion percentage didn’t drop, even with all of the additional shots that the Bucks took every game. This new found success, was worth much more than it was on the surface.
With defenses having to key in on shooters around the perimeter, that took some of the double-teams off of Giannis, giving him a much easier chance at bunnies in the paint. This new scheme worked great, as the Bucks drastically improved their record, and the outlook of their franchise. This season, things have gotten even better.
Giannis, however, wasn’t satisfied with just being known as a paint beast. Out of (what ESPN considers to be) the top 5 contenders, the Lakers, Rockets, Clippers, Sixers, and Bucks; Milwaukee has the best net rating with their star (Giannis) on the bench. The Lakers without LeBron, and the Rockets without James Harden even have negative net ratings.
So, sure, the Bucks can perform in the paint without Giannis. Looking at the depth chart you can see that even though the Bucks have more all around skill at the guard positions, they just don’t have as many bodies. So… why not just put Giannis at the 2 or 3 for a few minutes in a game where we need him there?
This may not sound like the best idea, but it does sound a lot better when you look at how much Giannis has improved at shooting the three. Last season, in 72 games played, Giannis Antetokounmpo made 52 3-point shots. Through the first half of this season, he has built up the highest three point completion percentage in his career.
For the modern NBA superstar, 32% behind the 3-point arch isn’t necessarily great. For Giannis, however, it is huge. Giannis did start out his career by making 41 threes his first season. He followed up that season with 7 three pointers the next. Since then, he has been slowly improving. But this year, we have seen the biggest jump in his career.
I’m not saying that Giannis should be moved positions permanently, but why not move him to the 2 or 3 for short stints when the Bucks need a skilled player there? With Giannis and Budenholzer’s system, there are so many ways the Bucks could score, run plays, and win games.
Going back to the start, Glenn Robinson was somewhat right, but not entirely.
Teams can’t just give Giannis space behind the arc, waiting for him to drive anymore. Giannis improving his three point skill will be vital if Milwaukee wants to win The Finals. The Bucks need to attack the game at as many dimensions as possible, which will open shots at other positions as well. This style of play will help make their amazing season even better.
Photo: Benny Sieu / USA Today Sports