clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the NBA’s Dunk Lord

New, comment

Nobody has ever dunked as frequently in NBA history.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the NBA’s most unconscionable superstar. A quick, ball-handling 6’11 guard/forward with legs that stretch the length of the court in three dribbles, Giannis was coined “The Greek Freak” for good reason.

Every superstar in the league has that something that stands out. Anthony Davis is a lethal diver in the pick-and-roll. LeBron James can muscle through anyone to the rim. Kyrie Irving has unpredictable shiftiness off the dribble; James Harden can step back (and back) and launch from anywhere. Steph Curry doesn’t even have to step back to do that.

But Giannis has the greatest singular superstar skill of all.

Among starting ball-handlers, Antetokounmpo scores the third-most points per shot behind Curry and Harden, at 1.28. (Harden’s a fraction better, and Curry is comfortably ahead at 1.37.) When factoring in that Antetokounmpo shoots 12 percent from three-point range — you read that right, he’s in the 0th percentile among bigs, per Cleaning the Glass — and 70 percent from the free throw line, that sounds impossible.

How does he do it? He has one skill that carries him to the top tier of the world’s greatest scorers.

Giannis is the Dunk Lord

A layup or a dunk is the best shot in basketball. ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry proved this using points per shot numbers from each region of the floor. It’s really hard to miss when you’re large enough to simply put the ball in the hoop.

But that’s also why it’s the most difficult shot in the game to get. Teams employ giant monsters to stand in the path to the rim and long-armed, athletic wings to stop dribbles in that direction.

But nobody can stop Giannis.

Antetokounmpo leads the league in dunks at 123, per Basketball Reference. That’s 4.6 per game so far. Rudy Gobert, the next-most prolific dunker, has 114 in 31 games (3.7 per.) Clint Capela is next at 110 (3.9 per.), and then there’s a 34-dunk gap before we get to JaVale McGee.

Giannis is on pace to shatter the dunk record since that stat has been tracked, as the Wall Street Journal noted. Dwight Howard had the all-time most at 266, but Giannis, if he plays the rest of the schedule (80 games in total), is on pace to finish with 364.

It isn’t simply the quantity of dunks that’s so impressive, either. There’s something very different about the way Giannis is dunking compared to the rest of the field: he’s doing it on his own.

Eighty percent of Gobert’s dunks are assisted, and the same rings true for 91 percent of Capela’s. By contrast, just 55 percent of Anteteokounmpo’s dunks come off lobs or passes. On the list of the league’s most frequent dunkers, it takes until No. 12 (Joel Embiid, at 62 percent), to find another player even in the vicinity of that 55-percent mark.

Antetokounmpo takes flight at an unreal rate, and he’s able to do so without anyone actively helping. Some of that has to do with the Bucks’ excellent spacing, but most of the credit goes on Antetokounmpo’s own shoulders for being able to take defenders off the bounce and shake the next lines of defense.

This is a wildly valuable skill, and why he could still win MVP with a heinously broken jumper. It’s all the more improbable in the modern NBA, which values deep-range and highly accurate shooters, that someone with Giannis’ signature skill thrives.

But the Bucks star doesn’t need finesse or a shooter’s roll. He can dribble through traffic and power the ball home. It’s his superpower.