Not many teams defend Giannis Antetokounmpo better than the Miami Heat. As the Milwaukee Bucks face a 0-1 deficit, using Giannis as a screener might be an option to get him going for Game 2.
Now is not the time to panic.
Yes, the Milwaukee Bucks just lost a heart wrenching Game 1 matchup against the Miami Heat. Yes, the team once again faces an 0-1 deficit in this year’s playoffs and, yes, some fans may tell you that it is all headed toward some doomsday.
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But now is not the time to panic.
It was just one wild – yet still importantly close – game for that matter. Both teams have things to feel good about: the Bucks finally saw their second option in Khris Middleton perform up to his expectations, and the Heat had Jimmy Butler craft a game for the history books.
But both teams also have things to feel bad about: the Heat’s usual sniper shooters (especially Duncan Robinson) were held in check by the Bucks’ defense, while Giannis Antetokounmpo characteristically met his match with Miami’s defense.
Those specific good and bad outcomes are accompanied with a gazillion of others, but that’s the first part of the story when playing in a competitive playoff matchup. The second part of the story is making adjustments to those outcomes.
Many Bucks fans will have their own opinions on coach Mike Budenholzer’s ability, or willingness, to take part in making those adjustments. But that philosophical collision is a different story for a different time. Because, again, now is not the time to panic or to point fingers. Now is the time to make adjustments toward what went wrong.
And what arguably went most wrong for the Bucks (outside of silly turnovers and struggles from the charity stripe) is none other than Giannis struggling to get going on the offensive end of the floor. This year’s (eventual) MVP scored only 18 points on 12 shots in Game 1 against the Heat. It is rather difficult to call this a one-off occurrence, also, because it simply is not.
Giannis averaged 29.5 points per game during the regular season at 30.4 minutes per game. But against the Heat this year, he averaged only 25 points per game despite playing two minutes more in those contests. Just for elaborative purposes, Giannis’ true shooting percentage took a 3.4 percent dip against Miami this season as well.
But those who saw Game 1 don’t need statistics to come toward a takeaway, which is that if there really is a kryptonite for Giannis, that kryptonite is the Miami Heat.
That’s because the Heat are built perfectly to defend Giannis. For starters, they have a large collection of defenders to throw at him. They have Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder, two players who do not match with Giannis in the size department, but are two great ball-swiping defenders who can knock Giannis’ handle off.
They also have Butler, who even off switches can hang with Giannis due to his physicality. But more importantly they have Bam Adebayo, who might just be the best Giannis-defender in the entire NBA. Adebayo has an immaculate combination of foot speed, strength and length that he can use to masterfully keep up with what most consider to be unstoppable Giannis drives. And the scariest part is he doesn’t even have to do it all by himself.
As noted, the Heat are loaded with able bodies to toss at Giannis. But they don’t just do it on a one-by-one basis. In other words (words that should strike fear in Milwaukee fans at this point) Miami have their defenders “build a wall” near the paint.
And Miami arguably does it better than anyone:
As great and unpluckable as Giannis is when attacking off drives, even the Incredible Hulk himself would struggle against the above-seen defense. Miami gives Giannis few options inside, and his ability to kick the ball out is limited in itself. Every now and then Giannis does force some points through, but more often then not, it ends up like the situations above.
And Miami will continue to force Giannis into those situations for the remainder of the series. And why wouldn’t they after the outcome in Game 1? Which then leaves Milwaukee with two options: either continue to attack the wall defense that has staggered Giannis without fail, or instead, negate the wall defensive strategy by using Giannis and his attention-drawing ability differently.
The latter option should seem much more attractive, but how do the Bucks exactly accomplish that? By using him more as a pick-and-roll screener and roll man.
Take this possession as an example:
Giannis’ biggest issue has been getting into the paint with the clearest possible look, because Miami’s defensive scheme is built for him to allow simply that. They camp 3-4 players inside and dare him to challenge them. Using Giannis as a roll man, though, disrupts that.
Take notice of the clip above, the pick-and-roll with Giannis and Khris forces the Heat’s respective defenders to come out to the perimeter. Then notice how Miami’s inside wall seamlessly disappears before everyone’s eyes. By the time Giannis slips inside, Miami doesn’t have the numbers to contain him at the basket.
This forces three defenders to lately collapse around Giannis. Khris then has a collection of wide-open options to dish to, which leads to an easy 3-pointer. It forced the defenders to choose.
Does Miami quickly revert back to building a wall inside before it’s too late? Or do they potentially risk letting Giannis get a full head of steam toward the basket? Either way they are at a major disadvantage and either way their wall defensive scheme collapses.
The only problem is Milwaukee doesn’t force the Heat into making this decision enough. Giannis has only been used as a roll man 9.9 percent of his time in the playoffs thus far, according to Synergy. That is despite him having a 59.6 percent filed goal percentage on those situations in the regular season and a 90 percent field goal percentage in postseason play.
According to Basketball-Index, Giannis also ranks in the 93rd percentile in terms of Roll Gravity (how much attention a player draws off of roll situations). And despite him averaging 1.19 points per possession as a roll man, and only 0.86 points per isolation possession, his usage rate under each of those situations is flip-flopped.
Given his struggles in Game 1, and his struggles against Miami’s defensive strategy in general, Milwaukee should consider the alternative of trying to work around the wall rather than destroying it. The way to do this is by using Giannis more as a pick-and-roll screener. Doing so could be key in the Bucks having a much smoother Game 2 and beyond.