If you have ever read or listened to the work of Riley Feldmann, you know that he is a tough act to follow. After he expertly handled the inaugural edition of (a then-unnamed) Questions and Antlers mailbag last week, I picked up his baton and I’ll do my best to live up to his good name and reputation with the Brew Hoop readers and commenters this week.
As always, this column wouldn’t be possible without you. All questions were sourced from this week’s submission post. Be sure to keep your typing fingers ready for a chance to join in every week when a new post asking for your questions goes live each Tuesday for the rest of the season.
Thanks for your questions—let’s get to them!
AFaulkner asks: How long should we wait for the Giannis/Dame minutes to start really clicking? In the games I’ve watched, I often feel more confident when just one of them is on the floor (although neither has really been as incandescent as expected so far).
Would you attribute these issues most strongly to getting to know each other, getting into game condition after health issues in the offseason, or line up composition (ie, would swapping out Beasley from the starting lineup make these minutes look better right away)?
First of all, thank you for using the word “incandescent” to describe anything other than a type of light bulb that is being phased out. It’s a great word and we, as a collective, do not use it as often or as well as it deserves.
To get to the heart of the question, I would attribute the issues as a working-through of the getting-to-know-each-other phase more than anything else, although you may be onto something with the lineup suggestion. Several members of the Brew Hoop faithful asked complementary questions to this end that appear further down in the mailbag, so I’ll expound a little bit more there.
glbucksfan asks: This seems too obvious, but, 1) why can’t anyone show Giannis how to shoot a free throw, and, 2) why won’t someone tell him to shorten up his “10 second” routine before shooting a free throw?
I really thought that it would change/improve over the summer, but, it did not.
This question came in on Tuesday, just over 48 hours before Giannis went 16-18 from the free throw line against the Pacers. Perhaps the irony here is that on a night when nearly 30 percent of his points came from the charity stripe, making those other two freebies would have given him a career-high in points while also adding even more drama to the end of the game.
The question is obvious to ask, but the answer is more anomalous. Surely people have shown him how to shoot a free throw without a full 10-second warm-up, but without full insight into his training and practice regimen, any attempt to answer this is going to be more subjective than not. These are the items I would consider. Make of them what you will:
- We know that Giannis is tireless and dedicated when it comes to improving his game. It could be that other skills, like the continued evolution of his passing and (hypothetically) his three-point shot, are more of a focus of his training away from the team. As for this offseason, learning the ins and outs of the new systems introduced by head coach Adrian Griffin and former lead assistant Terry Stotts probably took up bandwidth that could (would?) have otherwise been committed to a reworked free throw technique and routine.
- We also know that his brothers are his most frequent training partners during any time of the year. Thanasis (53.7% career), Kostas (58.2% in Euroleague play since 2021) and Alex (59% in the G League since 2021) aren’t quite marksmen from the free throw line either. As is usually the case with the AntetokounBros, Giannis is lightyears ahead of his brothers with a 70.7 percent career average, so it could be that until one of them can surpass him and get in his ear about sustained improvement, free throw shooting won’t become a top priority.
- It’s no secret that Brewers co-owner Giannis has a pair of absolute mitts, and there has long been a fan theory that players with larger hands struggle more with their shooting, be it from the field or from the free-throw line. Brew Hoop staffers even discussed it in relation to Giannis’ development in this piece from 2016. Since then, though, the International Journal of Exercise Science published an article by two researchers from Utah Valley University investigating that idea. The results didn’t find any significant correlation, let alone causation, between hand size and free throw accuracy. There was a weak connection shown between wingspan and accuracy, though nothing significant.
- There are a million ways to effectively shoot a free throw—traditional form and technique be damned. Without digging into the most common trajectory of his misses, my laissez-faire suggestion is that maybe we’re asking Giannis to be more like Khris Middleton when in reality he needs a more outside-the-box approach like Kenosha-native and one-time Buck assistant Nick Van Exel:
- Giannis will eventually age out of his all-world, mega-star status. Capitalizing on the physical advantages that he has now is paramount, and rightly so. My guess is that years from now when his athleticism starts to wane and his ranks on top 10 current player lists begin to collectively slip, that’s when we’ll start seeing real improvement in his free throw and three-point percentages as he makes a concerted effort to age gracefully into the autumn of his career. If latter-day Vince Carter and Grant Hill taught us anything, it’s that we’ll still be able to expect a poster dunk or two in those seasons too, though.
Mitchell Maurer asks: How long do you think it takes for the team to achieve a level of consistency similar to what we got used to in the Coach Bud era?
