Sports

How Giannis is making the game easier for himself and his teammates

Halfback dives.

That’s what Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton appropriately labeled the play that ended in a Giannis Antetokoumnpo drive to the rim and started beyond the three-point line.

And, honestly, that’s what they are. The offense breaks down, Giannis dribbles back out beyond the three-point line — what looks to be about 27 feet away from the basket, and generally at the top of the key — dribbles, snorts, and charges into the defense, usually utilizing a euro-step (or the occasional spin move) leading into his shot attempt. Enticing Giannis to do this is how the Miami Heat were able to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks so handily in last year’s playoffs. We also saw it a lot against the Brooklyn Nets, in particular, during the Bucks seven-game series with them two rounds ago.

In these last two games, he’s cut that down and is instead working from inside the three-point line, at times very close to the paint, and is creating easier offense for himself as well as his teammates in the event where he passes out of the post. He’s been historically superb in back-to-back showings despite being, at that point, less than two weeks removed from hyperextending his knee in a way that led many to believe he may have done something much worse.

In Game 2, though the Bucks fell to the Phoenix Suns 118-108 and assumed a 2-0 deficit in the NBA Finals, Giannis held up his end, accumulating 42 points, 12 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks on 15-for-22 shooting. He only shot 1-for-5 from three and 11-for-18 from the free throw line, but he was still the only positive (+3) for the Bucks on the floor. Let’s go through some highlights.

  • 0:13 – He did the halfback dive, but at least it was in more of a spatial one-on-one situation with Deandre Ayton and he attacked early in the shot clock perhaps before Phoenix expected it. It was his second field goal of the game, and instead of a euro-step, he unlocked one of those occasional spin moves, smartly going left as Jae Crowder entered right for the double team.
  • 1:25 – He works from the mid-range area, quickly engaging in a post-up attack against the outsized Mikal Bridges. One dribble is all he needs for a much better look from inside the paint, and efficiently gets his shot up before a Chris Paul or Ayton double team attempt.
  • 1:40 – He starts from the top of the key, but instead of a halfback dive, he uses a Khris Middleton screen, positioning himself between Ayton and Bridges. Giannis slightly leans his momentum in Bridges direction, then crosses over, blowing by him and positioning him against Ayton following two more dribbles. Giannis stops, deep in the paint, turns while anticipating a double, keeping the ball low so Bridges doesn’t poke it away, and once Ayton slightly hops out of position, Giannis turns and lays it in to complete the quick up-and-under move.

In Game 3, a 120-100 win, Giannis had 41 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists while shooting 14-for-23 from the field, and only took two threes, both of which were missed. He also hit an improved 13-for-17 on free throws. (He’s averaging 3.6 three-point attempts per game in the playoffs, same as the regular season.)

  • 0:30 – What a lot of people had been calling for: Roll man Giannis. From the left wing, he finds Jrue Holiday on the corner and immediately comes over to screen his man, Devin Booker. Giannis doesn’t set a hard screen on Booker but makes enough contact to get him on his back when he cuts toward the rim. Giannis’ original man, Crowder, was caught staring at Holiday, because everyone in the league switches, when he took one dribble and quickly bounced the ball back to Giannis, who received it in the paint for the east dunk. No halfback dives needed here.
  • 1:19 – Another thing many have been calling for: Post Giannis. He’s facing up Crowder about 13 or 14 feet out, it appears. Instead of charging through him, he patiently sets up a rare isolated post-up opportunity on the left block. He swiftly gathers himself after a few dribbles, and once Frank Kaminsky reaches over from across the paint to double, Giannis brilliantly spins back to his left side so that he only has to go over the smaller Crowder for the finish. He had a few assists before that, so the Suns appeared hesitant to double him from the start.
  • 2:06 – He does another version of this play at 0:47. Then, Giannis started from the three-point line, and as the Suns formed a structure built for him to struggle around, Giannis instead got to the paint, and once he does, all eyes are on him, so he passes out of an oncoming double team to a cutting open man, in that case Bobby Portis, for the easy two. Here, he creates an even better looking assist. He’s at the top of the key, and literally all ten defenders are staring him down, especially Paul, who is closest to him. Giannis muscles past him and is already nearby Bridges and Crowder near the foul line as well. He picks up his dribble too soon, it may appear, but he’s already watching Pat Connaughton cut while the defense is locked onto Giannis, who has the ball. Connaughton drops to the dunker spot and Bridges fails to step down with him, leaving him wide open for a no-look Giannis pass, creating another easy look.

You get the idea. When you watch Game 4, notice Giannis being more creative with the ball, setting up offense closer to the rim, and not merely driving into contested layups, but having more patience while his teammates smartly cut behind the preoccupied defense. He’s been excellent these last two games, and in turn, is the best player in the NBA Finals at the moment. The Bucks are still down 2-1 and have to win Game 4 to avoid an unfavorable situation, but they look much better at home with Giannis playing like the two-time MVP he is.

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