Monday, October 31, 2016

Which Giannis is Real Giannis?

The 2017 Bucks season is three games old, and if I were going to write a song about it I'd probably title it "Hater's Delight".  If you're a hater of Bucks players, coaching, management or ownership, you're having a field day.  Every player on his second contract looks overpaid, the coaches can't seem to get the players united on offense or defense, there've been about a half dozen second-guessable personnel moves in the past year alone and the sight of thousands of empty seats for a game the team claims is a "sellout" doesn't exactly engender trust in the guys who write the checks.

Still, look where they are: 1-2 after playing a doormat, a stealth contender and a youthy upstart.  What can we expect?  It'd be nice to see the Bucks keep games close, I guess, but ultimately the ledger says that the Bucks have won the games they've been favored in and lost the games they haven't.

What is more concerning to this blog is the play of Giannis Antetokounmpo.  He is obviously the team's leader and best player.  At age 21, he has yet to hit the typical prime years for NBA players.  He probably will get better.  And, yet, in watching him play I can't shake the feeling that he'll never be the best player on a good team.

I can't help but think back to another tall, wiry freak, Kevin Garnett.  Like the Greek Freak, Garnett entered the League raw and, frankly, unplayable.  Due to circumstances, he played rookie minutes on a bad team, just as Giannis did on a 15-win Bucks team.  Garnett got a stud rookie partner for his second year, unexpectedly made the Playoffs and by year three was the unquestioned face of his franchise.  (So unquestioned, in fact, that Stephon Marbury, Garnett's aforementioned stud partner, left town once he realized that he'd never be top dog in Minneapolis.)  This should all sound very familiar to Bucks fans.

The accepted history of Kevin Garnett, at least in some circles, is that only won when he played on stacked teams.  That perception has some merit.  Garnett lost six consecutive first round series (amazing, but look it up) before reaching the West Finals in 2004 with Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell.  He then completely missed the Playoffs for three straight seasons, before joining Ray Allen and Paul Pierce in Boston for their mini-dynasty of the late double-oh's.

The reality, as this blog sees it, is that Garnett was an incredible player from his third season (sorry, I still think the Soph Garnett/Rook Marbury combo of '97 was overrated) through his seventeenth season (his second-to-last last one in Boston).  There were ugly win-loss records pockmarking some of Garnett's years in Minnesota, to be sure.  Even in those seasons, Garnett was always a valuable scorer and rebounder, and his coaches could feel good about centering the defense around him.

Giannis is putting up big time stats this season, but he's comparing unfavorably with Garnett on both offense and defense.

On offense he's just not slick.  He can finish and he's getting that quasi- set shot, but he just isn't a natural at keeping the defense guessing.  The NBA is filled with great defenders, and Giannis can't frustrate any of them.  When he ballhandles on the perimeter he can't explode past anyone and his fast-twitch information processing is just a bit too slow.  He's a poor man's LeBron, basically.  Take LeBron, subtract the explosive leaping ability, add an inch or two of length, slow down his passing to defendable levels and you've got the Greek Freak.

On defense it's even worse.  Either he doesn't care or he can't keep focus.  Or maybe he's developmentally disabled.  I don't know.  But on possession after possession Giannis doesn't do what he needs to do to let the Bucks play great defense.  He rarely gets embarrassed, but that's only because Giannis's errors are the catalyst.  It's always some other poor sap whose man ends up with the easy layup or open three.

Players learn and get better.  Great players do, especially.  Ray Allen drove George Karl nuts in Milwaukee.  A trade to Seattle woke him up.  He spent the next decade playing attentive defense and being more patient with his offense.

We look at Giannis's highlights and gaudy stats and think that the Bucks have something special.  Hopefully they do.  Is Giannis the guy who is going to be taller, slightly less versatile LeBron?  Or is he going to be the guy who always puts up numbers and highlights, but whose promise always seems arm's length away?

The time is now.  These next two weeks hold some winnable games.  More importantly, they present a chance for Mr. Antetokounmpo to become more than just an empty highlight factory.

No comments:

Post a Comment