Record-wise, I think the consistency will be based on Giannis at this point in his career. The Bucks haven’t finished with a regular season winning percentage below 62.2% since 2017–2018, in the pre-Budenholzer era and before Giannis’ full ascension. To that point, his biggest accolades were winning NBA Most Improved Player (2017) and making NBA All-Rookie (2014), All-Defensive (2017), and All-NBA (2017) second teams. A lot has changed since then, to be sure, and I think Giannis has the ability to will the team to regular season records that feel familiar again and again as long as he is in his peak years, especially with Dame Lillard now in tow and Middleton hopefully progressing back to something closer to his regular form.
As far as consistency of team play and the on-court product is concerned, I am more pessimistic on that topic than I was a few weeks ago since it certainly has more to do with how Griffin molds and guides the team on a year-over-year basis. It’s an easy comparison to draw because it is the most readily available in Griffin’s case, but I think Nick Nurse’s stint with the Toronto Raptors is the best analog we have.
Nurse inherited a team that was a consistent winner as the Raptors had three consecutive seasons with winning percentages at or above 62.2 under then-head coach Dwane Casey, compared to the five that Griffin inherited from Bud. In his first season in the front seat, Nurse had a top-caliber star player in Kawhi Leonard (albeit new to the franchise and not firmly entrenched like Giannis is in Milwaukee), a steady hand at the point guard position in Kyle Lowry, and a player who could be squinted at and considered the final piece of a Big Three in Marc Gasol, though he was added midway through Toronto’s 2018–2019 race to the organization’s first NBA championship.
If we assume that Middleton will play more or less a partial season as he continues to recover from the injuries that have plagued him in recent years, the situations between the Raptors’ teams in the run-up and culmination to that title and the post-Bud Bucks aren’t identical, but it’s not altogether dissimilar. My primary presumption is that Griffin has a shorter runway in Milwaukee than Nurse ever did in Toronto, though, since Kawhi was always destined to be a rental that had to be capitalized upon for one season whereas the Bucks have Giannis and Dame locked in for multiple seasons, with the ultimate expectation being multiple NBA championships.
For Griffin to make that happen, I think it will take about 100 regular season games as he grows into his new role, and things could be dicey for him if there isn’t another banner ready to hang in the Fiserv Forum rafters by the start of the 2025–2026 season.
The good news so far is that he is listening to the players’ feedback about their roles and how they feel they can be most effectively deployed—the kind of openness that seemed to emanate from Nurse early on in Toronto. The bad news is… just about everything else we’ve seen on the court so far, and in the bad-vibes departure of Terry Stotts.
(Ok, now that you’ve read that, everyone please go type “#MitchellGuestMailbagChallenge” in the comments.)
MrHiDef asks: One of Giannis’ biggest strengths is his determination and drive (his mentality). To what extent does this also hinder him? And, do you see him becoming the cerebral player that he has shown flashes of at times (e.g. when we swept the Heat in the playoffs)?
I’m hesitant to say that any player’s drive and determination are a hindrance. With Giannis already well on his way to being an all-time great, especially one seemingly singularly dedicated to his city, it brings to mind Kobe Bryant and, to a lesser extent, Michael Jordan—both endlessly determined players with borderline-unhealthy mentalities that wound up skyrocketing them into the hoops pantheon. With that in mind, I certainly think he could become a cerebral player, but that’s another thing I’m more inclined to imagine happening once his athleticism starts to dip and he has to start to adapt his game more by force than by choice.
If any hindering is happening, I haven’t seen it. Personally, the most notable places where I thought it happened with Bryant and Jordan were in their personal lives rather than in their professional habitats, and to that end, things seem outwardly great for Giannis, Mariah, and the kids (and I genuinely hope they are and continue to be).
WiscoJoe asks: Who’s a team in the East you think is a sleeper and who do you think are overrated?
I like the Orlando Magic as a sleeper pick, albeit partially from the nostalgia of being a Penny Hardaway devotee as a child. As for the 2023–2024 iteration of the team, they’re currently in an immense tie for 11th place in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but there are things to like. They’re sixth in total rebound percentage (fourth in OREB% and sixth in DREB%) despite some injuries this week. Paolo Banchero and Franz Wagner are both primed to take significant steps forward, Joe Ingles might be better suited for his role and more efficient this season than he was with the Bucks last season, and I’m a believer in both Anthony Black and Markelle Fultz. I might even go so far as to wonder if the Magic could try to fast-track their playoff window by way of being a sleeper trade partner if the Bulls ever start the fire sale that is so obviously needed in Chicago. Maybe something like this?
