As basketball fans everywhere desperately search for relevant content, Mike Schmitz—formerly of DraftExpress and now an NBA Draft analyst for ESPN—tweeted his 2013 scouting breakdown of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
As I nostalgically peeped the video on my cracked iPhone, I watched Antetokounmpo fly up and down the court with reckless abandon, and even flash a couple of pedestrian spin moves on outmatched defenders. Even at 18-years-old, he already had the foundation of what would become one of the most feared counters in the world.
The epitome of “filling out your body,” Antetokounmpo’s athleticism has blossomed, as he’s added lean muscle on lean muscle on lean muscle. He possesses an unparalleled combination of strength, quickness, agility and size which allows him to either blow by his man or bully his way to the rim against the majority of the competition. His straight-line driving ability is the key that unlocks the magical spin move.
Poor Cody Martin never stood a chance to stay in front of Antetokounmpo even though they started just 18 or so feet from the basket. The Greek Freak hits him with a couple of ball-fakes, to no vail, before deciding “screw it” and putting his head down to get to the basket. He initially gains an advantage thanks to a strong rip through and quick first step that puts Martin on his left hip. It’s over from there, as he’s far too strong to allow Martin back into the play and lays a delicate finger roll into the basket.
On the rare occasion he can’t barbecue chicken his man on a straight-line drive, he has one of the world’s most lethal counters waiting. Every team knows about it; hardly anyone can stop it.
Thanks to his elite-level dusting ability, opponents must overplay his initial burst of energy just to stay in between their man and the basket. That’s when the game within the game begins. When defenses overcommit to his basic drive, he doesn’t have to dip far into his bag of tricks to pull out his patented left-to-right spin move.
When watching from the comfy confines of our house, Antetokounmpo makes it look equal parts ease and awe-inspiring. That couldn’t be further from the truth, as it’s taken years of behind the scenes work to successfully perform this masterpiece in front of the world.
After an initial hesitation at the top of the key, he takes one hard dribble to his left; catching the defender slightly off balance and forcing him to recover by vigorously sliding to the elbow in a last-ditch effort to prevent a direct path to the rim. With the defender preparing for contact, Antetokounmpo uses his second dribble to gain balance and control going into his spin. With his man fully committed to stopping an attack to the left, he loses all stability, as Antetokounmpo tightly spins off his body in the opposite direction, takes two Freak-like steps and throws down in traffic.
Reading the defense and polishing the footwork are two of the main components to mastering this move.
Bringing the ball up the middle of the court, Antetokounmpo’s teammates spread out equally on both sides of the three-point line; providing him with gobs of room to work with. Even though he can finish with both hands, the book says he loves to go right or get to his right which is why Julius Randle ever so slightly shades him to that hand.
Antetokounmpo uses that to his initial advantage by jab-stepping toward his right before nearly-simultaneously crossing over to his left hand and pushing the ball toward the elbow. The crossover catches Randle off guard, as he has originally had the weight in his right foot, preparing to stop a right-handed drive.
When Antetokounmpo surprises him by going left, he has to overcompensate for his initial deficit and move his feet even harder in the opposite direction.
The defense is always wrong. With Randle on a sad and lonely island against one of the most terrifying players in the world, Antetokounmpo tightly spins around Randle’s unsuspecting body and creates a wide open path down the middle of the lane.
Randle’s movements created that whole opportunity and all Antetokounmpo had to do was read his body positioning. Had the defender not recovered quick enough on the initial cross, it would’ve been a direct path to the hoop. If the help defense came a second earlier, there were multiple Bucks open on the three-point line. Etc, etc.
Footwork is the other key ingredient; to any move, really. In an age where the laws of steps are constantly blurred, the best players are stretching the limits the furthest. And Antetokounmpo is not exempt.
On his deadly euro-step, he’s perfected the gather to maximize the amount of space he can cover once he picks up his dribble. On the spin move—he uses his long strides to cover a large amount of ground.
Similar to the other two examples, Antetokounmpo gets his man to overcommit to the drive. Immediately following his final dribble, Antetokounmpo places his left foot just outside the free throw line, however, when he gathers the ball his foot is already down so it doesn’t count as a step. He then uses his first actual step to put his man on his back and effectively seal him out of the play. His second stride covers the other half of the lane and creates distance between himself and his defender on his way to a go-go gadget arm dunk.
Ball placement is also important, as all the little rats will take any opportunity they can to swipe it loose. Evan Fournier is late coming from the corner to prevent the spin, but had he been there a second or two earlier like good defenses, the opportunity for a steal was slim due to the positioning of the ball. Great teams anticipate his spin move and send their help-defenders much earlier to shut that down.
As Antetokounmpo has developed his game, we’ve seen moves like this one become more prominent. It’s a deadly retaliation when defenders sell out to stop his basic (but lethal) straight-line drive. He still has room for improvement, and there’s no doubt he’ll continue to get better as time goes on.