According to Synergy, over the last 10 games Antetokounmpo has averaged 13.6 percent frequency as a pick and roll ball handler, compared to his season average of 8.3 percent, leading to an increase in usage from 22.1 to 25.3. Meanwhile, the percentage of plays where he is a spot-up shooter has gone down from his season average of 17.1 percent (where he’s in the 26th percentile of the league), to 5.52.
Obviously, putting the ball in his hands as the functional point guard necessarily takes him out of spot-up situations. This completely unlocks this offense, given how he is defended off-ball.
Since Khris Middleton, who is quietly having a sensational season, is a very solid playmaker in his own right, the Bucks can afford to rely on those two as the ball handlers, giving them the opportunity to play better shooters–like Jerry Bayless or O.J. Mayo–at the point guard positiona. Adding just one more shooter to the lineup does wonders to add to the floor spacing, and Antetokounmpo and Parker are directly reaping the benefits.
By taking him out of a position where he is a non-threat (spot-up shooter), and putting the ball in his hands with more shooting to the lineup, the Bucks are finally maximizing Antetokounmpo’s skill set. Antetokounmpo has racked up six games in double-digit assists (one with nine), not to mention three triple-doubles, and a team offensive rating 5.4 points per 100 possessions higher than the season average.
Antetokounmpo’s passing ability cannot be overlooked here. Just because he has the ball in his hands more does not necessarily mean he will get these gargantuan assist numbers. Because he does have such great vision and playmaking off the bounce, in conjunction with the uptick in usage, now he can flourish in a point-forward role.
Here, the spread pick and roll allows space to penetrate and draw attention, while Greg Monroe finally has room to put his delicate touch around the rim on display.
Antetokounmpo’s increased ball handling responsibilities have coincided with a massive uptick in production from Jabari Parker, which isn’t coincidental.
Since the All-Star Break, Parker has become the scoring threat he was prior to his ACL tear, averaging 20.1 points on 16.4 shots and 50.0 percent from the field. Parker’s outstanding scoring bursts have been a product of the extra space, if not the fact that he’s now surpassed 82 games, and regained some confidence in his knee and offensive sensibility.
Much like Antetokounmpo, Parker does not draw much attention as a spot-up shooter.
But with the ball in Antetokounmpo’s hands, and an extra shooter on the floor, Parker doesn’t need to act as a floor spacer. Instead, he can be a cutter on isolations or pick and rolls, which are much easier to do with one less body in the paint. Better yet, Parker is a Jedi Master baseline cutter. So even when his man leaves him to help the penetration, he can scurry from the corner or dunker spot, completely unnoticed.
Here’s another fun one: Brook Lopez draws Parker on a switch during this flex set. Parker doesn’t even have to get much of a running start — his explosion goes from 0 to poster, real quick.
Parker’s timing and patience are key. He times his dives perfectly and can always get a look when the big man guarding him has to choose between staying home and stopping the ball handler.
So while Antetokounmpo is able to attack and initiate the offense, the extra space provides ample opportunity for Parker to exploit his knowledge of angles and timing, and capitalize on the attention that Antetokounmpo presents.
Even though Parker doesn’t get a drop off pass here, you can see how open he is on a B-line to the hoop. With so much room for Antetokounmpo to attack the rim, where his length and quickness allow him to do some pretty incredible things, it opens up.
The rhythm between the Bucks two 21-year old stars are finally starting to materialize the way we hoped prior to the season. Their potential is tantalizing and their connection is blossoming. In the past 10 games, Antetokounmpo has assisted Parker 31 times, which is 53.4 percent of his assisted buckets over that time.
Sure, both Antetokounmpo and Parker are individually playing their best ball of the season, and part of that is simply finding a groove. Ultimately, their more focused roles in the offense unleash a new level of potential that will prove to be a force into the future.