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The Giannis Effect: Everyone Gets Sucked In

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the center of everything the Milwaukee Bucks do and he makes everything possible.

Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Two Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

If you google the definition of gravity, you’ll likely find the following explanation, “the force that attracts a body toward the center of the earth, or toward any other physical body having mass.” It’s also talked about a lot in basketball.

With the emergence of the best three-point shooters the NBA has ever seen, gravity is most often associated with their ability to suck in the defense on any given play. Take someone like Steph Curry, for instance. The defense is petrified about leaving him alone on the perimeter and will do anything they can to prevent him from getting a shot off from the outside. This ability to attract his defenders to him opens up the floor for his teammates and is one of his greatest assets.

Curry begins the play by dribbling toward the right elbow and passing the ball to Andre Iguodala in the corner. Iguodala proceeds by whipping the ball to Dramond Green at the top of the key and then feigning a down screen for Curry. Before Iguodala can make anything resembling a pick, two Portland Trail Blazers defenders rush to the three-point line with the former MVP in order to prevent him from getting an open look. In return, Iguodala calmly hops toward the hoop for the easy two-hand slam. That’s gravity.

Milwaukee Bucks’ forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has the same type of effect on defenses. Even though opposing teams aren’t rushing to the three-point line to stop him, they are hyper-sensitive to anything and everything he does.

Some of the time, Antetokounmpo doesn’t even have to do anything special to open up shots for his teammates. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors, he simply shows off some old-fashioned hustle and runs the floor in transition. As he does so, Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet all turn their attention toward him. In exchange, they completely forget about the Bucks’ best outside shooter and Malcolm Brogdon calmly knocks down the triple.

The gravitational pull Antetokounmpo has on opposing defenses isn’t by accident. He shoots 74 percent at the rim (according to Cleaning the Glass) and is unstoppable by just about every measure of the word when he gets that close to the hoop. Even in an age where three-point shooting has never been more valuable, the best shot in basketball is still around the rim.

When it comes to the Bucks’ MVP candidate, teams must choose between allowing a Greek bucket around the rim or an open three-point shot. There’s no way around it. And if Giannis is able to get to the rim at will, and shoot 74 percent when he gets there, that means his teammates would have to knock down 49.33 percent of their three-point looks to dissuade defenses from loading up on Antetokounmpo. Therefore, defenses choose to stop the Greek Freak. It’s the “least bad” option.

When defenses don’t implement the “build a wall” approach, Antetokounmpo can feast.

Despite help defenders Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol having their hands in the air on the clip above, they are too spread out to deter Antetokounmpo from driving to the hoop. Giannis understands this and hits Pascal Siakam with a right-to-left crossover before out muscling the Raptor’s forward and scoring the bucket deep in the paint.

In order to prevent these types of situations from happening on the regular, defenses pay extra close attention to anything Antetokounmpo is doing.

Whenever he gets the ball in the middle of the floor it’s over for the defense. They might as well pack their bags and go home because it’s too easy. Following a switch, Antetokounmpo posts Kyle Lowry up at the free throw line and waits to see what side the help will come from. Once Danny Green commits to the double, Nikola Mirotic relocates and catches the pass for three. Yak Yak!

Antetokounmpo always puts a tremendous amount of pressure on defenses. His ability to score the basketball around the hoop is well-documented. However, he also has a rare skillset of anticipating where the defense is coming from and hitting his teammates on time and on target. This combination of skills makes it nearly impossible for defenses to stop him.

Still, they have to try. And they often send multiple defenders his way and do everything they can to prevent him from getting shots in the paint.

With Antetokounmpo quickly bringing the ball up the floor, the defense is petrified about what might happen next. In order to prevent a highlight reel dunk, the whole Raptors’ team turns their head and focus in on the ball-handler.

This makes things too easy for Antetokounmpo who has astounding trust in his teammates. On this play, he finds Khris Middleton wide-open in the corner and he splashes it home for three points.

Because of Antetokounmpo’s gravity, the box score doesn’t always do him justice. And that’s crazy to say about someone who just finished a season averaging 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.

In the offseason, Bucks’ general manager Jon Horst surrounded his star player with outside shooters. He added Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez and gave Milwaukee the ability to always play four perimeter threats around Antetokounmpo at any given point. That vision has paid off, as the Greek Freak makes everything possible for his team.

Back at the ol’ google search engine, the other definition you’ll find under gravity is “extreme or alarming importance; seriousness.” That appears to fit Antetokounmpo just as well as the first meaning. Whichever way you slice it, he’s a player with the utmost gravity.