The FIBA World Cup exposed deficiencies in the Greek Freak’s offensive arsenal; here’s what he needs to do to make sure NBA teams don’t do the same.
It was a disappointing FIBA World Cup for Giannis and his fellow Greeks. After suffering a surprise loss to a physical Brazilian side in the first group stage, Greece lost to the US, and despite beating the Czech Republic, failed to advance to the quarterfinals on point differential. But before we launch into a discussion about how absurd it is to have a point differential system in basketball (although it is hilarious watching a team with a 6-point lead race down the court to launch up a three with 10 seconds left) let’s talk about the real issue: Giannis failed to dominate games and was downright ineffective at times, averaging under 15ppg. While a portion of the blame can be passed to the terrible offensive scheme implemented by their coach, Thanasis Skourtopoulos, the majority falls to Giannis. Teams packed it in and played extremely physical, keeping him out of the paint, and the Greek Freak struggled to adjust. He will need become a more versatile scorer by improving his ball-handling and mid-range arsenal or run the risk of being shut down by NBA defenses following the FIBA blueprint.
Giannis is the most dynamic player on the fastbreak since young LeBron, but still struggles to create offense off the dribble against smaller, quicker defenders in the half court. His inability to create separation on the perimeter means that Giannis is forced to bully his way into the paint, where extra defenders are often waiting to contest or take a charge. If Giannis can add a slick crossover to his arsenal and increase his lateral quickness, he’ll be able to get by those smaller defenders and attack rim-protectors with a head of steam, or at the very least force rotations from the defense, which he can expose with his excellent passing skills. He’s already a sure-handed dribbler—which has given him great success playing point-forward for the Bucks—but he still needs to develop more creative dribbling, and take more risks in order to soften up the defense and give himself easier looks.
I can’t believe it’s 2019 and I’m actually advocating for a player to work on his mid-range scoring, but this is a special circumstance. Right now, Giannis is limited to two forms of scoring—attacking the paint and pulling up for three—and the latter isn’t even fully effective yet. This allows teams to pack it in and live with Giannis shooting from deep. Developing a floater would draw defenders from the paint to contest. Developing a turn-around jumper would be nearly impossible to defend and would allow Giannis to play with his back to the basket. Developing touch on off-balance shots would give Giannis a counter to the multiple defenders often thrown at him. These are the types of shots he should be working on if he wants to take the next step as a scorer. More importantly, they would turn him into a go-to threat in crunch time. When there’s a minute left and your team is in a tight game, analytics are thrown out and all that matters is that you can get a bucket, and the best to ever do it (Jordan, LeBron, Durant, etc.) have all relied on shot creation from the mid-range to get it done.
The reigning MVP will be happy to return to the NBA, where the playing style and preferential treatment to superstars (shh, just let it happen) are better suited for his game. Still, the World Cup supplied teams with ample ideas on how to limit Giannis’ effectiveness, and he will need to evolve his game to counter those defensive approaches. The best players in history have always added to their game just when the rest of the league thinks they’ve figured them out. Look for the Greek Freak to improve his dribbling and shot creation from the mid-range, and prove he belongs in the same pantheon.