It’s no secret that superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo buoyed what had been underperforming and flawed Milwaukee Bucks defenses over the last couple of years. Now, we may see him do more than just lift his squad on that end.
Even if he’s only blossomed into a bonafide superstar over the last couple of seasons, it’s quite clear that Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo has very few analogs in NBA history.
That’s two fold as the massive statistical leap the 23-year-old has made during that span stands in a league of its own, and the all-encompassing playing style he routinely sports only rivals current Los Angeles Lakers superstar LeBron James as far as contemporaries go.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Antetokounmpo doesn’t carry any faults in his game as his obvious shooting deficiencies stand out, even as he’s made incremental improvements on that front. Nonetheless, the point still stands regarding the value Antetokunmpo brings to the Bucks any time he steps on the floor, which has been extensive in terms of his minutes workload.
There may have been no better example of this last year than what Antetokounmpo did to lift what was an otherwise inadequate defensive Bucks team, despite the personnel the front office assembled in this area.
Any talk of the Bucks’ recent defensive output will inevitably gravitate towards the defective scheme and tactics deployed by the team’s previous coaching regime.
While it’s impossible to ignore that detail in this context, Antetokounmpo stood as a beacon of light amongst the rubble that was the Bucks’ defensive output last season.
For example, the Bucks surrendered 105.4 points per 100 possessions in the 2,756 minutes Antetokounmpo was on the floor, per NBA.com/stats. In the 1,210 minutes Antetokounmpo was on the bench or sidelined due to injury, the Bucks allowed 111.1 points per 100 possessions.
That precipitous drop off in how the Bucks performed with and without Antetokounmpo is the difference between them coming in as the 12th best defense to being the worst defensive unit in all of the league last year, in terms of defensive efficiency.
Beyond the value Antetokounmpo brought to the Bucks as a whole, the ample amount of ways he can be utilized as a defender only adds to his pedigree on that end of the floor.
The physical tools and attributes Antetokounmpo possesses gives the Greek phenom an equal opportunity to snuff out his assignment when saddled on the perimeter or sit back and protect the rim from opposing ball handlers attacking the paint.
On that last point, Antetokounmpo’s shot-blocking ability pretty much speaks for itself, but the underlying ways he measured out as the last line of defense is noteworthy as well, seeing that he registered a 54.4 defended field goal percentage on shots taken within six feet.
Above all else, it’s the mentality and non-stop engagement that makes up a vital part of why Antetokounmpo can be and is a special defender, which can be seen in multiple hustle stat categories such as loose balls recovered and total contested shots.
Now with new head coach Mike Budenholzer in the mix, Antetokounmpo’s defensive expertise may reach new heights across multiple levels based on the total package of qualities he offers on that end. In his brief time at the helm, Budenholzer has already talked at length about how much he’s looking forward to coaching a player of Antetokounmpo’s caliber and stature.
Considering the overlap in physical traits Antetokounmpo has in his arsenal and Coach Bud’s priorities for building a top tier defense in Milwaukee, that side of the floor may be where we see a marked difference in how the two-time All-Star will be deployed.
The hope obviously is that where Antetokounmpo more or less propped up a flawed or underperforming defensive unit in the past, his specialties can be viewed as one of the significant factors for the potential defensive resurgence the Bucks experience this upcoming year.
Time will only tell if that all will be the case, but with the season inching ever closer, it’s safe to say that any wrinkles for how Antetokounmpo will be used as a defender are being workshopped by the Bucks’ new coaching staff.