Mike Gallagher

Offseason Beat

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Giannis Antetokounmpo No. 1?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Anthony Bennett, Ben McLemore, Trey Burke, and Michael Carter-Williams. Those are just four of the 14 players selected before Giannis Antetokounmpo in the 2013 NBA Draft. The Greek Freak is the only player selected in the 2013 draft to make an All-Star Team and you can bet there are many more to come — Rudy Gobert will be joining him next year.

 

After a explosive second half of his 2015-16 season, the secret was out that Giannis just wasn’t a flash in the pan as he became the 2016-17 Most Improved Player. Last season, he basically averaged career highs across the board with 22.0 points, 8.8 boards, 5.4 dimes, 1.6 steals, 1.9 blocks, 0.6 treys and 2.9 turnovers on 52.1 percent from the field and 77.0 percent from the line. He also obliterated his career highs with his 28.3 usage rate and a 59.9 true shooting percentage (TS%), which is up from a 22.3 usage rate and a 56.6 TS% in 2015-16 — those were his previous career highs, too.

 

In case you missed it last week, I made a case for Karl-Anthony Towns to be the top pick in fantasy hoops drafts. This week, let’s make a case for The Alphabet.

 

When the 2017-18 season starts, he’s still going to be just 22 years old after he just turned in one of the most unique seasons of all time. He becomes just the second player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, five assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks in a season. Antetokounmpo also had more threes, blocks and boards with fewer turnovers than the other guy. Who’s the other guy? That’d be Michael Jordan. There's little reason to think he can't at least match those numbers again.

 

A big reason why Giannis was able to be the No. 4 player for total value in nine-category leagues was a massive improvement in free throw percentage. He made just 72.4 percent of his free throws in 2015-16, but pushed that all the way up to 77.0 percent in 2016-17 — the league average was 77.2 last season. While he did shoot the ball worse in the second half of last season, there’s no reason to think he can’t match the 77 percent or even hit 80 percent. That's huge and it means you don't have to punt FT%. Although, he probably won't help you there, so drafting Giannis and punting FT% in a head-to-head league makes some sense.

 

When you’re drafting Giannis, you know you’re ahead of the game in the defensive stats. He ranked sixth in the NBA for blocks per game — the toughest stat to get in fantasy — and 11th in steals. So he blocks like an elite big and steals like a top-notch point guard. He is basically Draymond Green with a ton of scoring, better shooting and worse in the turnover department. One quick negative is he did have a noticeable downward trend on his defensive stats, but he still had 1.7 blocks and 1.4 steals per game after the break, which is down from 2.0 blocks and 1.8 steals pre-break despite seeing 0.4 minutes per game post-break. No worries here, though.

 

Editor’s Note: Win a FREE trip to the World Series plus cash prizes!

 

Perhaps the strongest piece of evidence on Antetokounmpo is how he is going into basically the same situation compared to the other candidates as the top pick. Russell Westbrook has Paul George, James Harden has Chris Paul, Karl-Anthony Towns has Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis has a full season of DeMarcus Cousins, and most importantly Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant have Nick Young. Kidding aside on the Warriors, Curry was No. 5  in nine-cat leagues before the KD injury on Feb. 28. While Durant was easily fantasy’s top player per game last season, KD has missed 20 games last year, 10 games in 2015-16 and 55 games in 2014-15. 

 

One interesting part of Giannis’ season is how he altered his game and his stat lines with the injuries to Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker. As a reminder, the Bucks had some terrible luck when they had Khris Middleton make his season debut from a hamstring tear on Feb. 8, but then Parker re-tore his ACL in that same game against the Heat. Let’s take a look at his shot charts before (top) and after (bottom) Feb. 8:

 

 

Usually, we love to see some stark differences on this kind of split, but what really jumps out is how these two look so much alike. Plus, the usage rates and overall efficiency numbers were extremely similar. Before Feb. 8, he had a 28.4 usage rate and a 60.3 TS%, and after Feb. 8 he had a 28.2 usage rate and a 59.0 true shooting percentage. With Jabari Parker not expected to be back until the break, Giannis should be set for plenty of shots.

 

One of the most important parts of those shot charts is how he performs at the rim. You’ll notice his efficiency at the rim is at LeBron James and KD-like levels. He was taking even more shots in the second part of that split above, so let’s take a look at that in smaller segments of the season. Here are his field goal percentages (FG%) on shots at the rim and the percentage that those shots account for on his shot total (DST% or distribution):

Month Games DST FG%
November 13 58.9 71.3
December 15 50.8 67.5
January 14 45.4 66.7
February 11 52.1 70.7
March 18 54.3 67.8
April 5 57.4 71.8

 

Interesting. You can see he was consistently fantastic at the rim for every month — league average at the rim last year was 61.1 percent — but the distribution numbers trended down before they trended back up in the final three months. That’s a really good sign for Giannis to smash at the rim to keep his FG% high.

 

That’s especially important because Giannis still doesn’t have a jumper yet. He didn’t really trend up or down on those, making 30.6 percent of his jumpers before the break and 29.6 percent after the break. If he gets around half his shots at the rim again, he should be right at the 52-55 percent mark from the field again.

 

As you’ve probably heard, Giannis is working on his jumper. Yeah, we’ve heard this in 100 different styles from muscle watch to working on his ball-handling, so don’t put too much stock into it. We probably don’t even want him to shoot treys because going from his 27.2 percent from three last year to the league average of 35.8 percent would be very tall task.

 

Coach Jason Kidd has also said Antetokounmpo has to get better and it sounds like he’s going to put a lot of pressure on him to score. Kidd wants to put the pieces around Giannis and basically have him carry the team for passing (sound clip here). In other words, 25 points and 10 assists aren't out of the question in his age-22 season.

 

One other quick negative we have to throw in there is Giannis didn’t practice in Europe for five days. He even had an MRI to make sure everything was good, but it came back clean. Eight days after the MRI, he scored 20 points against Montenegro, so he’s all good. It’s also worth a mention he did have some knee tendinitis back in 2015 for the preseason and he also had another flare up in December. For now, this really is nothing more than a tiebreaker on the fantasy board for Giannis and someone else. If he has another issue with his knee, maybe bump him down a spot or two.

 

We love comps to try to project how a guy will do. Hey, that’s fantasy, right? The problem here is there really is nobody like Giannis. We could throw out names like Gerald Wallace for his defensive output — shoutout to any Crash fantasy owners last decade — and he gets the mini-LeBron without the scoring, too. He's just not like anything we've ever seen and maybe that's why we love watching him so much. Granted, it does help he may be the best highlight-reel player in the NBA and the "fun to own" part helps his case, too. Anyway, as stated above, the only different thing on his roster is the loss of Michael Beasley and the edition of some young rookies, so that is a huge thing going for him.

 

For me, I have Giannis at No. 2 on my board for nine-category leagues. 



Mike Gallagher has covered fantasy hoops for eight years and this season is his second with Rotoworld. You can find him on Twitter talking about a player's shots at the rim.



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