What if Shaquille O’Neal played point guard?
It’s a crazy thought to ponder, right? And yet if you watch the Milwaukee Bucks this season, that’s essentially what you’ll see.
No, they don’t have Shaq. But they do have Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Greek Freak is doing something that we haven’t seen since Big Diesel and Dwight Howard were in their primes.
He’s dunking on absolutely everyone who dares stand between him and the basket.
Of the 241 shots Antetokounmpo has made so far this season, 108 have been recorded as dunks. According to Basketball-Reference, the only players since 2000-01 to average at least 20 points per game and throw down dunks at that high of a rate are – you guessed it – O’Neal and Howard.
Not far behind them are Blake Griffin and Amar’e Stoudemire, two of the most athletic forwards and powerful dunkers in league history.
Outside of those five players, no volume scorer in the last two decades has had dunks account for more than 30.0 percent of their made shots in a single NBA season.
Antetokounmpo separates himself from O’Neal, Howard, Griffin and Stoudemire in one particular way, though. Whereas they each operated more as big men in their heyday, Antetokounmpo combines their size – 6-foot-11 and a chiseled 242 pounds – with the agility of a guard.
Which essentially makes him the answer to the question “What if Shaq played point guard?”
That otherworldly agility packed into that big body allows the Greek Freak to pull off moves like this, in which he plows through an opposing team’s centre before exploding to the rim for a dunk no help defender wants to be a part of:
The same goes for plays like this, in which Antetokounmpo comes up with a steal and weaves his way through multiple defenders on the fastbreak for a powerful finish:
The combination means the Bucks can get creative with how they use Antetokounmpo on offence.
With his size and athleticism, they can use him like an O’Neal or Howard by having him post-up, set screens, roll to the basket and attack the offensive glass. With his guard-like skills, however, they can also put the ball in his hands and clear the floor for him to create opportunities for himself and others.
Antetokounmpo is doing all of that at an almost equal rate this season, with there being close to a 50-50 split between his assisted and unassisted dunks.
The Bucks can mess with teams further by having him fulfill both roles on a single offensive possession. Can’t get around an All-NBA defender in Paul Millsap in isolation? No problem. Just turn it into a handoff and pick-and-roll with one of Milwaukee’s guards.
Antetokounmpo has long had the ability to punish opponents in that fashion. The difference this season is the Bucks have put a system and players around him that better play to his strengths.
With a bonafide 3-point threat in Brook Lopez now starting in place of John Henson at centre, Antetokounmpo is surrounded by four perimeter players whenever he steps foot on the court. All that spacing greatly simplifies his options because he is usually left with choosing between dunking on someone or kicking the ball out to a wide open 3-point shooter when he puts the ball on the floor.
Those changes have helped guide the Bucks into the modern era, too. Through 26 games, they trail only the Houston Rockets in 3-point attempts per game and only the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers in paint points per game. Antetokounmpo hasn’t contributed much to the former – he’s on pace to have the worst 3-point shooting season of all-time – but there isn’t a player in the league scoring as many points as him in the painted area.
In fact, you have to go back to 2002-03 to find the last person to dominate the paint like Antetokounmpo is this season.
His name? Shaquille O’Neal.
It’s probably why the Hall of Famer recently gave Antetokounmpo his “Superman” nickname – with how frequently he’s scoring in the paint and dunking on opponents, O’Neal sees a lot of himself in the 24-year-old.