It’s nearly the regular season folks, which means it’s time to start contrived “countdown to tipoff” pieces. Our series will be called the Calculated Countdown, where we take a particular statistic from last season that corresponds to the number of days left till tipoff and analyze it in the context of this upcoming year. Today we’re looking at Giannis increased points per game last season.
6 Days to Tipoff: Giannis increased his points per game by 6 (16.9 to 22.9) last year
We all know Giannis is the embodiment of a do-it-all player sans a wet jumper. He stuffs box scores at historic levels, ranking in the top-20 of the NBA in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals last year. Today we’re focusing on his leap specifically in points, where he vaulted by six points into the low-20’s with a 22.9 ppg season.
I was dubious whether he’d be able to consistently score around 25 per game without a jumper to keep defenders honest. As is often the case, doubting Giannis is a fool’s errand. He had no trouble scoring in bunches last year, pulverizing defenders with his long limbs and improved lower body strength. Defenders in the paint that used to pummel him off his spot beneath the bucket now ricochet off him like bouncy balls. There’s nary a spot in the paint that he can’t somehow finish a dunk from and the impossible angles he utilizes to get the ball in the hoop are amazingly commonplace now. While his low-post stats aren’t demonstrably better, his improved patience and strength beneath the basket seemed to take a meaningful leap last year. He improved his field goal percentage in the restricted area from 66.2% to 68.8% on 1.3 more attempts. That 68.8% trailed only six players who averaged 5 or more shots in the restricted area last season, all of whom were centers besides Lebron James, who finished at an inconceivable 76.1%.
When examining where his points came from last year, there aren’t a ton of discrepancies from his 2015 numbers. He had 3.8% more points from the free throw line, shot a tad more threes so that they encapsulated 1.8% more of his points and even had a smaller percentage of his points in the paint (4.9%) despite his increased efficiency in the restricted area last year. Among all this though, maybe the most promising bit of data for his scoring potential is his unassisted field goals versus assisted. Among his 2-pointers made, 58% were unassisted versus just 51.5% in 2015-16. Those same figures were 28.6% versus 17.9% in 15-16 on 3-pointers. That latter figure is based on minimal makes (49 vs. 28), but this illustrates the more important point that Giannis was more willing to create his own offense last year.
That doesn’t mean he’s particularly effective in isolation though. Giannis ran the most isolation plays of anyone on the team last year, 2.8 per game, but only averaged 0.77 points per possession on those, ranked in the 40th percentile in terms of efficiency. No one on Milwaukee (sans Beasus) was a quality player in isolation, but Giannis could probably eke that efficiency up if he manages to secure more free throws. He lacks some of the crisp ball skills to cross guys up due to his long limbs, but he can use them to his advantage to skip around defenders unprepared for his outrageous finishing finesse. Giannis’ 12.9% free throw frequency on isolations seems a bit deflated for someone with his foul-drawing propensity, and he doesn’t yet have the midrange shot to help juice that efficiency up. If he’s able to snake into the lane more, that could help his isolation scoring demonstrably. Regardless though, the fact he’s happy taking that load upon his back is indicative of his ascendance as this team’s offensive focal point.
The other answer is he just shoots better, but I can’t think of a more tired phrase at this point than “what if Giannis had a jump shot.” As for a prediction though, I’ll say he ends with 26 points per game this year; what say you?