NBA: How Losing to Kawhi Leonard Last Season Helped Giannis Anteokunmpo Improve His Game

Certain athletes are just freaks from a physical perspective. Take Giannis Antetokounmpo, for example. Despite standing at 6 feet, 11 inches, the Milwaukee Bucks forward can handle the ball and run the floor as well as anyone else in the NBA.

Despite being the reigning NBA MVP, Giannis isn’t resting on his laurels. In fact, he’s working on adding one specific tool to his game for the upcoming season.

Giannis Anteokunmpo’s career so far

After playing one professional season in Greece, Anteokunmpo made the jump to the NBA. The Bucks made him the 15th overall pick of the 2013 NBA draft; from then on, the league was never the same.

Giannis averaged just under seven points per game in his rookie campaign, but his stats only increased from there. Building on his pure size and athleticism, the forward became an unguardable presence down low; last season, he averaged 27.7 points per game, complimented by 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists each night.

Anteokunmpo has also been working on adding a perimeter shot to his game, working with Bucks assistant and shooting coach Ben Sullivan. If he can hit the outside jumper consistently, there will be nothing that the Greek Freak can’t do on the floor. Defenders will have a lose-lose proposition on their hands, either giving Giannis an easy scoring chance or double-teaming him and leaving another Buck unguarded.

Developing into a floor general

Despite all of his physical tools, there is another thing that Giannas wants to develop this season: his voice as a leader on and off the court.

Mostly, you just gotta be more vocal,” Antetokounmpo said. “You gotta lead by example. You gotta be able to accept criticism by your coach, by your teammates, and be OK with it. That’s what a leader does. I know that my team knows who I am. They trust me. They know I’m going to put my body and everything I have on the line for this team. By doing that, everything else will take care of itself.”

The entire Bucks organization was stung by their playoff collapse against the Toronto Raptors last season. That series, however, also showed Giannas to improve as a leader.

Learning from Kawhi Leonard

While the Eastern Conference finals pitted the Milwaukee Bucks against the Toronto Raptors, the real battle was between Anteokunmpo and Kawhi Leonard. Giannis still put up strong numbers, but the Raptors forced him into a more passive, reactionary game.

The entire series was a learning experience, but Anteokunmpo particularly noticed how Leonard performed with the series on the line. “I learned a lot from him,” Giannis told Vincent Goodwill. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

But, this season, Leonard has moved to the Western Conference; that leaves Giannis and his Bucks as the favorite to come out of the East. Anteokunmpo already has the physical tools to carry his team to the promised land. If he’s able to add some extra leadership for those clutch moments, there’s no limit to what he can accomplish.