Why Giannis was Worth the Max

Why Giannis easily deserves his max contract


On last week's Boxscore Geek's Show, Brian and I discussed, at length, the value of Giannis Antetokounmpo new max deal with the Bucks. It seemed like a "falling off a log" decision to me based on a few very simple numbers

  • In 2015-2016, Giannis was worth 11.1 Wins*, which ranked 15th in the NBA
  • Giannis will turn 22 this season, meaning he's still quite young.

Add in the fact that Giannis can play nearly every position; it seems hard to think Giannis isn't worth the max. However, Brian noted something. Compared to other "star" players in the top 20 in the NBA, Giannis' per-minute production of 0.188 Wins per 48 seemed a tad low. 0.100 Wins Per 48 is average, 0.200 is usually our threshold for a star as it means a player is twice as good as an average player. With a max deal, Giannis is set to receive 25% to 30% of the Bucks salary cap. Some back of the napkin math reveals if the Bucks spent all of their cap space that way, they'd be a 41 win team. However, there are many points that keep me from being even slightly concerned.

The Age Curve

Giannis is only twenty-two next season. His progression looks great. Here are his wins per season:

  • 0.1 Wins as a Rookie, playing as PF
  • 9.2 Wins as a Sophomore, playing as SF
  • 11.1 Wins* his third seasons, playing SF and PG

Players usually hit their peak around age 25. So Giannis isn't even there yet. What's more, it seems pretty obvious that playing Giannis in smaller positions that rely on more ball handling appears to be a good trend as well. Even if I didn't think Giannis was worth the max last season, in two years (he'll still be on his rookie contract in the 2016-2017 season) when his raise kicks in. It's not a bad bet he'll be even better.


You may notice I've used an asterisk by Giannis' wins for the 2015-2016. The reason is actually with how to calculate Wins Produced formula. We first compute a players' production (which does include some team adjustments including assists, rebounds, and defense) this is a players ADJP48, which you can see on the Players' tab of the site. Next, we compare a player to the average production at their position. This season we've simplified it to be - Point Guards to Point Guards, Wings (SG/SF) to Wings, and Bigs (PF/C) to Bigs. If a player plays in multiple bins, we average their production across the positions. To help show the problem, here's the average production by position:

  • PG average production - 0.209
  • Wing average production - 0.183
  • Big average production - 0.311

Of course, big players have a big gap with other positions (playing close to the rim does a lot to help a players' rebounds and shot percentage). That said, Point Guards are, on average, more productive than wings. Part of the reason for this is because they get the ball a lot, and assists are very useful for production. And hopefully, you can see the issue with Giannis. There's a bit of a difference calling him a Wing versus a Point Guard.

Last season, mid season, Jason Kidd decided to move Giannis from SF to PG. Thanks to stats.nba.com for having player touches for game by game data!

So let's break down a few things. Here's Giannis' ADJP48 breakdown

Date Range Position ADJP48 WP48 Wins
2015-10-28 to 2016-02-20 SF 0.238 0.154 6.0
2016-02-22 to 2016-04-13 PG 0.380 0.270 5.3
  • ADJP48 from 2015-10-28 to 2016-02-20: 0.238
  • ADJP48 from 2016-02-22 to 2016-04-13: 0.380

Holy cow! Now even treating Giannis as SF for all of the season until the end of February and a PG for the rest of the season only boosts his WP48 from 0.188 to 0.193. Now, that said, just look at the change in performance when Giannis is a PG versus a SF. One question Brian had was if playing a big as a guard was a wise move. And yes, a 6-11 player with a 7-3 wingspan seems like he belongs next to the rim. But somehow Giannis can handle the ball while still grabbing boards and shooting well. So if Giannis at PG is any indication of what we're in store for, a max deal doesn't even seem close to a poor decision.

A funny note, both basketball-reference.com and 82games.com appear to run into the same issue we had. Despite listing Giannis as a PG for the 2015-2016 season, Basketball-Reference estimates Giannis played 0% of his time as a Point Guard. The same goes for 82games. And it makes sense. If you have any automated process with any tie-breaker, the 6-11 guy that started his career as a PF will not look like a Point Guard! That said, luckily this shouldn't be an issue next season as Giannis is expected to play the whole season as a Point Guard.

One last note. Brian also pointed out that Giannis' top performance is a small sample size. Indeed, Giannis playing like a star has only been the norm for about two months. That said, before this performance, he was a very good and very young player.


Based on his age, versatility and performance trend, it seems a no-brainer to lock up Giannis. The only reason not to lock him up to a long-term deal is if the Bucks think there's any shot they'll be able to sign him for less after next season. And candidly, barring Giannis suffering a significant injury, that isn't going to happen. Russell Westbrook, even before his recent surge, showed the market value for a player with Giannis' skills was a max contract. As with any max deal, it's entirely possible the Bucks may regret this. But that said, given all the information they had at the time of signing him (which is how you're supposed to grade trades and signing) this is a great move.