Playoffs 2021

NBA Playoffs 2021: Giannis Antetokounmpo's patience has turned him into even more of an offensive virtue

Giannis Antetokounmpo's development over the last couple of seasons has been very tangible. He's turned into one of the league's best scorers, rebounders and defenders.

He's been rewarded for it, winning the league's MVP the last two seasons and is firmly in the conversation for pound-for-pound best player in the league.

But there's one area he's struggled with consistently: his overall patience on offence.

What makes Antetokounmpo special and unique is his "bull in a china shop" mentality. No matter who's in front of him, he uses his unique blend of speed, length and strength to bully opposing defenders or just flat out scared them from wanting to get in his way. It's why he's been one of the most productive interior scorers, leading the league in points in the paint per game in three of the last four years.

But his aggressiveness and need to dominate inside has also hurt him and, ultimately, the Milwaukee Bucks. If you've watched a Bucks game over the last couple of seasons, you've seen it first hand. It's become all too familiar; the defender sags off Antetokounmpo, inviting him to a jump shot - which of course Antetokounmpo turns down - and instead revs up like a locomotive with one goal in mind and that's getting to the basket. The defender anticipates Antetokounmpo's move and bang, the whistle blows for an offensive foul.

Most Bucks fans will tell you that a lot of the offensive foul calls against Antetokounmpo could and should be blocking fouls. They'll also tell you that a two-time MVP should get the benefit of the doubt in those situations. Maybe that's true, but what has happened over the last few seasons is that Antetokounmpo is picking up so many offensive fouls that he's now getting reputation calls going against him. Similar to how Toronto Raptors guard and expert charge drawer Kyle Lowry will win the 50/50 calls because he's always at the top of the league for drawing charges, Antetokounmpo is likely having those plays go against him. Whatever side you sit on, on how to officiate Antetokounmpo (which, by the way, I'll acknowledge must be one of the toughest jobs in the NBA), we can all agree that it's happening way too often.

Well, that was until this season...

In 2018-19, Antetokounmpo's first MVP season, he picked up a career-high 68 offensive fouls in 72 games according to Basketball-Reference. In his follow-up 2019-20 MVP year, he had 65 offensive fouls in 63 games. This year in 61 games that number has dropped to 53. For the first time since his rookie season, Antetokounmpo averaged less than 3.0 fouls per game. You'd have to assume it's in part to reducing his offensive fouls.

Defences have been throwing the same looks at Antetokounmpo over the last three years, but instead of rushing to attack them, he's doing it with more patience than we've seen in the past.

Take this drive in Game 1 against the Heat, for instance. Trevor Ariza is giving Antetokounmpo the space to shoot a long jumper and he's ready to anticipate the full-speed drive, but instead of the normal rev-up, Antetokounmpo slows it down with a nice change of pace and blows by Ariza for the dunk.

It may seem simple but it's plays like that that keep Antetokounmpo on the floor and out of floor trouble.

His patience has also made him a much more efficient isolation scorer. This season, Antetokounmpo ranked in the 85th percentile in isolation scoring, according to NBA Stats. In the two seasons prior, he finished in the 58th and 68th percentile, respectively.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Isolation Efficiency
Year Possessions Points Per Possession Points Per Game Field Goal % Percentile
2020-21 4.5 1.07 4.8 49.1 85.1
2019-20 4.1 0.90 3.7 43.4 58.3
2018-19 3.9 0.95 3.7 42.9 68.2

As Antetokounmpo continues to grow as a player, the game will continue to slow down for him and he'll continue to pick his spots masterfully. The Heat, who seemed to have the perfect game plan and roster in the Bubble to slow him down last year, are finding that out in round one this year.

We know the value Antetokounmpo brings to the Bucks, so having him on the floor and out of foul trouble is incredibly important to their success. This season, it might be safe to say that Antetokounmpo played a lot more of his minutes freely because he wasn't bogged down with foul trouble. Antetokounmpo played in seven games this season where he had five or more fouls, fouling out in three of them. In 2019-20, he played 12 games with five or more fouls, fouling out in five of those games. In 2018-19, he played in 14 games where he finished with five or more fouls. That's not an ideal scenario for your franchise player to be in.

We always hear about his jump shot being the feared turning point when defences will truly have no answer for him and maybe that's still true.

But right now, Giannis Antetokounmpo's patience has turned him into more of an offensive virtue.

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