By Mackenzie Rivers
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In my last Betting Predators leverage column, I pointed out that Chris Paul had never drained 7 threes in over 1,200 NBA ball games, that is until the Game 6 of the WFC, as the Suns closed out LA Clippers, and CP3 went 7-8 from range.
Paul followed that up by cashing our Over 1.5 Made 3P’s prop bet in Game 1 of these Finals, as CP3 drained four threes in that game. Prior to the start of the series the prevailing narrative of these Finals spoke to Chris Paul’s legacy and potential stake as to being a top 5 point guard ever.
Well today, we have much bigger fish to fry when it comes to NBA legacy and the pantheon.
After back-to-back 40-point games for Giannis Antetokounmpo, this series is no longer about the Bucks and the Suns. It is now about Giannis Antetokounmpo. Plain and simple. But what’s fascinating is that he is not the same old Giannis we have grown accustomed. Like with Paul, adversity has caused Giannis to identify a distinctly different way of playing, one equal to this challenge. In over 650 career NBA games, playoffs or regular season, Giannis had never scored 40 points in back-to-back contests. Until these Finals.
Enter Giannis Antetokounmpo 2.0, where the Greak-Freak has edited his game in the process of etching his name alongside Kareem and the other great Big Men that have lit up the NBA Finals.
For Chris Paul, he had to shoot more; had to take a greater burden of the scoring load himself, and take it off his younger teammates.
Here is former NBA player, Dennis Scott on Chris Paul’s evolution.
📢 Former NBA player Dennis Scott on Giannis 📢
“Being vulnerable, we’ve been saying for 15 years that Chris Paul dribbles too much. But the fact that he’s able to admit that in year-16 - at times where he over-dribbles. How many grown men, grown people in their profession in year-16 are willing to take constructive criticism to give you a chance to win a championship?” (NBA Gametime on NBA TV, 7.9.21)
Giannis deserves similar praise - but his development is impressive in a different way, as well. Giannis is evolving his game at such a young age - at the peak of his physical prime.
Over the past two days since Game 3, the media has poured in positive reinforcement for Freak taking fewer threes. Zack Lowe of ESPN I thought put it succinctly in that Giannis is finding effectiveness in this series being "more like Shaq".
Yes, Giannis realized he had to be Shaq. More importantly, Giannis realized his Kobe day’s - long range jump shots, dribbling out on the wing - may be well served to be behind him.
Excellent NBA analyst on Sirius XM and former Suns 6th-man of the year, Eddie Johnson clearly identified the reason the Bucks have been able to get back into this series.
📢 Former NBA Player Eddie Johnson on Giannis 📢
“[The Bucks] finally moved [Giannis] off the ball which I always thought they should do...He’s catching the ball deep and attacking.” (The Doug Gottlieb Show, 7.12.21)
In Game 3, Giannis has chewed up the paint like a fat kid loves cakes, and eschewed jump shots, like a fat kid eschews...jogging. Check out this chart from NBA.com posted on twitter by Paul Headley of the Wraparound Podcast.
Not only did Giannis only shoot two 3-pointers in Game 3, he only three shots out of more than 8 feet away from the basket. Moreover, 15 of Giannis’s 23 Field Goal Attempts (including all 14 of his makes) were immediately at the rim.
That’s not only reminiscent of The Diesel. That’s early’s 2000’s, Stuart-Scott-Boo-Ya! Excuse-me-I’m-Dunking-Here, Prime-Shaq-Daddy-type demolition work.
And like Shaq demolishing Todd McCollough of the Nets (2002) and Rick Smitts of the Pacers (2000), these Finals have everything to do with Giannis’s favorable frontcourt match-up. Shaq averaged 38 PPG and 36 PPG in those two Finals. Freak is averaging 38 PPG right now, but remember that is including a Willis-Reed-esque miraculous early comeback in Game 1, where Giannis only scored 20 points in 35 minutes.
And it goes beyond just these past two games: excluding Game 1 (where Giannis wasn’t 100%:) Giannis is averaging 41.5 PPG in 4 games vs. the Suns this season. Why does he continue to demolish Phoenix?
Put simply, outside of DeAndre Ayton - who got in foul trouble in Game 3, which he will again if he guards Giannis the whole game - the Suns have 0 front court depth.
That is one reason why SF, Cameron Johnson played a playoff high 30 minutes last game, and even Torrey Craig coming off a knee injury played more than his playoff average, seeing 15 minutes of action
I do not see Giannis changing his approach one iota, which begs the question: do the Suns have the personnel to make Giannis switch things up. Short answer: No, I don’t think so.
