Phoenix Suns: How to Stop Giannis Antetokounmpo in NBA Finals

Phoenix Suns (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)
Phoenix Suns (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images) /

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the most dominant NBA player since former Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O’Neal, who also dominated with the Los Angeles Lakers 20 years ago. Nobody on the Suns can consistently stop Giannis, nor can anyone on any other NBA teams. He is the kind of once-in-a-generation talent that the league may not ever see again.

However, Suns fans have already learned Giannis is very predictable whenever he has the ball in his hands. Predictable does not mean easy, as evidenced by his outstanding performance in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

But Suns fans can be assured though that Giannis has tendencies in which Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton, Cameron Johnson, or Torrey Craig can figure out quickly.

After reviewing the game film, Phoenix players will know stopping Giannis is very straightforward, but definitely not easy. It is nearly impossible to stop him when he builds up a full head of steam (just like Shaq on the low block 20 years ago). However, he has tendencies in which Suns players can react to ahead of time, as outlined below.

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s tendencies while dribbling revealed

It’s a wrap for the Suns if nobody stops the Greek Freak in transition before he reaches the 3-point line. Obviously, Giannis will always drive straight to the basket when no defender is between him and the rim. But assuming a defender is in front of him, he will almost always:

  • Euro step when at the center of the court
  • Take a between-the-legs dribble to take a step back right before attacking the basket
  • Use an in-and-out dribble after he fakes a jump shot (especially when he is going left)
  • Take a left-to-right crossover dribble when on the right wing

Notice how these tendencies unfolded during his Game 1 montage. The Suns defenders did all they could, but sometimes it was just not enough to stop the Greek Freak.

Even with a serious knee injury, Giannis is still a two-time MVP for a reason. Even if players know his tendencies, stopping him is still going to be extremely difficult. The conventional NBA wisdom is to slow down Giannis by playing way off of him. Deandre Ayton, for instance, often dared him to shoot when they were matched up directly.

As a traditional, paint-bound center, Ayton is smart enough to play way off him, promoting him to pull up for a jumper. But what about for all the other Phoenix defenders? Contrarily, they should not listen to conventional wisdom when it comes to guarding Antetokounmpo.

How Phoenix Suns defenders can take advantage of Giannis’ tendencies

Suns defenders should pressure Giannis so he does not get a full head of steam once he gets to the basket. His Euro step is unstoppable when he is at full speed. However, all of his other moves outlined above can be stopped if the defender squares up on his right shoulder, which Giannis typically uses as a battering ram so he can finish with his left hand.

The Suns have already figured this out to a degree. In one possession, Suns forward Cameron Johnson did an incredible job of squaring up to his right shoulder and then stripping the ball away from him. Johnson got the steal because he pressured Giannis’ right shoulder and then took away his immediate move once he put the ball on the floor.

Suns coach Monty Williams praised Johnson’s efforts on Giannis in Game 1’s postgame news conference, per

"“At 6-9, to move his feet like that, there’s times when Giannis is coming at you full speed. There’s really no answer for that except to take the hit and try to keep him from getting to the basket. I thought he had some really good possessions on that side of the ball. And then his ability to score, space the floor, attack the basket, he’s just a really good player.”"

The Suns cannot—and will not—stay complacent when defending Giannis. The Greek Freak knows Game 2 is a must-win game for Milwaukee, and will play like there’s no tomorrow. Expecting this, here is how the Phoenix Suns can adjust if Giannis is in peak form.

Phoenix Suns Adjustments for Game 2 vs a Motivated Giannis Antetokounmpo

Two seasons ago, the Toronto Raptors figured Giannis out when they ran a box-and-one to ensure two defenders were in his way at all times. While I like Toronto’s approach, I think the Suns are better off playing man-to-man defense as opposed to going zone.

When they went to a 2/3 zone at the end of the first half, Giannis got a wide-open dunk due to a defensive breakdown. Milwaukee also has the shooters (16-36 from 3-point range in Game 1) to punish Phoenix when they go with the zone.

A box-and-one defense would be a good change of pace attack perhaps when Ayton is on the bench or when Giannis is really cooking. Dario Saric‘s injury is a huge blow to the Suns rotation if Frank Kaminsky cannot step up as the backup center. However, playing Torrey Craig at center might work as a countermeasure when Milwaukee plays Giannis at center.

Double-teaming Giannis would also be ineffective because he is an excellent passer who can hit open teammates. I would not go away from the same man-to-man defense that got the Suns to the Finals in the first place.


If I am the Suns, I would make Giannis go away from his tendencies and go deep into his bag of tricks to finish at the basket. He will get his points, but how hard those points become will affect his defensive performance. I expect Milwaukee to play much more physical defensively and for Giannis to disrupt passing and driving lanes as a help defender more often.

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I hope breaking down Giannis tendencies help the Suns fans understand what he is going to do ahead of time. If the Suns players can continue to guard him straight up, they will be in a strong position to win Game 2.