Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo gets star calls now

MILWAUKEE, WI - MARCH 08: Giannis Antetokounmpo
MILWAUKEE, WI - MARCH 08: Giannis Antetokounmpo /

There’s always room for more free throws, but Giannis Antetokounmpo is already getting to the free throw line like a star.

One common complaint of Milwaukee Bucks fans during the 2017 NBA Playoffs was that Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t get calls. For the most part, that’s a fair criticism. Giannis got to the line just 6.8 times per 36 minutes in the postseason, and not for a lack of trying.

Although the playoffs stand out more than the regular season, that’s a six-game sample size (albeit a frustrating six games since the Toronto Raptors seemed to get plenty of whistles blown in their favor). Giannis was much more successful in drawing free throws in the regular season, getting to the charity stripe 7.7 times per 36 minutes.

That number might still be lower than it should be considering how aggressively Giannis attacks the rim, but it’s not too shabby. One thing that needs to be considered in any close look at Giannis’ free throw numbers is how young, and new to the big stage, he is.

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Giannis’ age and relatively new ascension to stardom shouldn’t matter in determining foul calls against him, but it absolutely does. The more established a star is, the more calls they tend to get.

Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and LeBron James are all somewhat close to Giannis in that they attack the rim relentlessly. Harden is a skilled three-point shooter and Westbrook and LeBron have their moments from beyond the arc, but their games rely heavily on their ability to get to the rim, and, part in parcel with that, on getting to the foul line.

Westbrook and Harden draw significantly more fouls per 36 minutes than Giannis does now, but looking at everybody’s age 22 season gives the impression that Giannis is on the way to their level.

Per 36 Minutes Foul Numbers
Russell Westbrook2010-1182284717.6.4421.3.3306.78.0.8424.
LeBron James2006-0778319018.3.4763.5.3195.57.9.6985.
Giannis Antetokounmpo2016-1780284515.9.5212.3.2726.07.7.7708.
James Harden2011-122194611.6.4915.4.3905.86.8.8464.

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 8/2/2017.

In less total minutes, Giannis got to the foul line roughly as often as Westbrook and LeBron did when they were 22, and significantly more than Harden did. That part of the comparison is a little unfair, as Harden was still a bench player at that point, but he did win Sixth Man of the Year that season.

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While Westbrook and Harden both got to the foul line over 10 times per game last season, Giannis actually averaged more free throw attempts per 36 than LeBron did. Bron definitely settled more in the regular season than Giannis did, but still, getting more foul calls than LeBron is an exciting milestone for the Greek Freak.

Giannis isn’t getting the number of calls that stars (and embellishers) atop the MVP rankings get, but getting more calls than LeBron is a sign that Giannis has already arrived in the eyes of many around the NBA. Perhaps most importantly, league officials seem to believe that Antetokounmpo deserves calls when he draws contact in the lane.

Making those free throws will become more and more important as the pressure rises on Giannis. Last season was encouraging in that regard, as he hit a career-best 77.0 percent of his foul shots despite taking more than he ever had before.

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Hopefully, this season the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo both improve, as the amount of whistles blown when he attacks the rim increases even further. It may not be thrilling basketball, but free throws are too efficient to care about them not being pretty.