Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the verge of blossoming into a transcendental star, but he is not there yet.
The Milwaukee Bucks forward is poised to set forth a concerning proposition for the rest of the NBA once he arrives. In some ways, he already has.
Antetokounmpo is already among the most dynamic defenders in the league, as one of the few players with the size and defensive chops necessary to guard any position on the floor. He is the ultimate jack-of-all-trades, and after being moved into a point-forward role following the 2016 All-Star Break, proved such by recording five triple-doubles in the final 26 games of the season.
This new role creates a constant possibility for mismatches, which is blatantly evident when he gets moving in the open court.
There is no better example of the danger Antetokounmpo presents in transition than the following sequence from a game in March against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Antetokounmpo grabs a rebound at the rim and immediately breaks into an all-out sprint up the floor. He is the first Buck to cross midcourt, but that fails to deter him from engaging Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka and Dion Waiters in a one-on-three fast break. He makes quick work of Westbrook with a eurostep, rises up, and brings down the house with a vicious and-one slam over Ibaka.
It is moments like this when Antetokounmpo reminds us of just how rare of a talent he is.
World-class athleticism and the handle of a point guard is already a potent combination. Add that to natural instincts and a 6-foot-11, 222-pound frame, and you have the potential for greatness.
To achieve this, however, requires improvement in two vital areas of his game.
Antetokounmpo’s struggles shooting the basketball are no secret. After connecting on 34.7 percent of his three-point attempts as a rookie, the Greek Freak suffered a notable sophomore slump during the 2015-16 season — shooting a forgettable 15.9 percentage from long-range during his first year as a full-time starter. That figure improved by nearly ten percent last season, but the consistent willingness of teams to back off of him at the arc is a telling sign.
What is not often discussed is another area of improvement that, ultimately, will determine the success of the Point Giannis experiment.
While Antetokounmpo’s ball handling ability ability is a driving force behind his seemingly limitless ceiling, ball security is one of the largest detractors holding him back.
Antetokounmpo’s turnovers per game average has risen steadily in each of his three seasons in the league. His promotion into a starting role explained the jump in year two, which brought his turnovers per game to 2.1. His increased ball handling responsibilities justify the latest increase, which resulted in a career-high 2.6 turnovers per game.
Still, the end of Milwaukee’s 2016-17 campaign brought about reason for concern.
Antetokounmpo had at least three turnovers in each of the final seven games last season, and he averaged four per game during this span. Improving his shot may be critical, but given his increased role running the offense, so is finding a way to get better at protecting the basketball.
Despite a heightened turnover rate, advanced statistics from after the All-Star Break provide reason for optimism.
Antetokounmpo watched his numbers improve in various areas during this stretch, most notably his assist percentage, which skyrocketed from 12.9 to 31.1. Even more promising, his turnover percentage actually decreased, an uncommon occurrence for a player experiencing such an uptick in ball handling responsibilities. This only further validates the notion that he is clearly more of a weapon with the ball in his hands than without it.
If Antetokounmpo takes significant strides during his fourth season in the league, which will entail limiting turnovers and becoming at minimum a respectable shooting threat, All-NBA accolades will be within reach — as should a playoff berth for the Bucks.