Giannis Antetokounmpo at Wizards

Milwaukee’s three-point shooting aids Giannis’ MVP chances

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a special talent. His nickname, ‘Greek Freak’ is accurate. He is a 6-foot 11-inch, euro-stepping, slam dunking machine. His progression from exciting youngster to MVP candidate has been a joy to watch, despite some turbulent times in Milwaukee.

The Bucks have been under pressure to take advantage of his ability. Their 8-1 start to the season suggests they might be about to do so.

The Eastern Conference might not be as scary as the West, but it’s clearly immensely competitive. It’s a real contest to earn first round home advantage behind Philadelphia, Boston and Toronto. Milwaukee have led the way early on in the chasing pack – only the Raptors have a better record in the East.

Shooting from beyond the arc is Antetokounmpo’s one weakness. He has taken 2.4 three-point attempts a game so far this season but is hitting just 10.5% of them. The key – much like with LeBron James – is to surround him with shooting. This opens the floor up for Giannis to drive to the basket and finish or kick it out.

Below is a table showing how the Bucks’ approach has changed from last season to this with the league rankings in brackets (numbers from basketball reference).

3PA/Game 3P% 2PA/Game 2P%
2017 24.7 (25) 35.5% (22) 58.3 (13) 53.1% (6)
2018 41 (1) 37.9% (7) 50.1 (27) 56.3% (3)

It is always going to help when shooting percentages increase. That’s part of their success. We will see in the coming weeks how sustainable that increase is. Khris Middleton’s 49% from three may well drop slightly, given his career number is 39%, but he is getting a lot of open looks thanks to Antetokounmpo.

The key here, though, is the number of threes being shot (as well as those that are going in). Giannis’ ability to beat people off the dribble draws the double team and sets up easier perimeter shots. Milwaukee are rarely settling for two and have joined the NBA’s league-wide three-point revolution in a big way.

It’s no surprise that Antetokounmpo is flying high. He’s assisting more than ever before, rebounding more and is only a smidgen lower on points per game than his 26.9 of last season. This feels very much like a natural next step for Giannis. His numbers are benefitting from his teammates’ play, and that only furthers his claim to be the regular season MVP.

The acquisitions of Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez have made a huge difference for the Bucks. They are shooting over 10 three-pointers per game between them and are further stretching the floor for Giannis to do his thing. The roster – as most do when a team is winning – looks well-balanced.

Of course there’s a long way to go. Giannis’ turnovers could become a bigger issue when other teams hit their stride, the three-point shooting could go cold, and the Bucks will obviously have difficult periods, but this start is so promising for the Milwaukee faithful and those who backed Antetokounmpo to win MVP.