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Does Giannis Antetokounmpo Need to Adjust his Game Against the Celtics?

Giannis Antetokounmpo has the best ability of any NBA player to force/push the issue. The commentators of both Bucks-Celtics games thus far mention it every time he drives the lane. Kobe Bryant, in his latest edition of Detail, breaking down Antetokounmpo’s game, makes the same remark.

But as much as the Greek Freak is great at pushing people around inside, he may have to start
relying on it less for the rest of the series against Boston.

Yes, he finished with 29 points on 7-15 shooting in Game 2 Tuesday, but Game 1 was a different
story. In Game 1, Antetokounmpo had 22 points, but he only shot 7-21 from the field. Boston is a great defensive team, and they got physical with Antetokounmpo. Even in game 2, a Celtic or two were guarding and/or bodying him when he drove to the lane. Bryant detailed this in his episode.

The positive of Antetokounmpo’s aggressive play style is his ability to finish in the lane and
draw fouls. In Game 1, he had 10 free throws (only made five), but he still got that many chances, which is
nice to see. In Game 2, he had 18 free throw attempts and made 13 of them. So getting that many chances at the line consistently, as long as he makes them, is a good sign.

What is not a good sign is the fact that he is still relying on driving so much. Bryant pointed this out multiple times: The rest of the Bucks are still beyond half court after a rebound, but Antetokounmpo is already driving to the lane. In the instance of a Game 1, that is a lot of wasted possessions. In the case of a Game 2, that was a lot of success.

But seeing how inconsistent that was for two games is troubling for what is likely to be a long series. Not to mention, every time he drives, Antetokounmpo is getting contact from one or multiple Celtics. He will get tired eventually, and he will start to miss shots more and more or turn the ball over. What he needs to do is start slowing himself down when the rest of his team is still behind him. He also needs to stop trying to force it to the basket.

He is a great finisher at the rim. But his teammates, like Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, have proven they can shoot from the outside and drive well too. He can drive if he wants, but he needs to start being a better distributor.

Too many times in game 1, he tried to force a shot up and missed it when he had a teammate open for a shot on the wing or in the corner. In game 1, Brook Lopez and Bledsoe each only had five field goal attempts. That is too few for guys who can each put up 20 points.

Now, that is not completely Antetokounmpo’s fault, but he can certainly help them get going
more. In Game 2, Bledsoe had 21 points and Lopez had 10 points (on 12 and 10 shot attempts,
respectively), so there was an improvement.

Antetokounmpo needs to kick the ball out more, and by doing so, as long as his teammates make the Celtics pay for helping over to the lane so much like they are, he will force Boston defenders in a tough spot. They will then have to make the split-second decision of either getting over and helping or standing their ground and stopping the kick-out pass.

That is the way Milwaukee will start to break open the Celtics defense more and more. Look at how the Warriors run their offense. A lot of the Warriors’ offense is predicated on kicking the ball out to the corners or wings and quickly passing the ball around. Doing so makes the defense constantly run around and scramble to find their assignments.

Boston has been able to have four or even all five of their defenders sit around the lane because they know Antetokounmpo will drive to the basket. What he needs to do is start kicking the ball out when he does drive. Or, better yet, he could start taking more mid-range jump shots to throw defenders off. That would really make his pick-and-roll action more dangerous, where he could start to step out and make those jumpers. He would then force his defenders on the pick and rolls to step out to him more, which would allow more space for him to eventually… wait for it… drive.

But don’t write Game 2 off as an excuse for his play style being fine. The commentators and everyone else seemed to rush into the result as he is now back to being himself. But the thing is Boston has guys like Al Horford and Aron Baynes guarding him, sitting off him and being able to plug the lane when he drives. He still did not get a lot of clean looks on his drives in Game 2. Those are two guys he should be able to easily get around, but cannot because they are able to sit off him when he is at the three-point arc with the ball.

Antetokounmpo really needs to start taking those mid-range jumpers to make his defenders
come out on him more. And when they do, he will be able to drive easier. Even then, he should look to kick the ball out as much as possible when he does drive. Boston is a fundamental defensive team.

They will be waiting with a lot of help defense in Game 3. So, once Antetokounmpo makes them pay for helping over to the lane enough times, he will free himself up more. Then he can truly get back to being the completely-dominant Greek Freak once again.


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