Hoping for a spark after the Bucks took control of Game 3 in the second half, Suns HC Monty Williams trotted out Wisconsin Badger and Chicago-area product, Frank Kaminsky. Result? No dice. Despite shooting decently - making 3 of 5 shots - Kaminsky provided 0 answers at slowing Milwaukee down in the paint or in second chance points, where the Bucks outscored the Suns 20-2 on the night. Suns got outscored by about a point every minute with Kaminsky on the court.
As Nate Duncan put it “I would play [Frank] Kaminsky 0 minutes.” (Dunc’d on Podcast).
So if Giannis has no reason to change - and in fact has received a ton of positive reinforcement to continue to focus his efforts in the paint - and if the Suns do not have the personnel to dramatically change their frontcourt defense - that sounds like a repeatable scenario which we can make some money on, doesn’t it?
Now, the knee-jerk reaction is to respond to Giannis’ incredible recent production with the assumption that he will continue to dominate. I am not so sure that is wrong - the only question then is will the market respond to his increased production enough to remove the value of betting any Giannis overs?
Arguably, yes. Gianni’s points O/U set at 34.5 is his highest all season.
My first instinct was to pivot to his Over 52.5 PRA - because that is a number we are more accustomed to seeing for Giannis throughout the playoffs. Giannis has averaged 59 PRA over the past two games, after all. Moreover, excluding Game 1, Giannis has averaged 56 over 4 games this season vs. the Suns, in only 37 MPG. I expect 40-43 minutes for Giannis tonight.
Plus, a rudimentary sum of his Points O/U, Rebound O/U and Assist O/U lands us at 53.5, only slightly juiced to the Under.
Still, after taking into consideration Giannis’s season from a big picture point of view, I can only make his Over 52.5 PRA a strong lean. Giannis has gone over this number in only 18 of 79 total games this year (22%), and only 4 of 18 playoff games (22%).
Fear not! There IS always a bull market somewhere! Being the Under-lover that I am, there are two plays where the market has not adjusted in which we can profit from Giannis’s new playing style and disposition.
I like Giannis Under 3.5 TO’s (-149, @ BetMGM).
Freak has gone Under this number in 8 of his past 9 games overall, and in each of the 5 games he has played against the Suns this season.
A couple of concerns here: 1.) Gianni’s increased minutes and production arguably provides more opportunities for him to commit turnovers. 2.) Monty Williams and staff will try everything in their power to change the look for Giannis, catch him off-guard and hopefully produce different results.
That said, I still think we have a great bet here that goes well beyond the 8-1 and 5-0 trends.
As we have discussed, Giannis is playing off the ball more; catching the ball in the paint more provides fewer opportunities for turnovers vs. bringing the ball up or catching in on the wing.
Moreover, the Suns lack of frontcourt depth makes it all the more important that their best players (Ayton, for example) do not play overly aggressive and risk getting into foul trouble. Fewer potential swipes = fewer potential steals for the Suns (and thus less potential TO’s for Greek-Freak).
Excluding the Brooklyn Series - when Freak tried to be Kevin Durant on the wing for a hot second - Giannis has gone Under 3.5 turnovers in 9 of 11 games during these playoffs.
I like Giannis Under 0.5 made 3-Pointers (+162, @ FanDuel)
ABC color-man Jeff Van Gundy reminds us of every broadcast. Giannis Antetokounmpo should simply NOT be taking three-point jump shots, (in JVG’s humble opinion, of course).
Freak is shooting under 20% (12-64) from range in these playoffs over 18 games. That’s enough sample size already!
And while whether or not, Giannis should be taking 1 or 2 threes may be an argument; nobody at this point wants to see Giannis taking any more than that.
Still, the market is pricing it like there has been no major adjustment, or evolution in Antentokoumpo’s game.
Giannis has made at least one 3-pointer in 51 of 79 games this season (65%), so 35% of the time he did not make at least one three. We are profitable with a +162 bet provided that we have at least a 38% chance to cash, so right in that range with his season average.
I think it’s far closer to 50/50 Giannis ends Game 4 with 0 made threes.
For starters, Giannis has 0 3PM in half of his playoff games (9 of 18) this season. Reminder: a 50% expected win percentage would make this bet hugely profitable over the long term.
Additionally, if we exclude the Brooklyn Series - where, again, Freak tried to be Kevin Durant on the wing a hot second - Giannis has made 0 threes in 7 of 11 playoff games this season (64%)
Given our plus pay-out and the fact that Giannis has made only about 20% of his threes during these playoffs, we have a profitable scenario provided Giannis has four or fewer 3PAs over the course of the game. Giannis is averaging only 3.6 3PA during these playoffs and only 2.4 over his last seven contests.