After a roller coaster of a game 5 where KD went into god mode in the second half and the world is now talking about what this has done for his legacy, I just keep thinking about Giannis.
A 2x MVP and DPOY who down the stretch is neither of those two things. What he seems to be is a… liability. And I’ve been thinking about this for a while now.
Let me explain.
Watching the game from media row is always a weird experience. I’ll write a blog about it soon because I promise you it’s not at all what you expect or think, and having seen hundreds of NBA games including four finals from press row I have some experience in this area.
Last night at the Barclay’s Center was a tale of two halves. The first half was as ugly as basketball can get.
Here are the stats on the Brooklyn Nets basketball team on a balmy Tuesday night in the first half:
James Harden: 0-6 (didn’t score his first bucket until 7:21 of the 3rd)
Bruce Brown: 0-3
Landry Shamet: 0-2
Joe Harris: 1-7
Remember this when someone tells you “Joe Harris is the best pure shooter in the NBA.” FUCK OUTTA HERE. When some random brings up that Joe pretty boy Harris might be on the same level as Steph or Klay? Nope.
The Nets were down 16 at the half and Barclays was DEAD.
All of this is a long and winding road to get to a bigger point.
As everyone with social media knows Kevin Durant went OFF in the second half. One of the greatest performances in playoff history, dragging the Nets back from the dead with an incredible 49/17/10 game including an unreal dagger three.
But this isn’t about KD. This is about Giannis, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the two-time MVP who largely disappeared in the second half.
And it’s a problem that’s been revealing itself in small ways for years.
With KD absolutely TORCHING Brook Lopez in the 2nd half, Mike Budenholzer chose to not put Giannis on him, the only guy on the team with the height and athleticism to bother KD when he’s cooking (no offense to P.J. Tucker who is a dog but too undersized for the job). So Bud, who seems to be coaching himself out of a job, defended him straight up with P.J. and switched Middleton onto him off-screen. He almost never trapped or doubled. Again, this isn't about Bud.
Where was Giannis you might ask? The help defender at the rim, watching from afar as KD torched his teammates. Charles Barkley blew up Giannis, saying if that was Draymond Green he’d run through a wall to defend KD just for the challenge of it.
But as rough a look as it is having the DPOY not one time square up against KD in the fourth, the real problem has developed on the offensive end of the court, and it’s a real conundrum.
It’s a two-part problem.
First, he is among the worst high-volume three-point shooters in the NBA. In the playoffs he’s shooting just 17.1% from three and it’s become a problem because he wants to shoot. Here’s the problem: he takes a higher share of self-created 3s than any other player on the Bucks. According to Owen Phillips at Substack:
Normally, players resort to self-created shots because they’re being closely guarded. But Antetokounmpo stands out for the fact that that many of his self-created 3s are taken when the defense isn’t anywhere near him. During the regular season, 81 percent of his self-created 3s were uncontested, by far the highest rate in the league among high volume shot creators.
In other words? Opponents WANT him to shoot threes and he can’t help himself, and it’s killing the Bucks against good teams where the margin of victory is one or two possessions. He’s taken 41 three-pointers in the playoffs and made 7, and it’s coming back to haunt them.
More pressing, however, is his free throw problems. Giannis seems to have lost any semblance of confidence at the free-throw line, and it’s killing the Bucks. His 10-second violation issue is a problem now. Look at this video I shot from my seat and count how long he took to shoot this free throw. My camera counts 12 seconds.
He has been programmed by someone to do this same repetitive thing at the line, and yet he’s one of the worst free-throw shooters in the playoffs. The refs hold on to the ball until he goes through his motion, which is wild, and should also be examined, and then he gets the ball and he STILL takes over 10 seconds to shoot. As soon as he gets the ball, it takes him around 12 seconds every time. They don’t always show you this on TV by the way. He could realistically get called for a violation almost every time.
He’s shooting 52.2% from the line in the playoffs. This is a man who shot 77% from the line in 2016. He's getting worse.
The bigger problem is he’s now so afraid of getting put on the line in pressure moments he’s costing them games. In the final minute of the game last night, it was so obvious he didn’t want to get fouled that he ended up bobbling the ball and having a turnover. This was hard to see on camera, but I was behind the basket and his face was toward me and I had a perfect view of what was going on. Jeff Green was going to foul Giannis and he panicked so much he tried to get rid of the ball before he even had it, and thus he bobbled it and turned it over a critical moment. Sometimes your perception is distorted live, and sometimes you get a better look then TV cameras. This is one of those occasions that being there told the real story.
So now in the fourth, as was pointed out on the broadcast, Khris Middleton is the #1 option for the Bucks with the game on the line and has been all playoffs. Might I remind you that Giannis has a Supermax and is a two-time MVP and DPOY?
Giannis is an athletic monster and one of the best players in basketball. But these are very, very real issues and they are not going away. And I don’t see a solution for the Bucks short of adding a true superstar who can take all the pressure of him, and allow him to be the Anthony Davis on his team.
I’m sure I’ll get hate for this take but keep in mind, I’m not the only one saying it, and the proof is in the pudding. He’s not able to get a team that just spent most of their future draft capital for Jrue Holiday over the hump. Milwaukee is a small market team with the 7th highest payroll in the NBA, so what’s the path forward?
I don’t have the answer. All I know is that running this team back as it is currently constructed will not work. Maybe a new coach fixes it? Maybe a new cast?
But The Bucks have a Giannis problem and it’s not going away.