That’s not to say no one saw a tough series with the Heat coming up, but a potential sweep?
Once again, it is magnificent.
What is not surprising, at least to me, is how it goes. The Bucks are extremely predictable on both ends of the floor. They allow a ton of 3 pointers with their no-switch and big drop principles, and the Heat has a ton of shooters. Offensively, they’re counting on a guy who can’t shoot. And in today’s NBA, it’s ultimately going to be a death sentence.
This guys, of course, is Antetokounmpo, who is one of the most gifted players in NBA history. But he can’t shoot. It does not have any particular movement in regards to its handle or its ability to separate with counters. Other than trying to get through defensemen like bowling or the occasional post-ups (which he should do more of), he can’t create a lot of offense on a half court as the primary initiator. And this is a big problem.
When the Bucks do end up losing this series, there will be a lot of talk about how Giannis needs better teammates and whether he will leave Milwaukee to find them. You’re going to hear all about Mike Budenholzer and his inability, or unwillingness, to adapt schematically, sticking to his predictable principles at his team’s peril, not to mention his frustrating refusal to play. Giannis over minutes (he hasn’t played more than 37 in a game in this series).
There is fairness in all of these criticisms. It’s probably true that Giannis’ current teammates aren’t good enough to win a title, or even compete for one. It is certainly true that Bud’s coaching has not been flexible enough. But it’s also true that Giannis isn’t good enough. This is what cannot get lost in there.
When you earn back-to-back MVPs (again, Giannis will almost certainly win his second in a row this year), you are expected to be the primary anchor for a championship capable attack. So I don’t want to hear about all the “other” things Giannis does. Yes, he is an elite and versatile defender. Much like Draymond Green in his prime. Yes, he’s a monster in transition. The same goes for Ben Simmons, albeit to a lesser extent. But none of these guys come close to winning MVPs. Not to mention two of them.
MVP players create an attack entirely on their own. Do you still need help? Of course. Today everyone needs help. But LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, James Harden, Kevin Durant – these guys can be the backing that keeps everyone going. They ultimately cover up the faults of others. Giannis, on the other hand, needs his teammates to cover his only gaping flaw.
He can’t shoot.
I know it sounds simplistic, but basketball is pretty straightforward in a lot of ways. The Bucks are definitely straightforward. Offensively, they assume that a defense can’t cover two things at once by putting 3-point shooters all around a downward force that is supposedly unstoppable in Giannis. The theory is that if you take shooters down to stop Giannis, they hit you three. If you stay attached to the shooters. Giannis Dunks. Choose your poison.
But it’s not that simple in the playoffs, where teams (Miami being one of them) are capable enough defensively to take down a driver while still scooping shooters back. Toronto are another team with enough long athletic defenders to guard against both options, and it was no coincidence that it was Toronto that sent Milwaukee home last season. If somehow Milwaukee came back to beat the Heat, he would see either Toronto (again) or Boston in the conference final. Boston can do anything Toronto and Miami can do.
That is to say, Giannis, whether it was in the second round or a round later, was eventually going to need some sort of counter when suddenly it’s not as easy as putting your head down and getting down. rush to the rim or do a basic kick. switches to a wide open shooter. Being able to reach the edge is awesome. But you need other ways to a bucket.
The multi-faceted defenses feast on one-dimensional perimeter players. If you’re a main player like Shaquille O’Neal or Tim Duncan, not being able to shoot is another story, obviously. Stars that throw the perimeter, however, have a cap when they have to be the best player without a reliable shot. That was true for Russell Westbrook after Kevin Durant left. This was true for Derrick Rose even in his MVP years. And that holds true for Giannis, who is undeniably great but is more dependent on the system than we talk about. If everything is perfectly in place and is buzzing all around him, and a trainer puts him in the most optimized positions, of course, he can feel unstoppable. But most MVPs over and over don’t depend on the circumstances.
Miami is not so much a wall in front of Giannis, but a bubble around him. They are in his line of sight from all angles. He can’t just go one-on-one, get to a spot, and use his length to shoot a jump before help digs in. He can’t back down for three. He can’t, in fact, create any space to speak, with his lack of creativity with his grip almost as limiting as his missing jumper. His only option is to bow his head, try to run over whoever is in front of him, and when that doesn’t work, try to turn or get out of the euro into trouble. It works sometimes, most often in transition. But it doesn’t work enough to serve as the primary support for an offensive system.
It was obvious last year. This is once again evident this year. Maybe Giannis will end up being such a good shooter, like Kawhi did, that he will turn the whole script over to how it should be kept. But until then, gradual improvement will not be enough. The team will always force him to beat them that way, and in the long run, he won’t be able to. Which means he probably needs more competent creators on his team to fill this particular gap. Which, in the end, means he’s not quite the player consecutive MVPs would suggest, at least not at this point. This type of player is not covered; he’s making the cover.
Do the Bucks have the resources to attract the types of players that can cover Giannis, who can then be allowed to roam free and be evaluated for what he can do rather than what he can’t do? Or will he have to go elsewhere to get that kind of support? There are no clear answers. Certainly not easy.
But for now, what is clear is that Giannis is not good enough for the situation he is in to win a championship. One way or another, this situation is probably going to have to change. It could mean a change in coaching. The Golden State Warriors turned Mark Jackson over for Steve Kerr when they didn’t think the former was optimizing their star player, and they won the title the following year.
It could also mean that Milwaukee is getting super creative without any ceiling pieces to provide more efficient reinforcements; a real designer out of the dribble would be fantastic since Giannis is not that. Or it could mean Giannis is improving individually as a shooter and playmaker. All I’m saying is we can’t ignore that last part. Giannis also has a role to play in this area. We can say he needs a better coach or he needs better teammates and that may be true, but to suggest that Giannis’ flaws are not also part of this seemingly failing Bucks equation would be dishonest.