“I can be stubborn sometimes,” said Giannis Antetokounmpo after putting up 50 points, 14 rebounds, and 5 blocks to lead the Bucks to their second NBA championship. “I can disconnect myself from the world because I want this so bad. And I was able to get it, that’s why I was tearing up.”
Up until the Finals against the Phoenix Suns, Giannis’ stubbornness was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allowed him to be as locked in on winning it all as any other superstar in the league. On the other hand, it kept him from getting there easier.
The latter can apply to the rest of his NBA career when the underlying issue and the main cause of Antetokounmpo’s lack of success during the postseason was his inability to hit the open jumper. That deficiency, combined with his free throw woes, put a cap on how far he can lead the Bucks as the team’s No.1 option, turning a dominant regular-season scorer into the easiest superstar to defend come postseason. So how was the series against Phoenix different?
For the first time in his career, Giannis played exclusively to his strengths — he stopped settling for threes as much (3.7 3PA until the Finals, 2.5 3PA in the Finals), played a lot more off the ball as a screen-setter, and capitalized on his dominance in the open court. In other words, the 2x MVP stopped trying to be something he’s not. As a result, he is now something everyone knew he had the ability to become — an NBA champion and Finals MVP.
So it turns out it’s possible to be a dominant scorer in today’s NBA without a reliable jumper. The Greek Freak is still the exception rather than the rule — such a deficiency can only be compensated with an all-time great set of physical tools — but it’s possible.
This creates a niche market for NBA teams to explore, trying to find someone similar to Giannis and emulate the Bucks’ approach of building the team around him. That’s where trading for Ben Simmons comes into play.
The Sixers star point guard is probably on his way out after another disappointing playoff performance. However, the organization doesn’t plan on trading him just for the sake of doing so. Simmons’ stock might have taken a hit following this year’s playoffs, but he’s still a highly-skilled 25-year-old. Better yet, he’s the closest thing to Giannis we have in the league today, skills and frame-wise.
The 76ers have already set a price tag for the Australian, putting it out there they want an All-Star in return. According to Marc Stein, teams like the Kings, Cavaliers, Raptors, Pacers, and Timberwolves emerged as early bidders. But the Sixers are not in a rush to trade Ben.
The rest of the league, however, might be in a rush to trade for him. Simmons doesn’t have the physicality Giannis has, nor does he have his mentality. But he can match his athleticism, is nearly as good as a defender, and is a better playmaker.
It would still be risky for any team to trade for the guy. But after Antetokounmpo’s Finals performance, the potential return on investment might’ve gone up.
At worst, he will continue to be an elite defender with great athleticism and feel for the game. At best, he’s the Giannis type of player, and that type of guy can lead you to a championship. It might be a longshot, but that sounds like a bet worth making.