Giannis Antetokounmpo was in the midst of a dominant postseason before disaster struck. Severely hyperextending his left knee against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, fears weren’t just for the immediate playoff run, they were for his availability for the 2021-22 season.
22 days later, Antetokounmpo was announced as Finals MVP, just minutes after dropping 50 points in a drought-breaking championship-winning performance for the ages.
It’s impossible to quantify the rollercoaster of events that happened in between, but the miraculous return allowed the NBA world to witness the completion of one of the great individual postseasons of all-time.
Antetokounmpo averaged 30.2 points, 12.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.2 blocks and 1.0 steal per game across his 21 postseason appearances, with his scoring bumping up to 36.4 per game in the Finals.
In many ways, the criticism of his postseason performances has been overblown, with the 26-year-old now holding career playoff averages of 25.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 4.9 assists on 58.2 percent true shooting. That’s excellent in anyone’s books.
But there is something to be said for getting over the hump. For delivering when your back is against the wall. For breaking a 50-year drought. Antetokounmpo did that.
Prior to his NBA Finals explosion, the definitive Giannis playoff classic came on the road in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Falling one point shy of his previous postseason high, Antetokounmpo dropped 40 points to go along with 13 rebounds and five assists in just over 50 minutes of court time.
In overtime, we saw a glimpse of what could be to come.
With both teams exhausted in overtime, the Bucks were scoreless in the extra period with under two minutes to play. With Kevin Durant on his back in the post, Antetokounmpo dribbled to the middle and bounced in a righty hook/push shot to tie the game. Perhaps exhaustion was the true reason for the patience displayed, but it was that patience that typified his entire postseason.
When you’re talking about a two-time MVP, Finals MVP, Defensive Player of the Year and perennial All-NBA talent it would seem crazy to suggest there is definitive room for improvement but it does scarily appear to be the case with Giannis.
The reason that hook shot in that moment was so eye-opening is because that range from the basket has always presented Antetokounmpo with challenges. Part of it is the crowd he is usually met with in the paint and part of it is his touch around the basket that continues to progress.
Making a leap in the short to mid-range (via NBA.com)
|5-9 feet||42-127 (33.1)||21-46 (45.7%)|
|10-14 feet||32-92 (34.8)||29-59 (49.2%|
Of course, the sample size is 21 games in the playoffs against 61 in the regular season but the percentages jump off the page. Not only did his efficiency spike, but it also came with increased volume as Antetokounmpo put up 5.0 shots per game between 5-14 feet compared with just 3.59 per game in the regular season.
Those numbers also combined with his 3-point attempts per game dropping from 3.6 to 3.3 per game and his free-throw attempts rising from 9.5 to 9.8 per game.
Which brings us to the free-throws. No matter how you want to slice it, the free-throw line has not been an enjoyable place historically for Antetokounmpo in the playoffs.
|FT% regular season||FT% playoffs||Differential|
Despite the trend and the palpable pressure of potentially clinching a title, Antetokounmpo produced an extraordinary 17-for-19 mark from the charity stripe in Game 6 of the Finals. This came after a 13-for-17 effort in a must-win Game 3 earlier in the series.
It’s remarkable to look at the above table and note he was a 76 percent free-throw shooter just mere seasons ago. Given the history, his clutch performance on the biggest stage cannot be understated and looms as an obvious area for legitmate improvement to come.
The unrecordable impact of the Antetokounmpo’s epic run is the weight of expectations that have been lifted off his and the franchise’s shoulders. Sweeping their postseason nemesis from a season ago in the first round before overcoming 2-0 deficits in the second round and the Finals, it’s hard to imagine Antetokounmpo and the Bucks feeling like any mountain is unscaleable moving forward.
The 2021-22 season is right around the corner and what’s to come from Antetokounmpo should be a major storyline around the league. The postseason captured the best of Giannis and more importantly, the continued development in his game. It’s not to say we should rule out the long-range jumpshot improving over time, ruling out anything with Antetokounmpo would be silly. But he’s a big man in a new age fashion with his athleticism allowing him to dominate around the basket to levels we have rarely seen.
What if the key to going to the next level is turning back the clock and adding some old-school post moves like we saw in overtime of Game 7 in Brooklyn?
It’s possible the best is yet to come.
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