One of the popular comparisons that has arisen during the NBA Finals between the Bucks and the Suns has been the play of Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time MVP, to the style of early 2000s bruiser Shaquille O’Neal. Indeed, Antetokounmpo, like O’Neal, has shown a penchant for getting his points near the basket, and has been extraordinarily efficient in doing so against Phoenix, shooting an astounding 92.9% in the restricted area.
That’s right: Antetokounmpo has attempted 28 shots, half his overall attempts, in the restricted area and made 26 of them.
But don’t tell Suns star Chris Paul that O’Neal, who was 325 pounds (at least) when he was playing, had a game that was similar to the Greek Freak.
“Yeah, those comparisons, Shaq didn’t push the break,” Paul said on Tuesday. “He did in the All-Star Game. Well, he did a few times when he threw that lob or something like that. I don’t know about the comparisons. I think for us right now we’re just trying to stay focused on what we can do in Game 4 to slow him and the rest of the guys down.”
O’Neal Compared His Game to Giannis’
O’Neal is arguably the greatest big man of all time, winner of four NBA championships with the Lakers and Heat. He was also a Phoenix Sun, briefly, arriving in Arizona in 2008 and sticking around for the following season, when he was an All-Star at age 36. He averaged 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists in his career, shooting 58.2% on his career—attempting only 22 3-pointers in 19 seasons.
Giannis’s numbers: 20.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 53.2% shooting. He shoots a lot more 3s, of course, but struggles with the shot, making 28.7% in his career. Probably the most important numbers for the comparison are the fact that Antetokounmpo takes 49.4% of his attempts from within three feet of the basket (according to Basketball-Reference.com) and O’Neal took 50.9%. Antetokounmpo has made 73.6% of those shots, and O’Neal made 74.5%.
Both players can dominate near the rim, in other words. But it is worth noting, as Paul did, that Giannis handles the ball a lot more than O’Neal ever did, leads fast breaks and is an excellent passer.
Still, when I asked O’Neal to compare himself to a player in today’s game in 2019, he said the following:
I would have been the ‘Greek Freak’ (Giannis Antetokounmpo). I would be a guy that can dribble, can handle, can go to the hole with force, do that. Kick it to guards. I tried to do that every now and then, but my coaches wasn’t having it. Every now and then, I did it. I know you guys saw me do it. I would be him. However, I wouldn’t change my game because everybody else was shooting jumpers. I would still do what I do, and I would punish the bigs.
Suns Looking to Set Up the Giannis ‘Wall’
Regardless of comparisons—again, as Paul said—the Suns’ big problem heading into Wednesday night’s Game 4 is limiting how often Antetokounmpo gets inside touches.
That number has been increasing each game. Antetokounmpo was 4-for-5 shooting from the restricted area in the opener, when he was returning from his hyperextended knee. That improved to 9-for-10 from that area in Game 2 and all the way to 13-for-13 in Game 3. Antetokounmpo is just 9-for-28 (32.1%) when shooting from outside of the restricted area in the Finals.
One of the keys will be setting up a “wall” of defenders to keep him from getting to his spots—something teams tried against O’Neal, too.
“Basically showing up a wall,” Suns center DeAndre Ayton said when asked how to limit Antetokounmpo, “just being sturdy on defense and making sure we show our hands and not really getting into foul trouble as a team, making sure we have a strong defense and we’re all back on defense.”