Dear Gilbert Arenas: Giannis Antetokounmpo does more than improve, he evolves

Milwaukee Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)
Milwaukee Bucks F Giannis Antetokounmpo (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports) /

Former players oftentimes find themselves demeaning the newest generation in one way or another. More often than not, it’s done to put their era on a pedestal, but it’s not necessary to negate one player’s legacy to elevate that of another. When speaking with Lakers assistant Phil Handy on his fuboTV show, former All-Star Gilbert Arenas discredited Giannis Antetokounmpo by doing a little bit of both.

In response to Handy describing the upper echelon of NBA stars — LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant, as they noted — Arenas went on an indirect rant about Giannis and his standing in the league. He claims that the media glorifies Giannis and that he should demand to play more minutes like LeBron and Allen Iverson did in the past.

“I can look at his game and say ‘he doesn’t understand basketball yet.’ He plays the sport, he won a championship. Cool. He doesn’t really understand how to be great, how to be better, how to train his body,” Arenas said.

It’s fair game to suggest Giannis isn’t on the same tier as some of these other NBA stars, but Arenas took it to another level. NBA Twitter and other media members pushed back against this narrative, to which ‘No Chill Gil’ doubled down in this *NSFW* Instagram post:

*Pause for long sigh*

This one is a doozy. Respect to Arenas, but this simply isn’t true. Every season of his career, Giannis has added to his game with improved footwork, playmaking, efficiency, post skills, and a body transformation that would put the greatest successes of ‘The Biggest Loser’ to shame.

By this stage of his career, Giannis is an NBA legend, and the only remaining debate is about how high in the all-time rankings he can reach.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had a meteoric evolution on and off the court

Arenas specifically highlighted these aspects of Giannis’ game as areas where he needs to show improvement: Range of skills, 3-point %, mid-range shooting, free throw %, post-up moves, general understanding of the game and physical training.

Let’s just get this out of the way first: Arenas has to know that Giannis trained his body into peak physical condition. It’s the most obvious change between who he was when he entered the league and the player he is today. Draft Express had Giannis listed at 6-foot-9, 196 lbs at the time he was drafted. Last season, he clocked in at 6-foot-11, 242 lbs. Just take a look at him:

From an on-court perspective, he’s transformed his game every step of the way. Under the guidance of Hall of Fame point guard Jason Kidd as head coach, Giannis took steps to develop into a lead playmaker. Once a lanky prospect with a knack for defense and slashing, the ‘Greek Freak’ increased his assist average year by year, reaching 5.4 dimes per game by the 2016-17 season.

To do so, he tightened his handle and increased his court awareness, leveraging his physical attributes to create better shot opportunities for his teammates. Footwork was also a crucial skill that Giannis worked on to develop his post game and shot creation.

Beyond Antetokounmpo’s stature as the best rim scorer in the world, he can penetrate off the dribble, nail post fadeaways and hooks, drill passes into his teammates’ hands from the low or high posts, pass out of his dribble, navigate traffic with outstanding footwork and does it all with All-Defensive First Team quality effort every single season. That screams ‘Understanding of the Game’ and ‘Skill’ to me.

Free-throw shooting was a legitimate area of concern for Giannis. He was a lock to be in the mid-70s in terms of percentage through the middle of his career until a stark two-year decline leading into his 2021 NBA Finals run. After celebrating his first ring, Giannis locked himself in the gym shooting free throws over that summer and returned to shoot 6.4% better from the free-throw line than he did over the previous two seasons. He did this with the second-most free-throw attempts in the league last season, so the volume speaks for itself.

Mid-range shooting is a true marker of Antetokounmpo’s evolution over the years. Before head coach Mike Budenholzer was hired in 2018 to design a new scheme around the star, the Greek Freak would fire away from the mid-range without hesitation. Once Coach Bud began to phase out those shots in favor of layups, dunks and 3s, Giannis moved away from the mid-range.

However, Giannis’ ability began to supersede the system as he reached the upper echelon of NBA stardom. His mid-range attempts began to incline again, but this time, so did his percentage. Things came to a head last season, when he took his third-most mid-range attempts in a single season and hit a career-high 41.5% of them.

  • First Three Seasons: 157-for-451, 34.8%
  • Middle Three Seasons: 238-for-705, 33.8%
  • Last Three Seasons: 181-for-465, 38.9%
  • 2021-22 NBA season: 85-for-205, 41.5%

As mentioned earlier, Giannis is taking these jumpers with a more creative approach. The post fadeaway is a legitimate part of his arsenal now as he uses his strength to push off opponents and release the ball so high that it’s nearly unblockable. He’s also taking stepbacks and spinning into jumpers more often, shaking defenders to create some separation.

3-point shooting is where I’ll have to concede. Although he’s knocked down some big 3-pointers in times of need, Giannis simply isn’t a natural shooter from deep. Since his rookie year, he hasn’t shot better than 30.7% from deep. Despite his lackluster 3-point shooting, Giannis has taken steps forward in every other aspect of the game since he was drafted.

Selected based on potential and raw skill, the 27-year-old already boasts a Hall of Fame resume and refuses to stop working. He’s the epitome of what the NBA wants from a star: he’s extremely likable and in some ways, relatable. His athleticism is one-of-a-kind, but it’s not what defines him. By this stage, his game combines skill, strength and smarts.

Giannis was quite literally the NBA’s Most Improved Player in 2017 and still went on to expand his game for each of the next five years.

dark. Next. Ranking the 2022 NBA Christmas games by intrigue

Who knows what new ability he’s going to showcase as he enters year 10?