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Giannis Is Doing More Work In Less Time

Milwaukee Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer is under fire for how much he has played his star, Giannis Antetokounmpo, throughout the postseason. Though the Bucks beat the Orlando Magic 4-1 in the first round of the NBA playoffs, their 0-2 start in their conference semifinals matchup against the Miami Heat has the questions and criticisms piling up.

Antetokounmpo’s 30.4 minutes per game during the regular season were his fewest since his rookie year. And his 33 minutes per game this postseason are less than that of many of his superstar counterparts: Kawhi Leonard has averaged 38.1, James Harden has played 36.4, and Jimmy Butler is at 34.5. But while fans and critics alike might want more playing time from the young Milwaukee star during crunch time, there should be no debate about Budenholzer’s ability to maximize Giannis’s time spent on the court.

Although the reigning MVP has played fewer minutes this year, he had arguably his best offensive season to date. In addition to setting personal bests as a playmaker, Antetokounmpo posted career highs in points (29.5) and rebounds (13.6) per game. And the four-time All-Star’s 110.5 offensive rating is a postseason career high. He also set playoff career highs in points per game, made shots per game and field-goal percentage.

How has he gotten such numbers in more limited minutes? His usage rate has been through the roof. The Bucks star had a hand in approximately 36.3 percent of all his team’s plays when he was on the floor during the regular season, which led all players, and he currently leads all remaining players in usage in the postseason.

The seven-year veteran also ranks in the top 15 in pace among remaining players in the playoffs, coming in second behind Russell Westbrook among players averaging 15 or more minutes per game with a usage rate of 25 percent or higher. This compounds the impact of his high usage rate because he’s getting more possessions to work with on the court than a typical player does. All this helps explain why Antetokounmpo’s 83.0 touches per game also rank fourth among remaining players in the postseason — not far behind Harden, for instance, despite the Rockets star’s superior minutes per game. Giannis may be on the court fewer minutes, but he’s doing more work in less time.

With so much being asked of him offensively, it would be no surprise for the 6-foot-11 forward to have taken on less responsibility on the defensive end. But that wasn’t the case during the regular season – in fact, Budenholzer asked Giannis to do more. His 97.4 defensive rating was the best in the league among players averaging 25 or more minutes per game; his playoff defensive rating, 104.2, ranks third among all players with a usage rate of 30 or higher. The Bucks had the top defensive regular-season rating in the league for the second year in a row, and Antetokounmpo earned the Defensive Player of Year award.

“He impacts the game with his blocked shots, his rebounding, his ability to guard all five positions, (and) his chase-down blocks,” Budenholzer said during Giannis’s award presentation.

Antetokounmpo currently leads the playoffs in total defensive rebounds and overall rebounds, so his lack of minutes relative to other stars has not hampered his total production on defense, either. Again, he’s just doing more in less time.

A lot has been asked of Antetokounmpo, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. If he can maximize his time on the court, it might not matter as much how much time he spends on it. Though if the Bucks don’t start winning games in their second-round series, the team’s two-time NBA Coach of the Year may never hear the end of it.

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Andres Waters is a freelance writer based in Connecticut. He is a data analyst at ESPN.