A year later, if the NBA could do a redraft of 2013, two guys would go a lot higher - Michael Carter-Williams and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Carter-Williams, after leading Syracuse to the Final Four as a sophomore, slipped to the Philadelphia 76ers at No. 11, due to concerns about his jumper and his offensive efficiency in college. Giannis was the mystery man of the draft, a Greek teenager with no real experience or statistics who the Milwaukee Bucks took at No. 15.
It didn’t take long for MCW to make a splash. In his NBA debut, he led the 76ers to an upset of the two-time defending champions with a preposterous stat-line of 22 points, 7 rebounds, 12 assists and 9 steals. Philadelphia became the feel good story of the league, although injuries and a fire sale at the deadline soon put a damper on that. MCW, one of the only rookies in position to rack up statistics, took a commanding lead in the ROY race and never looked back.
Giannis came on a bit more slowly, but he soon became the only reason to watch Milwaukee Bucks games. At 6’9 210 with a 7’3 wingspan, his length and quickness jump off the screen. Like MCW, a 6’6 PG with a 6’7 wingspan, Giannis came into the NBA a one of the longest and most athletic players at his position. That’s why they were both successful as rookies and they have such promising futures - they are really long and really fast. It’s not more complicated than that.
If they were more athletes than basketball players, their physical tools wouldn’t be so remarkable. However, since they do have the skills necessary to play their respective positions, they have a huge advantage over everyone they face. The best players in the NBA tend to be the ones with above-average height and speed for their position. All things being equal, the taller player has a huge advantage in a sport where the nets are raised 10 feet in the air.
At 6’6, MCW is the tallest PG in the league, so he has a much easier time racking up assists, steals, rebounds and blocks than his peers. Even though he can’t shoot, you don’t see many PG’s who can impact the game in as many ways as he can. He isn’t doing anything different in the NBA than he was doing in college - he averaged 12 points, 5 rebounds and 7 assists a game at Syracuse. You just don’t see a player with his combination of skills, size and athleticism very often.
Once the draft came around, though, people focused more on what he couldn’t do than what he could. With the rise of advanced metrics, efficiency became the most prized asset in a prospect and MCW shot only 39 percent from the field in college. The real problem was his college offense - Syracuse played a 2-3 zone, which slowed down the tempo of the game, and they didn’t have a lot of shooters on the perimeter, which allowed defenses to crowd him on the drive.
MCW was an “eye test” guy all the way. When he faced Indiana in the Sweet 16, he tore up Victor Oladipo, another future lottery pick. MCW was too tall, too fast and too quick - he could go wherever he wanted on the court and create easy shots for all of his teammates. The scouting report is the same then as it is now - if he ever consistently made 3’s, he would be one of the best players in the NBA. Even if he didn’t, his size and speed would make him a productive player.
Philadelphia was an excellent landing spot for him in terms of racking up statistics, but he would have made an immediate impact on almost every team in the lottery. If Marcus Smart had stayed in the draft, the domino effect would likely have pushed MCW down to No. 13, where the Dallas Mavericks were set to pick him up. MCW on the pick-and-roll with Dirk Nowitzki would have been unfair - his skill-set would have made a lot of teams better this season.
The same principles apply to Giannis. There are a few NBA players who are as long and as fast as him, but there is no one who is longer and faster. That’s what the “eye test” really means - are you able to see that Giannis is really tall, really fast and really long? Congratulations, your eyes still function. When judging Giannis, there was nothing else for teams to go on. Before the draft, he was playing for the U19 team on a lower division club in Greece.
Unlike most international prospects, Giannis had not been in international competitions or played at the Hoop Summit. The son of Nigerians who had illegally immigrated to Greece, he didn’t have a passport for most of his childhood. His story is like something out of a Disney movie - a coach riding his bike spotted him and one of his brothers in a park. Even after he declared, most people assumed he would go to Spain for 1-2 years before even thinking about the NBA.
Before the draft, the only film you could watch on Giannis was a few of his youth-league playoff games that DraftExpress posted on YouTube. There were no statistics and the level of competition wasn’t great, probably not better than a high-school state tournament in the US. The film was grainy, but Giannis was running point, making ridiculous passes and handling the ball at a very high level. It didn’t matter who he was playing - the physical tools translated.
When you see a 6’9 player with elite length, skill and athleticism, you have to figure he is a pretty good at basketball. The same goes for an athletic 6’6 PG with MCW’s skill-set. When you are evaluating young players, the statistics can only tell you so much. In Giannis’ case, there were no statistics to go on at all. Nevertheless, there are still ways to find steals in the draft - look for the tallest, longest and most athletic guys at each position. It’s really that simple.