The Startling Parallels Between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lamar Jackson
Getty Images. Pictured: Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens (8), Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) of the Milwaukee Bucks.
- Giannis Antetokounmpo and Lamar Jackson are absolute superstars in their respective sports who will each likely have MVP awards by the end of 2020.
- But that's not all these two have in common. Their exciting styles of play, meteoric rises and their struggles mirror each other remarkably.
He’s one of the most athletic human beings on the face of the planet. He’s young, he leads one of the best teams in his sport and will likely be the league’s Most Valuable Player.
He is able to dominate the opponent with his physicality and athleticism. Many say he’s the face of the league, while others wonder if a team led by him can ever really survive the postseason where weaknesses are magnified and schemed against.
I’m talking about Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens.
I’m also talking about Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Jackson led his team to the NFL’s best record at 14-2. The Ravens finished the regular season No. 1 in DVOA and their advanced metrics suggested they were one of the best teams in NFL history.
They’re at home now, after losing to the Tennessee Titans in the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. Jackson completed 31-of-59 passes for 365 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions and rushed 20 times for 143 yards. The numbers were productive, if inefficient.
There is an argument that Jackson did enough and it was simply the product of a handful of plays that doomed the Ravens’ seemingly blessed season. And yet, Jackson finished with just a 28.7 QBR, the third-worst single-game QBR during the 2020 Playoffs. More importantly, of course, the Ravens lost and went one-and-done in a season they were the presumptive favorites.
How did the Titans slow down the quarterback who was being discussed as game-changing?
“We saw when he [Jackson] gained yards he was getting them between the hashes and the numbers. We defended from number to number and made him go laterally. There weren’t big plays,” coach Mike Vrabel said after the game.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro said the goal was to string Jackson out toward the sideline to keep him from making spin moves or sudden cuts to make defenders miss. In essence, they cut down the space Jackson had to work with and used the sideline as an extra defender. Pees dialed up stunts and twists up front, resulting in sacks by defensive lineman Jurrell Casey and former Raven Kamalei Correa.
Now, let’s talk Giannis.
(NOTE: I will endeavor to talk about the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2019 playoff run without discussing Fred VanVleet. Please support me through this arduous task.)
The reigning MVP exited last year’s NBA playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals, analogous to a round further than Jackson made it. However, the Raptors were able to hold Antetokounmpo to 22.7 points, 13.5 boards and 5.5 assists per game on just 45% shooting. Toronto also forced Antetokounmpo into 25 turnovers through six games.
The Raptors’ layered their defense to force Giannis to go through multiple defenders in order to get to the rim, and then use their speed and athleticism to recover against the 3-point threats.
During the regular season last year, Milwaukee averaged 53.3 points in the paint per game, and Antetokounmpo averaged 17.5 himself. In the last four games of that series, the Bucks averaged just 39.5 points in the paint per game, and Antetokounmpo was held to just 14.1.
This is what Giannis saw when he tried to go middle.