Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s historically high usage

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 02: (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 02: (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

As Giannis Antetokounmpo has produced another phenomenal season for the Milwaukee Bucks, his usage rate has put him in historic company.

Long-time Milwaukee Bucks watchers will remember a time when it was necessary to endlessly bemoan how infrequently Giannis Antetokounmpo was being fed the ball.

An MVP award later, and with another almost certainly to arrive in the next few months, that seems almost unthinkable, but it was reality for the Bucks as they tried to figure out who they were as a team and how exactly their young Greek phenomenon could be best utilized.

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As my colleague Jordan Treske detailed just a couple of days ago, it took quite some time for the Bucks to really hand their offense over to Antetokounmpo, empowering him with the ball in his hands.

Even at that point, though, there was still a long way to go in terms of allowing Giannis to reach the point where he really became the beating heart of the Bucks’ offense that he now undoubtedly is.

Although usage calculations can vary ever so slightly from source to source, a couple of elements remain indisputable when it comes to Giannis.

Firstly, before the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Antetokounmpo was leading the entire NBA in terms of usage percentage for the current season. Secondly, Antetokounmpo’s usage rate has increased year on year, without exception, through his first seven seasons in the NBA.

Per Basketball-Reference, Giannis’ career-high and league leading mark for the current campaign slots in at 37.4 percent, meaning almost two of every five Bucks’ possessions is finishing with some kind of Antetokounmpo action during his time on the floor.

To put that number in context, it is comfortably the highest usage percentage from any Buck since the statistic started being recorded in the 1977-78 season. In fact, the top-four among Bucks currently includes Antetokounmpo’s three most recent campaigns, along with Ricky Pierce from 1989-90.

But even expanding the scope to a league-wide context shows just how unusually central Antetokounmpo has been to his team’s success this season.

Of players who’ve played 50 games in the relevant season, only seven have recorded a usage percentage of 37 or greater since the stat has been recorded.

Outside of Antetokounmpo, that group includes Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, Kobe Bryant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook (twice). Westbrook is the all-time leader with an astounding 41.7 percent usage back in 2016-17.

As a general rule, sky-high usage percentages aren’t always associated with winning basketball. In the past, they have at times been a byword for stat chasing or ball hogging.

Those are accusations that would be very difficult to level against Antetokounmpo, not just because of how dominant the Bucks have been as a team over the past two years, but also by way of his willingness to create plays for teammates.

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Above all else, Antetokounmpo is committed to doing what it takes to win. And as his numbers show, increasingly that involves putting the ball in his hands and allowing him to call the shots for the Bucks from night to night.