Back in 2019, Giannis Antetokounmpo was named the NBA MVP for the first time in his career. Just three months after the nomination, the Greek Freek came to the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis  Antetokounmpo
Position: PF, SF
Age: 27
Height: 211 cm
Weight: 98 kg
Birth place: Athens, Greece

Although huge expectations were set for the Greek national team, the squad did not even reach the quarterfinal stage, and Giannis' performance was underwhelming.

To be precisely clear, 'struggling' for the Greek Freak has a different meaning than to others. He was still averaging almost 15 points per game in 25 minutes of action, but we simply didn't see the dominance he showed on NBA courts, impacting the game in multiple ways, offensively and defensively.

Giannis had more turnovers than dimes and finished only 25th in scoring. These are not the numbers someone would expect from the NBA MVP.

Let's analyze what transpired and if it is bound to happen again.

The lack of strengths

Antetokounmpo's transition scoring is the first thing that comes up on the scouting report before playing Greece or the Bucks.

At the FIBA World Cup, opponents were super focused on building walls of 3-4 and even 5 people against him, thus minimizing Giannis' biggest strength. He loves pushing the pace after defensive rebounds, but teams were simply closing all driving gaps early at the cost of leaving his Greek teammates open.

The Greek Freak had a tough time making the right decision when help came – he was too confident about his physical force and the ability to absorb the contact and still finish the play.

Giannis often tried to finish on his own instead of kicking it out for an open teammate, resulting in many turnovers and offensive fouls.

Some of the fouls were questionable, but it doesn't change the fact that his decision-making in transition has to improve this September. Forcing the issue was the main catalyst for a negative assist-to-turnover ratio and, in a couple of games, limited his playing time as well.

Offensively, Antetokounmpo's game revolves around fast breaks, isolation, and post-ups. Oftentimes, Giannis would fail to seal his opponent closer to the rim, resulting in unfortunate situations in the post.

The teams would immediately help even one pass away, but his teammates couldn't punish the opponents' risk at a high rate.

The Greek Freak loves the spin move, but it's also the perfect moment to catch Giannis off guard. Brazil even put 20 centimeters smaller Garcia on Giannis for a couple of possessions. And the lack of a potent jump shot from the midrange allowed the Brazilian to win the duel twice in a row.

Giannis lived on rim shots at this tournament, scoring only 4 times further away than 4 meters from the basket in 5 games. Overall, he shot the ball only 14 times from the 4+ meter distance and didn't look confident.

Long-distance game

For Giannis-centered offense to work as effectively as possible, you need as many shooters around him as you can get. It was not the case 3 years ago in the World Cup.

Some teams like the Czech Republic played zone for big chunks of the game, and Greece looked completely clueless about how to attack it. Little to no movement from the players and only an occasional idea of how to create an overload in some part of the court, a staple in attacking the zone.

With the paint closed and his teammates lacking execution, Giannis would often settle for shots he wasn't comfortable taking or forced himself to pass the ball out. He averaged only 9.2 field goal attempts per game. It was only the 67th result in the tournament. 66 players took more shots than one of the best players in the world.

The Greek Freak is still a paint-dominant player, but just like he completely changed his body shape over the years, he developed an outside shot in the last three seasons. Most importantly, he no longer bothers to fire from outside the paint.

Credit AP-Scanpix

While posting up in the 2019 NBA season, only 51 shots came not from around the rim. Last year, this number went up to 121 with fewer games played. Together with the total attempts, the percentage of these shots also rose from a horrible 29% three years ago to an average 38% in 2022.

The shooting mechanics on these turnaround jumpers look smooth, and the opponents can't do anything about it since the release point is ridiculously high. None of these tries went in 3 years ago, and if Giannis can get the confidence from the get-go, it will be a big problem for the opponents of Greece.

Antetokounmpo's numbers rose in isolation situations as well. Compared to 2019, his attempts outside the rim in 1-on-1 situations rose from 114 to 213 last year. Although the efficiency did not improve as vastly as with post-up shots, he no longer has a problem getting the shot off the way he wants since the opponents are reluctant to make an extra step to guard him outside.

The Outlook

One of the Milwaukee Bucks assistant coaches is coming to help the newly-appointed Greece national team coach Dimitris Itoudis. The NBA team has experimented with the best ways to use Giannis, and the results speak for themselves.

The isolation into pick-and-roll play looked superb in the World Cup, but it mainly was improvisation and not a tactical choice. A guard faking a handoff from Antetokounmpo and instead setting a screen for him, allowing Giannis to attack downhill and do it against smaller defenders, worked wonders as well.

Comparing then-coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos to multi-time EuroLeague-winning head coach Dimitris Itoudis is simply impossible. Even though the roster remains largely the same, the addition of Itoudis, as well as a more mature Giannis, is set to provide better results than those at the 2019 World Cup.

The Greek fans should be excited about EuroBasket 2022. A better leader on and off the court promises the team a better chance of reaching the very top in Europe.

Will Greece repeat the success of 2005 when the squad managed to win it all? It remains to be seen.

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