Down a point in the dying seconds against the Phoenix Suns, Giannis took what is perhaps one of the most polarizing shots in modern basketball: a relatively contested mid-range jumper from the free-throw line.
Put simply, it wasn’t the best shot to take for a player shooting 30.3% on shots taken 10-16 feet from the basket. If winning is the goal, teams should want the shot that has the biggest chance of hitting its mark.
Given the circumstances, though, it’s also easy to see why it might have been the right shot to take at the time despite being wildly inefficient. It’s true that he had been making that shot earlier in the game, after all. One valid school of thought would think to ask, why rob him of that opportunity to develop?
That’s all well and good. But after trading practically all their future assets for Jrue Holiday, the Bucks don’t have time to wait on jump shot mechanics that may never come. They’re a team with legitimate title aspirations. The time for winning is now.
For this writer, this scenario necessitates Giannis taking fewer jumpers—not more. Here’s why.
Shooters shoot, but Giannis is not a shooter
Over the past three seasons, Antetokounmpo’s shooting has only looked worse despite a constant influx in attempts. His shot mechanics look more rigid, and perimeter attempts seem to be falling with less and less regularity.
Per NBA Stats, he’s shooting 17-of-85 (20.0%) on jump shots. Besides the three-ball, he shoots 28.4% on short mid-range shots and 37.8% on long mid-range shots. This is where it gets messy.
Despite shooting 27-of-98 (27.6%) from deep for the season, Giannis pulls up more than any other Bucks player. Per PBP Stats, he also leads the team in unassisted threes with 24 makes out of 113 above-the-break pull-ups so far. Not even Khris Middleton (22) has pulled up and made as many threes.
He has also taken 196 jump shots and fadeaways so far this season versus 112 total alley-oops, dunks, and hook shots as of this writing. Per NBA Stats, 16.8% of Giannis’ points come from pull-ups beyond the arc. Overall, he pulls up on 29.9% frequency.
Despite being in the 26th percentile on spot-up plays, Giannis spots up (10.4%) almost as frequently as he posts up (11.3%), where he is in the 54th percentile.
Giannis is still effective sans a jumper
This writer contends that the lack of a jump shot hardly matters when you consider the effect of Antetokounmpo’s gravity.
Per PBP Stats, Giannis is fourth in the league in total assists leading to three-pointers, ahead of LeBron James, Chris Paul, and Nikola Jokic. His lack of a shot kills spacing, but his inward gravity has everything to do with the Bucks’ third-ranked 39.3% from deep. His gravity alone is good for 3.7 additional threes per game for Milwaukee.
As it stands, he’s putting up 28.0 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game on 58.4% effective field goal percentage. He’s the reigning MVP for a reason. He’s a freight train when he gets a runway after all, and no team alive can contain him when he’s barrelling into the paint off transition opportunities.
Against the Suns, Antetokounmpo put up 47 points, but it was that one missed game-winner that everyone remembered.
His impact goes beyond his individual production. Check out the Bucks stats on three-pointers with and without Giannis on the floor.
|Corner 3PT %||42.50%||37.10%|
|3PT FGM Asst%||79.80%||77.10%|
Even without a jumpshot, Antetokounmpo is absolutely a three-point threat. He just doesn’t have to be the one taking them, especially if it’s not getting better.
Outside of playmaking, Antetokounmpo’s individual scoring contributions get a little murky within Budenholzer’s system, which largely relies on having the ball in Giannis’ hands and in isolation to create good looks for teammates like Bryn Forbes.
Budenholzer still needs to adjust
According to NBA Stats, Antetokounmpo is 11-of-13 (84.6%) on alley-oops, and 11-of-24 on hook shots (45.8%). He’s also attempting more unassisted (170) shots than assisted (127) ones. Of note, he’s only attempted 4 bank shots so far.
This begs the question, for a player of his athleticism, why doesn’t he vary his shot profile more instead of forcing outside shots?
The answer is that he still brings the ball up the court every other possession, which means he initiates his offense from the top of the key. This is not necessarily a bad thing. But when you have a perfectly capable playmaker like Jrue Holiday on the team, the reduced touches become detrimental to team success.
Antetokounmpo is in the 92nd percentile as the ball handler on pick and rolls, but only in the 41st percentile as the roll man. He’s only used that way on 6.0% frequency, good for 1.6 possessions per game. When the ball is in Giannis’ hands from the get-go as he looks to score, his shooting limitations are put on full display instead of his other skills.