As for who I think is overrated, I think the Indiana Pacers seem bound to cool down from their hot start and settle comfortably into the sixth or seventh seed come playoff time. Currently, they possess the top-rated offense and the 26th-rated defense. It’s a little bit of a miracle that they survived Giannis’ 54-point outing even with the Bucks’ defense being the state that it is. They’re 6-3 with a couple outlier scoring margins (losing by 51 against the Boston Celtics; winning by 41 vs. the San Antonio Spurs) and more predictable wins over the Washington Wizards, Utah Jazz, and Cleveland Cavaliers (twice), but the schedule only gets harder from here. But I also referred to Tyrese Haliburton as “Malcolm Brogdon 2.0” in a roundtable once, so it’s also possible that I’m merely a hater who is too proud to admit his fault.
Jman2926 asks: Once our 10 man rotation is stabilized and we find consistency on the offense and defense, do you think this year’s rookies will get more playing time? It seems some of our current rotation is seeing a reduction in minutes, and some of their skill sets can be swapped out to some degree.
I think it’s definitely possible, if not inevitable. Chris Livingston has appeared in just one contest and Andre Jackson Jr. is averaging 5.7 MPG as of the time of this writing. With 74 regular season games to go and nights off for veterans to minimize wear-and-tear as the season goes on, I think we’ll see more of them both—maybe not enough to disproportionately increase their current per-game averages, or to earn them playoff minutes, but enough to get a good feel for their games.
Malik Beasley is doing everything he can to make me look like a fool (which is not tough to do, to begin with) for saying he will be a fan not-so-favorite by hitting 41.2% of his shots from deep and leading the team in steals, as noted by the Brew Hoop crew on this week’s podcast (side note: subscribe and listen to Deer Diaries if you haven’t already). But again, the season is long, and with Griffin’s reputation for player development, I especially think that AJJ could show enough intrigue at the shooting guard spot to warrant more bench minutes as the season goes on.
JSOnline Castaway 2.0 asks: How important is our historically-bad fast break stats (both on offense and defense)? Is it a championship-threatening concern for this team? Or will it be much ado about nothing, since all teams slow down in the playoffs and go to a more halfcourt-centric offense?
Read the following in Jae Crowder’s voice:
Only in the short term for now, though, since we’re still working with a small sample size. If the trend bears out through 40 games or so, put the above letters in bold because then it could be a harbinger for a bad postseason. While teams slow down and focus on more deliberate half-court offenses in the playoffs, fastbreak points can be make-or-break differences as contests get tighter and fewer overall possessions are available.
Jonbone93 asks: Do we think Griffin will step up to try and make this offense gel? I feel like he might need to meet with Giannis and Dame to figure out what they want to be.
Absolutely. The job of any head coach is to assert themselves when things need to be fixed, and there’s a lot of fixing to be done at this point. Some of it will happen naturally as the team logs more minutes together, Griffin should absolutely meet with Giannis and Dame to hash out a specific vision and expectation for the offense. Bringing in Khris for good measure would be a smart move too, especially given his importance in the pick-and-roll game in seasons past.
Also, shout out to friend of the pod Chud Butterbacon linking to a quote given by Griffin to Yahoo! Sports stating that Dame is “almost too unselfish at times” and the Bucks need him to shoot the ball more, as I tend to agree with that position.
When Griffin was hired as head coach, he began planning for a season with Jrue Holiday. Then the Bucks traded for a player who is, first and foremost, a lead guard and almost the diametric opposite of Holiday, though neither is necessarily a traditional offensive initiator.
While Lillard is actually averaging a career-low 4.7 assists per game, he is also averaging just 15.7 field goal attempts per game, tied for the career-low he set as a rookie with the Portland Trail Blazers in 2012-2013. Parsing it more, Dame is also putting up a career-low 7.4 attempts from two per game (down from 9.4 last season, and the 9.1 low he recorded in 2013–2014) and just 8.3 three-point attempts per game, a mark he hasn’t been near since 2018–2019.
This is a different team than he’s played with before and moreover, it isn’t his team, so any hesitance from Lillard or self-imposed pressure to fit in and share the ball makes sense this early on in his Bucks tenure. But that wasn’t the style of play he was expected to bring to the table, and I tend to believe we’ll see something of a reversion to the mean as he gets more comfortable in his new surroundings.
