If progress isn’t supposed to be linear, then Giannis Antetokounmpo’s development as a playmaker is a substantial outlier. Antetokounmpo has steadily improved each season and his seemingly effortless jump into the NBA’s elite last year pushed the Bucks into respectable territory on the offensive end of the floor, despite significant injuries to both Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker. Now, armed with a bond between Antetokounmpo and Middleton that has never been stronger, Milwaukee looks ready to take yet another leap offensively.
Antetokounmpo’s steady growth over the past four seasons is remarkable, as he has surpassed his mark from the previous year in almost every possible category. This has been especially true with his role as a primary offensive creator and, as you can see in the table below, Antetokounmpo has been asked to possess the ball more in recent years.
And as he has become more comfortable with the ball in his hands, Antetokounmpo’s playmaking production has skyrocketed.
In 2017, Antetokounmpo’s value as a playmaker was on full display, demonstrating a unique ability to make others around him better. As the chart indicates below, every single Bucks player who received at least 100 passes from Antetokounmpo last season had a better effective field goal percentage in those situations.
You can see that Middleton, despite being a capable shot creator in his own right, experienced an uptick in efficiency off of passes from Antetokounmpo.
Middleton’s increased efficiency here is notable, but it becomes an even bigger storyline when analyzing the growing frequency of this connection. When adjusting for the possessions that the two spent on the court together in each of the past two seasons, a promising chemistry begins to reveal itself in the numbers.
This bond helped amplify one of Middleton’s greatest strengths, as he experienced a 8.5 percent bump in spot-up frequency last season compared to the season prior. Although a cautious approach to Middleton’s return from injury could have required to a less taxing offensive role, it’s clear that Antetokounmpo’s playmaking contributions allowed Middleton to utilize this play type more often.
In this role, Middleton’s shot quality improved immensely. He was more open on his 3-pointers last season and shot off of the catch more than the year prior.
Given the more advantageous quality of his 3-pointers last season, it’s not surprising that Middleton was able to top an already efficient spot-up mark from the 2015-16 season. Although a very capable spot-up shooter two seasons ago (77th percentile), Middleton was even better last season (89th percentile).
Ultimately, Middleton’s 3.7 percentage point jump from behind the arc compared to the year prior may be a lot of noise given the small sample size. But this improvement could also be a general indication of Middleton getting better and better shots — a shift that is sure to last for as long as Antetokounmpo orchestrates the Bucks’ offensive attack.
Sources: NBA.com/Stats, nbawowy.com