On the other hand, he’s in the 53rd percentile in transition, which he does on 29.3% frequency. Transition opportunities, however, require stops, which are something of a rarity these days in Milwaukee’s 11th-ranked defense. These also don’t address the team’s struggles in the half-court.
Giannis also goes to isolation frequently, which make up 16.6% of his points. To put that number into perspective, here’s a list of players he isolates more than:
- Luka Doncic (15.8% frequency)
- Kyrie Irving (15.2%)
- DeMar DeRozan (16.2%)
- CJ McCollum (16.2%)
- Chris Paul (16.0%)
He does this all without a jump shot, and to call isolating without one inefficient would be an understatement. When his drives are contained, he passes the ball back out, and the offense sputters.
It doesn’t help that the Bucks as a team run the sixth-most isolations in the league despite not even being in the top 10 in isolation effective field goal percentage.
Fans know these failed isolations all too well. Once games slow down in the half-court, he plows recklessly into the Giannis wall, and either gets stripped or called for an offensive foul. All the while, his teammates are standing around on the perimeter waiting for a kick out.
Giannis’ shooting (or lack thereof) is not what caused the Bucks’ losses against Toronto and Miami. Instead, it was restrictive and unimaginative coaching that required a big man to initiate offense on the perimeter. This usage made life unnecessarily hard for a perennial talent who was forced to break down competent defenses with his athleticism instead of his team’s passing.
He already gets 11.3% of his points in the post but is a much more efficient 53.1% effective field goal percentage there. He’s only in the 54th percentile in the post, but this gives the offense much more dynamism compared to isolating at the perimeter.
Not a knock on the Greek Freak
Media narratives have long been unkind to Giannis. The specter of his broken jumper hangs over the team often. It’s not without merit, though; all the best do it, and he wants to be the best.
Former head coach Jason Kidd has a lot to do with it, too. In the 2015-16 season, Giannis spent 99% of his on-court minutes playing either of the guard spots.
To be sure, affording the two-time MVP opportunities for growth is certainly a valid point of view. Mainstream media has always (rightfully) centered around his lack of shooting ability and how that limits Milwaukee’s half-court offense. Why wouldn’t the Bucks want to prove that wrong?
It’s true, after all, that adding consistent shooting to Giannis’ already arsenal would make him the best player in the world if he isn’t there already.
But forcing a dominant inside player to attempt from outside is nothing short of unimaginative, if not counterproductive. Fans have to ask, how long is this experiment going to go on before it’s time to wave the white flag?
None of this is to say that Giannis shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Rounding out his game by plugging its only glaring hole would do wonders in making him a complete player. But all this is simply to say that he is not unskilled without one.
Where they could have addressed problem areas from years prior, internal changes stopped short of an overhaul of the team’s defensive identity and a reimagining of Antetokounmpo’s role on the team. Both of which, though, may become necessary as the season wears on.
The experiment has dragged on for too long
Despite being a contender, the 2021 Bucks still look nascent after their offseason changes. The revamped roster and retooled offense are very much a work in progress. But the signs say team success is still very much possible.
Playing Giannis as a ball-handling point forward, while successful at times, can’t be the entire game plan it forces him to take jump shots. When teams clamp down on Giannis, he has to be able to score the ball off assists in the half-court instead of forcing shots or.
With his blend of size and athleticism, Giannis could be the league’s best roll man or lob threat if he wanted to. This is a fact. At the moment, though, Budenholzer doesn’t seem interested in having him be the screener, roller, and get him going downhill.
We’re seeing highlight videos of Antetokounmpo draining three-pointers in practice instead of, say, a hook shot. His post fades look serviceable too, but there’s no indication so far that these are go-to parts of his game.
Could he be a more complete player? Sure. Does he really need one to produce and play winning basketball? Absolutely not.
Jumper or not, he’s a skilled player regardless of what Kendrick Perkins and James Harden think. The signs are clear: Giannis doesn’t need to be a catch-and-shoot jump shooter to be an efficient player. It’s time Budenholzer’s system address this and uses him in a more dynamic way.
He’s not Kevin Durant, and we should stop expecting him to be that player. And that’s okay. He’s still Giannis Antetokounmpo, after all.
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