Akindinoss asks: Do you find rest of the coaching staff adequate for a contender team? Should we add /remove persons/personalities.
Question is made cause my opinion is that so far i see almost zero impact from the rest of the coaches.
Maybe is on me maybe is on coach G but sometimes i feel he is left alone
(Bud had Ham who is(has been) a significant personality )
Are you saying former Bucks interim head coach Joe Prunty doesn’t have a personality Kidding, like Jason, of course.
I would have much preferred to retain Stotts as lead assistant for several reasons, but I think there are still plenty of important voices on the bench without him. Josh Oppenheimer has long been a favorite of Giannis and Vin Baker is an entrenched Bucks assistant at this point. I think the continuity that those two bring may be more important than having any noticeably strong personalities on the bench along with Griffin so early on in his time with in Milwaukee, although I am intrigued by last week’s report that Sergio Scariolo was supposedly asked to join the staff as the lead assistant coach.
Scariolo worked on the Raptors’ bench with Griffin and would presumably have a more established rapport with him, plus a little more sway when it comes to changes being made.
As for personality, Scariolo was fired from his head coaching role with Virtus Bologna just ahead of the Italian club’s season because Scariolo publicly stated that their roster was, say, less than stellar compared to the one they fielded the previous season (worth noting that former Los Angeles Clippers guard Milos Teodosic and Bucks all-time great Semi Ojeleye were on that previous squad).
stoneAge asks: I’ll make one of those famous greek (long) questions You can leave out the last two quotes when you copy it for the article...
Here are a few Giannis quotes:
“When you focus on the past, that’s your ego. When I focus on the future, it’s my pride. Focus on the moment, in the present. That’s humility.”
“I just want to play good basketball. I want to take care of my family. I want to keep doing things that make me happy. And by doing that, the only way I can reach my full potential because I’ve realized this – and thank God I’m over myself – is by the more humble I can be, the more in the present I can be, the more down to earth I can be, the more hungry I can be, the more I can reach my full potential. That’s the only way.
I kind of try to focus on the moment, in the present. That’s humility. That’s being humble (he centered his hands in front of him). That’s not setting no expectation. That’s going out there, enjoying the game, competing at a high level. I think I’ve had people throughout my life that helped me with that. But that is a skill that I’ve tried to, like, kind of – how do you say, perfect it.”
How close would you say resembles Giannis current game on the court, with his past quotes? More in detail... Does he play good basketball? Does he enjoy taking free throws? Does it seem his ego is in the way, especially when he shares the court with Dame?
If I have ever believed an athlete when they’ve talked about humility, it’s Giannis. That said, he is setting drastically fewer screens so far this season than we have seen when he has been at his most effective in the past. Couple that with Griffin’s quotes about Dame needing to be assertive, and I’m inclined to think that Lillard and Giannis are still en route to finding their balance. Until that happens and Griffin fully irons out the offensive and defensive strategies, Giannis might be defaulting to an aggressive, overpowering style that has worked before when he has had the ball in his hands—or in the moments when he’s hoisting threes, maybe those are the moments he feels confident in the offseason work he’s put in on that aspect of his game, whether or not it shows in live action. I’d call this less ego-driven and more doing what he feels has to be done to find early season wins as things continue to come together.
As for if he plays good basketball, I think so, yes. But I also think that’s his floor, and we’ve come to expect to see performances much closer to his ceiling since we’ve seen him do some truly otherworldly things and set precedents that are either unmatched or near-unmatched in franchise history.
Does he enjoy taking free throws? In all seriousness, he probably enjoys it more than anything Nikola Jokic seems to enjoy about basketball. Giannis is not a good free throw shooter overall, but he has nights where he makes a very good percentage of them. It just doesn’t happen consistently.
I do think there is something to be said about context when you are playing in hostile road environments with thousands of fans counting your seconds on the free-throw line with contempt in their voices. In those moments, there is likely not a lot of joy to be found unless you thrive on pettiness or the potential for it. For as competitive and driven as he is, Giannis doesn’t strike me as a person who is very petty, as opposed to the likes of Jimmy Butler. Though, from a cultural standpoint, stoneAge is certainly more qualified to speak to that point, so thank you for asking and entrusting me with your famously (and delightfully) wordy questions.
Several people also asked questions about the functionality or Coral and/or the display aspect ratios on the website. I’m not properly suited to address these, so those questions will have to stay between you and the big man in the mothership upstairs at SB Nation.
Aside from that, what do you agree or disagree with in the novel above? How would you have answered these questions? Share your thoughts in the comments below!