Although Giannis Antetokounmpo is bearing the brunt of the blame for Greece’s loss to Brazil, the ire of Greeks should be elsewhere.
He’s called the Greek Freak for a reason. Giannis Antetokounmpo was the single most dominant player in the NBA last season and there was seemingly no way to stop him from feasting on opposing defenses.
But put Antetokounmpo in a Greece uniform, not a Milwaukee Bucks one, and things are not what they seem. Greece drew Montenegro in their first game of the 2019 FIBA World Cup and it was like a walk in the park.
Giannis only had to play 15 minutes as Greece rolled to a 25-point victory. Ho-hum. That was supposed to be the first step in Greece’s easy road to winning Group F.
However, the Brazilians would have something to say about it. In the second game of the tournament for both teams, Brazil knocked off Greece 79-78 in a nailbiter.
Antetokounmpo was held to 13 points, four rebounds, and one assist. He was almost non-existent on offense and naturally, he’s the lightning rod for much of the criticism coming Greece’s way.
Even Brazil’s head coach, Aleksander Petrovic, called out Antetokounmpo for losing the battle against—Anderson Varejao???
“Why this sport is wonderful? On the other side,” Petrovic said via Eurohoops, “you have a guy who won the MVP, he’s 23 years old and who stops him tonight?! The guy who is 40 years old and kicks his ass on the court! That’s basketball!”
While Petrovic is simply poking fun at Antetokounmpo, the lion’s share of the criticism should be directed at Greece head coach Thanasis Skourtopoulos.
The reigning NBA MVP only took seven shots in the game. He went 7-for-7 from the free throw line, but the Buck still only managed to take seven field goals in the game. That’s inexcusable on the part of the coaching staff.
Early on, the plan was clear: Feed Giannis. The Greeks were making a point to let Antetokounmpo have a touch on every possession.
But as the game progressed and eventually entered crunch time, the Greeks started to gravitate away from the Greek Freak. He only attempted one field goal in the fourth quarter with just under seven minutes left to play. He drew a shooting foul with five minutes left, but those free throws were his final points of the contest.
Part of the reason why Antetokounmpo isn’t dominating the ball lies in Greece’s second-best player—Nick Calathes. The former Florida Gator had a cup of coffee in the NBA before traveling to Greece and forging a successful career as a EuroLeague star.
He’s a ball-dominant player who is at his best when he’s distributing for his teammates. Unfortunately, he’s not much of a catch-and-shoot threat off the ball. Calathes is a career 29.8% shooter in his international career.
As a result of the personnel, the Bucks forward is relegated to post-ups on the block. But defenders can feel comfortable sagging off Calathes to provide more help inside on Antetokounmpo.
Giannis can still be effective if he doesn’t have the ball in his hands. But when it’s the fourth quarter and he’s only taken six shots, it’s time to make sure he’s given a touch on every possession.
Three players on Greece finished with more field goals than Antetokounmpo. It’s hard to fathom how Skourtopoulos would let that happen.
There is some good news for Greece. This loss to Brazil doesn’t end their hopes at advancing. A win against lowly New Zealand will mean Greece advances to the second round of group play.
That being said, if the Greeks don’t figure out a way to unleash Antetokounmpo, winning the World Cup is nothing more than a pipe dream.