It should surprise no one, even someone with scant knowledge of the NBA, that Giannis Antetokounmpo yet again won our Ranking the Roster exercise as the Bucks’ most important player to postseason success. Further unsurprising is that this is his tenth consecutive year at the top of the poll, matching his ten years of NBA experience. From beating then-freshly drafted Jabari Parker and his intact knees in 2014 after a rookie season where he flashed what was to come eventually, to one of the NBA’s 20–25 all-time greats (a title he certainly achieved by age 27), Giannis stands alone as usual.
These rankings originally started with a straight question of value and even included draft choices as seen in the link above. As the team moved into title contention and then won it all, our poll became a matter of who was going to be the driving force behind playoff glory. Obviously, Giannis is the latter, but unlike older stars who may be nearing the end of their physical prime, he’s still the most valuable asset the Bucks have, both on and off the court.
Through that decade, Giannis became one of the defining stars of his era and indelibly associated with Bucks basketball in a way no other player has been. Turning 29 in December and firmly in his physical prime, we know well what kind of player he is at his best: an elite high-usage primary scorer, a pretty damn good passer, a fantastic rebounder, an expert at drawing contact, and an extremely dangerous off-ball defensive threat. Put that all together and even with his warts, he’s unquestionably one of the top two or three players in the league currently. Anyone who says otherwise is probably making a bad-faith argument.
Those warts can be what sinks the Bucks in the playoffs at times, however, when he struggles at the line or forces his jumper—you know, the one that took a big step back last year, particularly from the 8–15 foot range. While he likely wasn’t fully healthy in the Heat series, there’s no doubt that his underperformance factored prominently in the Bucks’ eventual demise upon returning to the floor. In the fourth quarter of Game 4, as Milwaukee’s ten-point lead slipped away, he combined with the other members of the big three to shoot 2/13 from the field in the final frame for a mere 6 points as Miami roasted them 41-25. Facing elimination in Game 5, he shot a putrid 10/23 at the line and 1/9 in the final frame of regulation as the Heat forced OT with a 32-16 fourth-quarter advantage.
Make no mistake, though, even a bad Giannis game—in Game 5 he still had 38 and 20 on 14/27 shooting, and a 26-point triple-double on 12/22 shooting the game prior—is enough to keep the Bucks in it against any opponent. And without him, there’s essentially zero chance of taking a series against another top-tier title contender. Had he played a bit closer to his regular season standards in those contests, even shooting 60% at the line in Game 5 rather than 43.5%, maybe we’re talking about last season differently.
I think most every Buck fan recognizes the ship has sailed on his three-point shot, but there’s clear room to improve, even for someone who’s atop the league. And this is a guy who nearly won another MVP last year with a career-high 31.1 PPG! His FT% was on the upswing after cratering to 63.3% in 2019–20, rising to 72.2% in 2021–22, not unlike his early-career numbers at the line before he started drawing significantly more fouls post-title. Last year? It sunk to 64.5%. Coupled with his FG% between 3–16 feet dipping back down towards his averages prior to 2021–22 (a year where his midrange success looks like a bit of an outlier), his efficiency dropped accordingly. Of course, a 60.5% true shooting is still excellent, and he won an MVP in 2020 with a 61.3% figure, but that and his effective field goal percentage were at its lowest since the year prior to Bud’s arrival.
With Khris Middleton missing nearly 50 games, it follows that Giannis’ role was maybe a bit too much: his 38.8% usage led the league and marked a career-high, beating the 37.5% mark of 2019–20. It will be incumbent on Adrian Griffin and his offensive-minded associate—and former Bucks head coach—Terry Stotts to find the right balance, especially in the postseason. Now that Giannis has put the franchise under the gun to remain a title favorite every season or else he may bolt elsewhere within a couple of years, the pressure is higher than ever to deliver on championship aspirations and avoid a third early, ignominious playoff exit since the Bucks became legit contenders.
But as Kyle alluded to this morning, Giannis needs to take some responsibility too. In defeats to Miami in 2020 and 2023, he was part of the problem. Not as much as he was part of the Bucks’ success outside of those series, of course, and it’s not like he didn’t prove himself during the intervening years as a legendary postseason performer. This is part of being a superstar leading a title contender, though. To varying extents, the team will go as you go. What we saw in spring was a failure, even if Giannis chooses not to look at it that way (a fair and healthy mindset, if you ask me), so he has to take some ownership of that. I don’t doubt he does, but if they come up short again and it’s not because of a key injury, Jrue Holiday’s playoff woes, or a rookie head coach that he ostensibly advocated for, where does the finger get pointed next?
All this is to say that I’m fine with Giannis applying the recent pressure to make sure the franchise stays in win-now mode while he’s under contract as long as he acknowledges that he can be as big a reason for the shortcomings of the current era of Bucks basketball—which is undeniably a success overall, to be clear—as he’s been for its achievements.
Now that we have this result, plus our bonus poll about new Buck TyTy Washington (aside: I’m surprised that his edge over Wigginton was just 60-40, WYA Wigginton fans? We want to hear from you!), I present to you the 2023–24 Bucks Roster Ranking, as determined by our voters:
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo
I’ve also culled the results of the gut check polls from each post, where we asked you how confident you were that the given player would be in the postseason rotation. I’ll post a poll for Giannis after this, but we can safely assume his score will be the highest.
Note: a polling error resulted in Robin Lopez’s scores being combined with Andre Jackson Jr.’s. The poll was closed before too many votes for Lopez came in, but given their roles are likely to be similarly small, it was unlikely to change much. AJJ’s score may have gotten a slight boost, but it’s negligible. Apologies!
Gut Check: how confident are you that Giannis Antetokounmpo will be in the playoff rotation?
This poll is closed
1 - Not in the rotation at all.
2 - Might play a few rotation minutes here and there.
3 - Will get some minutes, depending on the series.
4 - Will be part of the rotation, playing steady minutes.
5 - Firmly in the rotation, playing heavy minutes!
Do you agree with how the rankings turned out? How does it compare to your personal order?