Having one in his own huddle, Warriors coach Steve Kerr understands how difficult a two-time MVP can be to cover.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks present quite a challenge for the Warriors in Friday’s Christmas Day clash, but coach Steve Kerr didn’t offer many details on how the Warriors will defend the dynamic forward.
“Everybody is gonna be guarding him, the whole thing with Giannis is if he gets free in transition, you’re dead,” Kerr told reporters Thursday. “We will try to build walls in front of him, in transition, we can’t get caught sleeping and letting people get behind us for layups, and when he’s coming downhill on us, we’ll try to put three guys in a wall and recover out to shooters from there.”
Even after being pressed by local reporters, Kerr wouldn’t reveal which player will start Friday’s game defending Giannis.
“I’m not gonna tell you who I’m going to start on him, but during the game multiple people will be on him for sure,” Kerr continued. “I need to be aware that I don’t wanna to give stuff away that I don’t need to give away.”
Defending a player of Antetokounmpo’s caliber almost always is a group effort, and it’s understandable that Kerr would try to keep his cards close to his vest when it comes to specific defensive assignments.
With former Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green not playing in Milwaukee, one of the trio of Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Eric Paschall likely will get the starting assignment on Giannis. Paschall officially is the shortest of those three for Golden State (6-foot-6), so he might defend Khris Middleton and leave Wiggins (6’8) or Oubre (6’7) to use their length in defending the nearly 7-foot Antetokounmpo.
Rookie center James Wiseman, the No. 2 overall pick in November’s draft, might be the best physical matchup for Giannis with his 7’1 frame, but it’s hard to imagine Kerr would start the game off with the 20-year-old covering the reigning two-time MVP.
Wiggins struggled on both ends of the court in Tuesday night’s loss to the Brooklyn Nets, not faring well in one-on-one matchups against Kevin Durant and Caris LeVert on the defensive end. Kerr spoke about Wiggins’ defensive growth in his time with the Warriors, and the head coach reiterated that the 25-year-old was acquired to defend stars like Antetokounmpo on the wing.
“Last year, that was one of the real bright spots in the 12 games that he played, we put him on LeBron, we put him on Kawhi,” Kerr said. “We put him on the guys who are the most difficult players to guard in the league, and he held his own.
“The other night, it was a poor effort defensively by the entire team, and I didn’t think Andrew played particularly well either.”
Although he isn’t nearly the level of shooter that Durant is from all over the court, Giannis presents a similar defensive challenge with his immense strength and athleticism in the open court.
We likely will see Wiggins, Oubre and Paschall get the majority of the possessions on Antetokounmpo, but Wiseman should get a few chances as well, especially when Bucks starting center Brook Lopez is out of the game.
In one matchup last season against the Warriors, Giannis went for 30 points and 13 rebounds in a January win at Chase Center, but Wiggins and Oubre hadn’t arrived yet and Draymond Green was active for that contest.
Whoever ends up drawing the assignment, they’ll have their work cut out for them as the Warriors look to earn win No. 1 of the 2020-21 season on Christmas Day.