By now we should be used to it: wherever Giannis Antetokounmpo goes, a buzz of anticipation soon follows.
The past two weeks proved that Las Vegas is no exception, as the gangly 19-year-old made his first summer league experience one to remember. Let's start with the numbers:
We should begin by acknowledging that summer league stats can be a funhouse mirror of player performance; shooting percentages in such small samples tend to be all over the place, while even the most promising players often rack up huge turnover numbers as they both work on their game and struggle to find cohesiveness with new (and mostly talentless) teammates. In short, the final numbers in Vegas tend to be much less important than the process that produced them.
Still, the most encouraging takeaway from Giannis' Vegas experience is also the most obvious from his box score data. After struggling to generate scoring opportunities during his rookie season, Giannis scored consistently, efficiently, and in much higher volumes in Vegas, stealing a bit of Jabari Parker's thunder as he led the team in scoring (17.0 ppg) with a healthy .462/.375/.737 shooting line. We saw Giannis attack left, Giannis attack right, Giannis in P&R, Giannis in the post, Giannis from three and...well, you get the drift.
So as much as fans and media gleefully (and understandably) jumped at Jason Kidd's suggestion of Giannis playing some "point guard" next year, I'd argue that Kidd's bit of positional intrigue also distracted from the more important promise Giannis showed creating his own shot. Now don't get me wrong: court vision and passing are great, and few teams have the luxury of throwing a 6'11" wing player on the court who can handle the ball and run an offense in spurts. But that's something we already knew Giannis had in his basketball DNA; it may not have been fully formed a year ago, but it was already on the extrapolative path we had begun to sketch out for him..
In contrast, we had seen far less evidence of Antetokounmpo showing the decisive and instinctive shot-making needed to become a dangerous scorer in the NBA. So the appearance of those qualities--even in fits and starts--is what should really have Bucks fans excited about their prized sophomore's appearance in Vegas. For every flash of brilliance from Giannis in transition last year, we saw just as many deer-in-headlights moments in the halfcourt, particularly when trying to make decisions in P&R. Though he showed a knack for making plays in his rare isolation opportunities (0.97 PPP in 61 chances, mostly thanks to 10/17 shooting from three), he often appeared paralyzed by indecision in the two-man game (0.43 PPP).
We didn't see that same sort of indecision from Giannis in Vegas, though we should also remember that ultimately it's just Vegas. Seven assists and 18 turnovers (point what?) showed the rough edges that will still need to be smoothed, though Giannis' ability to make plays with halfcourt defenses primed to stop him can't be overlooked. To be a star he'll eventually need to find a way to score, the threat of which will also make him that much more threatening as a passer. Consider the case of Kevin Durant, who quietly averaged 5.5 assists per game thanks mostly to the immense gravitational effect his scoring talent has on opposing defenses. No one's expecting Giannis to ever score 30 points per game, but even getting to 18-20 ppg would fundamentally change how defenses have to play him. And while we're a long way from that being a regular season reality, we may have seen some important first steps this summer.
7/11 vs. Cavaliers:
7/13 vs. Suns
7/14 vs. Jazz
7/16 vs. Spurs
ESPN's Kevin Arnovitz goes 1-on-1 with Giannis at a Vegas lunch buffet.