Kidd: Giannis to continue playing point guard

Jason Kidd commented Tuesday that the Bucks plan to keep Giannis Antetokounmpo in a primary ball-handling role long-term, CF Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

While Antetokounmpo has always been entrusted to handle the ball in transition situations, it wasn’t until after the All-Star break that the Bucks truly began the “Point Giannis” experiment.

Due in part to an injury to Michael Carter-Williams, Kidd desiganted Antetokounmpo as Milwaukee’s starting point guard, transitioning Jerryd Bayless and O.J. Mayo — both of whom had previously started at the point — to primarily off-the-ball roles.

The move to point guard quickly resulted in dramatic statistical increases for Antetokounmpo, who is averaging a Westbrookian 18.5 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.6 steals in 20 games since the break.

He’s recorded a franchise single-season record four triple-doubles, while coming within a single assist or rebound of two more in that span. Compared to his pre-All-Star numbers — 15.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 blocks 1.0 steals — Antetokounmpo has improved across the board, with the assist category offering the most striking contrast.

Antetokounmpo’s shooting percentage has taken a nominal dip (50.2% post-break, 50.5% pre-break), and his overall regression from beyond the arc (17-of-87, 19.5% on the season) is a much more critical concern, but Antetokounmpo has nearly tripled his per-game assist average while only slightly increasing his usage rate (pre: 21.4%; post: 24.2). His defensive rating is also down three points since the All-Star break (108 to 105), while his offensive rating has jumped from 106 to 112.

“I think the team is very comfortable with [having Antetokounmpo at point guard], Kidd told the Journal Sentinel. “You can see the way he’s been playing and the way the team has been playing. With that being said, it gives him some summer school studies and he goes in understanding what he has to do to get better.”

The caveat, though, is Milwaukee hasn’t really been a much better team since Antetokounmpo took over as the primary playmaker. The Bucks are just 8-12 since the All-Star break and enter Wednesday’s home matchup with the Suns riding a five-game losing streak, which ties their season high. Granted, a handful of injuries have sapped Milwaukee’s guard depth, but it’s hard to imagine Carter-Williams, Mayo and Greivis Vasquez — all three of whom underperformed when healthy — drastically changing the team’s fortunes.

The latter two, though, are the right type of players with which to surround Antetokounmpo, whose combination of a quick first step and ability to slither around defenders enables him to maneuver into the lane and kick to open shooters.

If nothing else, Kidd’s comments Tuesday offer the organization a sense of direction heading into a 2016-17 season that will again be met with expectations. Point Giannis is no longer in beta, no longer a gimmicky experiment by a team desperately searching for a late-season spark.

After failing to meet expectations this season, the Bucks reportedly considered acquiring a point guard — Jrue Holiday and Jeff Teague were popular names — around the trade deadline. They ultimately passed, and it now seems likely they’ll do the same this summer if they are, indeed, committed to playing Giannis on the ball full-time.

But that doesn’t mean the Bucks won’t have decisions to make. Mayo, Vasquez, Kidd-favorite Bayless, and Steve Novak are all unrestricted free agents this offseason, while the vastly underperforming Carter-Williams will enter the final year of his rookie deal. Milwaukee hasn’t yet made its intentions clear for any of the aforementioned players, but upgrading, or at least retaining, some of the shooters around Antetokounmpo must be a top priority.

No team has attempted fewer three-pointers than the Bucks this season, and they’ve been outscored by more than 11 points per game from beyond the arc through 74 contests.

As combo guards who can catch-and-shoot, Mayo and Bayless may both ultimately be retained at the right price, but it’s hard to imagine the Bucks not at least kicking the tires on potential Carter-Williams deals in hopes of landing a player who better complements the core of Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker.

Carter-Williams, who will spend part of his offseason recovering from hip surgery, simply can’t play off the ball in a lineup that would already presumably feature at least three non-shooters (for now, at least) in Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, along with one of Greg Monroe, John Henson. Miles Plumlee (a restricted free agent), or whoever else is playing center for the Bucks next season.

That doesn’t mean Carter-Williams couldn’t return as a backup, but his opportunity to grab hold of a starting position looks to have officially passed, and the Bucks will likely be on the lookout for a guard who’s more capable of playing off the ball and shooting the three.

If this season demonstrated anything it’s that it’s not necessarily realistic to expect a player to turn into a confident shooter in the span of one summer.

Milwaukee can’t take for granted that Antetokounmpo — and Parker, too, while we’re at it — will return as threats from the perimeter next season, but it can take steps to surround the young duo with better complementary players to help maximize Antetokounmpo’s skill set as the league’s most unique point guard.

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6 Comments

  1. I don’t know how this will work out basketball-wise, but as far as entertainment value goes, this is great news. And why not go all-out to find out everything he can do on the court. The potential for greatness would seem higher at point guard… he’s 2 inches taller than the tallest man ever to play point guard (Magic), so just playing the position successfully full-time would be historic.

    As for roster decisions, I’d try to keep Plumlee & Bayless, if their prices aren’t too high. Mayo, Vasquez, & Novak can leave. I’d assess MCW’s trade value– since he isn’t very good AND is recovering from hip surgery, I doubt you’d get anything for him, but if you COULD, I’d pull the trigger… perhaps in tandem will Greg Monroe, whom I’d trade for 70 cents on the dollar, talent-wise, if necessary, because he’s such a bad fit for this team.

    Don’t know if we can lure any decent free agents, though. However, once we land the #1 pick in the draft lottery, I’m sure they’ll look at us more favorably!

    I’d also keep all three of the young kids– Ennis, Vaughn, Ingliss, with the intention of keeping Ennis on the active roster, & the other 2 in the D-league to play full time & develop.

    And how about trading a second round pick for Thanassis Antetokounmpo, and planning for him & JOB to be each game’s DNP unless there’s a blow-out or a rash of injuries. He could be Giannis’ practice opponent, pushing him mentally the way others couldn’t, & also perhaps helping to keep him grounded as he ascends to superstardom?

    • Sam, in general I agree with most of what you say. and I like your idea about Thanasis (though I don’t think you’d need a trade, as I think he was released). However, I see absolutely no reason to keep JOB around…

      • Well, it seems like your 15 man roster will have 2 D-league players, and 2 or three that just don’t play most nights. Why not keep a guy who is at least familiar with the teams’ plays & its players’ strengths, as opposed to some journeyman who’s likely to be older & not play much. I’d rather go for youth & familiarity in that spot.

  2. does Durant play PG?, no. does Lebron play PG?, no. do they handle the ball a lot, yes… but OKC needs Westbrook, and CLE needs Irving.

    here’s how you defend Giannis as PG, you don’t. back off… don’t let him drive the lane, double team parker/middleton so he can’t make plays for others. leave him wide open for 3pt, only shoots 27% for career.

    I guess mgmt would rather have a news headline saying Giannis got a triple double, than the Bucks got a win.

    • Very interesting thoughts.
      I’m not sure what to think about Giannis at point, but in any case we might want to have a couple of other options at point going into next season, perhaps a draft pick complemented by a veteran signing. Also, I’m not ruling out Tyler Ennis.