Amid all the yelling about load management and whether Kawhi Leonard, a man who has battled very legitimate quad and knee issues for years, should be allowed to sit out games, a very entertaining basketball game still managed to take place in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.
The Bucks were able to beat the Clippers on the road, but with a close enough final score that will surely leave room for Clippers fans to believe they would match up well in a series with Milwaukee when at full strength. The Clippers “others” acquitted themselves nicely without Leonard as Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, and Patrick Beverley all had big games and proved they still can keep this team competitive with both of their top stars out.
However, the story of the night — and of most Bucks games — was the performance of Giannis Antetokounmpo. The reigning MVP has improved his productivity and efficiency in every major statistical category in the first eight games of the season, which is rather preposterous given the numbers he posted a year ago. Giannis is averaging 29 points, 14.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.6 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game, shooting 59.2 percent from the field and 26.7 percent from three-point range — the latter of those boosted tremendously by a 4-of-7 night from deep in L.A.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 7, 2019
Against the Clippers, Antetokounmpo posted 38 points, 16 rebounds, and nine assists, happily stepping up in a spotlight game — and taking advantage of the Kawhi-less L.A. defense. It was a familiar performance, as we’ve steadily grown accustomed to seeming majority of nights when Giannis is unstoppable, but it also served as a reminder of the limitless potential of Antetokounmpo.
The three-point shooting will always be the first thing talked about when it comes to where Giannis can continue to expand his game, and for good reason. His shooting touch is fine and, as such, he can have games where he gets into a rhythm and knocks down a few. No one expects Antetokounmpo to ever be Kyle Korver, but even hitting a third of his threes would make him an even more terrifying offensive threat. Until it happens, that will always be the most talked about thing with Giannis’ game, but what’s incredible about his start to this season is that he’s managed to seemingly get better at the things he was already the best in the league at.
A year ago, Antetokounmpo shot 64.1 percent for the year from two-point range, a preposterous number for someone with his usage and who is not just a lob/put-back specialist center. There is no one in the NBA better at getting to the rim than Antetokounmpo, thanks to his absurdly long strides and strength, but a year ago he put together how to regularly finish once he gets there through contact and fouls (called and uncalled). Through eight games, an admittedly small sample size, he’s somehow gotten even better.
Antetokounmpo is making a ridiculous 67.9 percent of his two-point attempts this season, most of which come by the rim where he’s hitting 83.6 percent of his attempts inside three feet from the hoop. For all the talk about what three-point shooting would do for his game, the impact of it is likely overstated simply because he already is unstoppable at the rim. Yes, it might mean defenders have to step out on him, giving him more blow-by opportunities, but the patience he has with the ball in his hands and the skills he’s developed both while driving and posting up are second to none.
The best from The Greek Freak:
38 PTS | 16 REB | 9 AST | 2 BLK | 2 STL pic.twitter.com/75NGqBanWE
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) November 7, 2019
The full highlight reel from Wednesday night heavily features his three-point shooting, but I specifically want to point out the play that begins at the one minute mark. Giannis is driving on JaMychal Green, who sags well back into the paint, so rather than plow into him and risk a charge call, Antetokounmpo gets him on the block and posts up. From there, he puts on a clinic of footwork and ball fakes, getting Green to bite on a fake turnaround, spinning and using his crazy stride to get an uncontested scoop finish with his left at the rim.
These are the developments that matter most to Giannis’ game. His understanding of when to use his strength to bully people and when to use his length to go by people is second-to-none, and somehow he keeps getting better at harnessing those abilities to be more efficient and more lethal.
Beyond just getting himself better looks, he’s facilitating at a rate we’ve never seen from him. Antetokounmpo’s always been a fairly willing passer, but so far his assist percentage this season is over 40 percent — which means he’s assisted on 40 percent of his teammates’ made shots when he’s on the floor. Last year, he posted an AST% of 30, which was a career high, and to this point of the season he is only continuing to expand on that skill. He is continuing to adapt his skillset to how defenses try to approach him, and every adjustment opponents make he seems ready to counter — or, at least, is willing to learn how to counter it.
The discussion of where Antetokounmpo’s game goes is always going to focus on the outside shooting, because that is his lone glaring weakness, but what’s most incredible about him is that it appears there’s room for him to continue to improve in all areas of his game, even those that he’s already the best in the league at.