Giannis has the type of talent that will overwhelm his opponent, but he also had some pretty obvious flaws last season. The most obvious flaw was his shooting ability. He’s a monster with a full head of steam, and will be difficult to stop in that situation, but in the half court, teams will look to sag off and play the passing lanes, especially if the shooting guard position can’t produce from three. I think it’s quite fair to say he has very little ability to pull up and hit a shot in his opponents face. When a point guard doesn’t have the threat to hit a transition pull up, the defense has a much better chance at predicting what will happen with the ball. I just don’t think he’ll create many three point opportunities for himself, unless of course the defense plays the percentages and leaves him. His shot mechanics when pulling up just look too awkward. His legs seems stiff and out of balance, unable to provide the base needed to be a consistent shooter. Now even if he hasn’t developed a pull up game, Giannis has spent the offseason shooting the ball, and although he hasn’t looked great shooting in the preseason, his stroke looked pretty good when he was playing for Greece this summer. If he can start hitting the occasional three, let’s say somewhere around 31.4%, the league will have to consider closing out to him as he receives a rotation pass, making it even easier for him to get to the lane and make a play.
Another dynamic that will affect Giannis’ season is how the opposing coaching staff decides to match-up with him. Teams will have to decide whether they use their top wing defender, who can at least somewhat size up with Giannis’ length, or if they use the 2011 Dallas Mavericks approach to defending Lebron in the finals. The Mavs used their quickest guards to stay in front of Lebron, who was trying to get to the lane, where he’s almost impossible to stop, and force him into a contested jumper. The scheme worked wonders in the NBA Finals, I’m sure Lebron would have figured it out with time, but regardless I’m sure teams around the league will attempt a similar philosophy when guarding Giannis. The biggest upside to using your smaller guards to make him change directions as much as possible as he attempts to get to the lane is Giannis’ inability to avoid charge calls. He tends to over commit to getting to the rim at times, allowing a help defender to make the read and jump into his driving lane well in time to be set as Giannis runs him over.
Outside of extra help on his drives and potential double teams on the perimeter, I think teams will consistently use those two glaring weaknesses against him. Jason Kidd will have to work with the youngster, the fourth year youngster that is, on how to counter being the primary focus of the opponent’s defensive game plan. Giannis does have some unique skills that he can use to offset an offseason worth of scouting his game. Team’s will almost assuredly play him for the drive and allow him the option to take the three, early in the shot clock. First off, I wouldn’t mind Giannis just taking the occasional adventurous three. The Bucks’ chances of making the playoffs are very slim this year, so I’m all for letting Giannis do some new things on the floor, expand his creativity. The more a player is allowed to do on the floor, the more things they learn to do, the more situations they’ve seen, the better their basketball brain develops. However, the more practical approach to negating the defense sagging is to use Giannis’ length and pivoting skills to our advantage. If teams are giving Giannis space on the perimeter, he should advance the ball as far as he can without running over his defender, pivot and fake a pass or shot to get the defender’s hand up. Then, Giannis can bring the ball to his off hand, cut the defender off with his hip while stepping through, cross the ball back into his shooting hand, and use his soft touch and length to get a long-range floater up from the free throw line. It’s his closest thing to a pull up jumper at this point, and will be very much needed if Giannis looks to break out as an All-Star this season.
Finding a fix for the use of quicker, smaller guards is more difficult. On one hand, Giannis should be able to bully them far enough into the lane that he can replicate his long ranged floater. But since the guards should be able to stay in front of Giannis, his best course of action to execute in this situation, bullying the defender into the lane, will lead to charge after charge, as guards typically get the benefit of the doubt from officials. In this situation, Giannis should give the ball up to either Malcolm Brogdon or Matthew Dellavedova, allow his secondary ball handler to attack the defense, and either spot up in the corner, or take his smaller defender into the post and ask for the ball. If he finds himself posted up on a much smaller player, he needs to rely on his length and pivoting to find a nice angle for his shot. Backing the smaller player in the post usually leads to one of those continually mentioned offensive fouls.
Giannis has proven that he’s one of the most talented young players in the game. Taking the next step from a talented youngin’ to a proven star, requires him to fully understand how the opponent wants to play him, and avoid the mistakes that have caused him playing time due to foul trouble his first three years in the league. If he can master the mental side of basketball, there’s no way the NBA can handle him, and that’s without a jump shot. I expect Giannis to at least match his post all-star break production from last season, making him an almost guarantee for his first All-Star birth. With a below average roster around him, his season should be graded on his own personal play. Demarcus Cousins is considered the top center in the league by many, and it has nothing to do with the win-loss record of his Sacramento Kings. Let’s just hope our star doesn’t face the same yearly battle to become a star player on a winning team.