‘How did everyone miss ____________’ is usually a totally played out theoretical question that doesn’t garner any answers. How did 12 teams miss Kobe Bryant? Well, nothing stands out about a 6’6” shooting guard straight from high school. How did 15 teams miss John Stockton? Well, nothing stands out about a 6’1”, unathletic point guard. But it’s different with Giannis. Everything about him stands out. So how did 14 teams miss him?
The absolutely pitiful nature of the 2013 draft class makes Giannis’ mid-1st round selection even more baffling, but I’ll try to put a finger on why teams passed on him. The first factor may have been the state of international bigs in the NBA at the time. After Dirk Nowitzki became a monumental success in Dallas, teams began trying to replicate the phenomenon by drafting big men from overseas way higher than they probably should have.
This tactic failed way more than it succeeded. Names like Darko Miličić and Nikoloz Tskitishvili were selected–and subsequently busted–as top-10 picks. The only real massive “success story” of drafting international bigs after Dirk was Yao Ming. He was seen as the exception, however, due to his borderline unfair 7’6” height. On the whole, teams were becoming more and more afraid of pulling the early round trigger on international bigs.
The second factor that pushed teams away from Giannis was his success probability. While he had all the athleticism in the world, he wasn’t putting up the numbers that his athleticism would suggest he should’ve been. The common thread between international successes in the NBA was that they lit it up overseas. Manu Ginobili was a perennial all-star in Argentina and Italy, and Dirk Nowitzki averaged almost 30 points per game in Germany. Giannis, while only 18 years old, averaged a measly 9.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.0 blocks on 47% from the field in Greece.
That reasoning is easily objectionable, however. Not only would Giannis have been a senior in high school at the time he put up those numbers, he did so while playing only 22 minutes per game. Per 36 minutes–the standard minutes for an NBA starter–Antetokounmpo averaged 15.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.6 blocks. For an 18-year old, those per-36 minute numbers warrant a top-10, maybe even top-5, selection.
The final factor, and least defendable one, is that all 14 teams that picked ahead of the Bucks thought that they were taking a better player. That sounds almost silly because of who went first overall in 2013: Anthony Bennett. Since Anthony Bennett wasn’t even close to the top of most draft boards on draft night, that tells me the Cavaliers were drafting on intangibles rather than on productivity. If that was the case, WHY WOULDN’T THEY TAKE GIANNIS???? They took a tweener who was too slow to be a small forward and too weak to be a power forward. If they wanted to draft on intangibles, they should’ve traded down and taken the guy with some of the best intangibles in NBA history.
So how did everyone miss Giannis? Maybe they were too hesitant to take an international big. Maybe they thought that his athleticism wouldn’t translate. Or maybe they thought that the player they were selecting was more of a sure thing. But more than likely, it was a combination of all three.