Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks dropped Game 1 of their playoff series to the Miami Heat on Monday night. Giannis played 36 minutes and 36 seconds. Considering he was a team worst -14 in those minutes, one could make the argument that he should have played less. However, I, a very smart person and free thinker, believe that the soon to be two-time NBA MVP should actually play more minutes.
Turns out this is more than a hunch. I looked at some prominent examples of successful basketball players and confirmed that Giannis does not play as many minutes a night in the postseason as he should be. Is coach Mike Budenholzer to blame? Or is Giannis not capable of playing extended minutes at the advanced age of 25, going on 26?
Let's check out some numbers.
During last season's playoffs, Giannis averaged 34.3 minutes a game. It took double-overtime for him to get to 44:41 in Game 3 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals. With the Bucks facing elimination in Game 6, he played 40:32. Those were the only two games where he played 40 minutes in the entire postseason.
Obviously, if the Bucks are winning, as they have done more often than not over the last two years, regular rest and extremely efficient box score stuffing from Giannis is great. But when the postseason rolls around teams tighten their rotations and better players carry a heavier load.
(Update: Forgot to mention that Giannis did play 40 minutes per game in the '17 and '18 playoffs. Both first round loses for Milwaukee with Jason Kidd coaching. Kidd averaged 38.5 minutes for his 158 game postseason career, including 40+ in the Nets two Finals runs. He also played 35.4 playoff minutes a night for the '10-'11 Mavericks who won the title. He was 37.)
LeBron James, at 35 years old, in his 17th season, averaged a career-low 34.6 minutes a game this season. Thanks to a mostly noncompetitive series with Portland, he's playing just 32.8 minutes a game through five playoff games in Orlando. That's a small sample size. For his career, he's averaged 41.9 minutes a game in the postseason. He averaged 39.1 minutes a game during the Cavaliers championship run in '16 and and 42.7 minutes when he won his first ring with Miami in '12.
Last season Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors managed the heck out of Kawhi's games and minutes. He appeared in 60 regular season games and played 34 minutes a night while managing his loa... his health. Then, in 24 postseason games that resulted in an NBA Championship, Kawhi averaged 39.1 minutes, including over 41 minutes a night against Milwaukee. Kawhi played over 52 minutes in the Raptors' Game 3 win over the Bucks.
Remember earlier when I said the younger, more durable Giannis stretched himself to 44? Yeah.
In the Golden State Warriors' three title runs, Stephen Curry averaged over 37 minutes a game in the playoffs. In his first Finals, he played over 42 minutes a night. Again, Steph is little. Playoff minutes are tough. Steph is not built like a literal God King. Steph played more minutes.
It's not like Budenholzer hasn't seen how this works for great players. He was an assistant coach in San Antonio for most of Tim Duncan's career. So he was there when a 22-year-old Duncan played 43 minutes a night in the playoffs as the Spurs won their first title. He was not there 15 years later when Duncan played 32.7 minutes a game as he won his last title. In both cases Duncan's minutes increased significantly from the regular season to the postseason.
And finally, there's Michael Jordan who never once averaged below 40 minutes a night during any postseason. Scottie Pippen was right behind him, averaging 39 minutes a playoff game over 16 postseasons.
So is Giannis not built like these guys? He appears to be bigger and stronger than most of them. And he's still legitimately young. When Allen Iverson was Giannis' age, he was playing 46.2 minutes a game while dragging the Sixers to the NBA Finals and he spent at least a quarter of those minutes getting knocked on his butt by bigger guys.
Maybe Giannis has just so become so accustomed to playing less than three quarters of the game that he can't. Maybe his body falls apart and his vision blurs as he approaches 40 minutes. History seems to tell us that he needs to play more. Either he plays similar minutes and we find out why he wasn't playing more minutes. Or he plays more and the Bucks break through.