Once upon a time, I was a Giannis skeptic. A hopeful one, but a skeptic nonetheless.
Being a hopeful Giannis Antetokounmpo skeptic means being split between excitable, stay-golden-Ponyboy optimism while simultaneously expecting the Giannis bubble to burst and for physics’ cruel laws to kick in and say “NO. You are not an NBA point guard. You are a weeping willow person. Stop stuffing the sheet and go back to being raw, Oikos Yogurt Durant."
This is basketball logic at its most sensible and magic-less, and it’s predicated on decades of watching basketball and never seeing anyone with Giannis’ size and attributes actually working out as a true, full-time ballhandler.
But the more I watch, the more Giannis continues to do all the things he shouldn’t be able to do at almost 7 feet tall, and the only question that remains now is what does Giannis Antetokounmpo have to do to convince his remaining skeptics that this experiment will work — that he won’t crumple, explode or be solved by the NBA’s constantly probing minds. That this thing he and the Bucks are trying to do is actually sustainable.
The following are some thoughts as to what Giannis could do to shore up his weaknesses and convert the remaining holdouts into devoted Freakolytes — not that he needs to do any of this, necessarily, but because I wanted to write about it.
Nail down that 3-ball
He doesn't have to be Steph, he just has to have it as an option.
Antetokounmpo is hitting a paltry 29.5 percent from deep in the 2016-17 season, which is about his career average — a figure that wouldn’t and shouldn’t get a pass for any NBA point guard not named Westbrook.
The Freak is working on his deep ball, however, and considering his overall improvement in jump shooting in general (that baseline post fadeaway of his is looking SILKY), it’s only a matter of year or so until Giannis begins stroking the three at head-scratching rates.
I think anything north of 37 percent from deep would be a horrifying weapon for a guy with hands bigger than Wilt Chamberlain's.
Get that All-Star selection
It’s a fan vote and mostly optics, but there’s something about a player getting that first All-Star Game selection that turns him from a curiosity to a Serious Player, at least in the minds of writers.
Giannis should be making that leap this year, and should receive extra scrutiny as a result. Whether that criticism is fair, well … at least the criticism will have to be deeper.
Hit his free throws
As the Webelo of the NBA ecosystem, the point guard is historically expected to hit 99 percent of his free throws.
Working within this construct, a knock on Giannis and the Bucks at large is inconsistency at the free throw line. Milwaukee is 22nd in the league in free throw percentage (.757), which is less than ideal and only gets worse when you consider they’re 25th in free throws attempted.
Giannis is shooting 77.6 percent from the stripe, higher than the team average and up from his 72.4 percent average in 2015-16. But to get into the Trusted Ballhandler realm, 80 percent-plus will get Giannis in the door and convince the limb-gawkers to trust in his shooting.
Keep his turnover average under 2.5
Right now, Giannis is averaging 2.9 turnovers a game as the Bucks’ de facto point guard (Matthew Dellavedova is, allegedly, Milwaukee’s starting point guard when healthy), which ties him with DeAngelo Russell for 10th-worst mark in the league.
Obviously, this isn’t the best-looking metric, but it becomes a lot less bad when you consider John Wall (4.5), LeBron James (3.8) and Kyle Lowry (3.0) are ahead of him on that list.
Curbing these turnovers by .4 per game would put Giannis at 2.5, in a league with Kyrie Irving and the Stephen Currys and Damian Lillards of the league. Huzzah! He’s a real point guard!
Stacy RevereStacy Revere
Create on the defensive end, too
The Bucks appear to be letting Giannis play free safety more often on defense this year, which has led to him free-lancing blocks and basically living in the back of any player’s mind who attempts to drive the basket on Milwaukee.
It’s a strategy that lets him maximize his considerable defensive talents and attributes and hamstrings opponents like the Thunder, who lack the outside shooting to make the Bucks pay for protecting the paint.
The result has been more consistent blocks and disruption, even as his defense gets taken for granted in the rush to praise his blossoming talents on the other end.
Shrink by 6 inches and become an entirely different player
Honestly, this might be the only way to convince those still not sold on the Greek Freak, who is not your Dad’s stock model point guard.
Rating a talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo by the league’s Old Testament expectations will never result in high scores across the board. He’s a unique player, even with the Magic Johnson clauses in place, and if you try to fold that into a neat, true-point-guard box, you’re going to have a bad time.
Giannis doesn’t fit in boxes, or cars or most things designed for the human body, and these characteristics are his biggest allures and strengths.
All I know is I’m sold on his game, and as that jumper continues to sharpen, you’re going to find fewer people in the stands tapping their watches and waiting for Giannis to turn back into a pumpkin.