It is not difficult to spot that Giannis Antetokounmpo has vastly improved his basketball skills compared to a year ago. He asserts his will on the game far more often, especially with the ball in his hands. He defends better, and he doesn’t get leveled chasing shooters around off ball screens. Taller and more muscular, his rebounding numbers have shot up to the point where he leads the Bucks in preseason rebounds (31, tied with John Henson) even though his occasional stints at guard take him further from the hoop.
In fact, his per-game preseason numbers (9.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.2 blocks, 40% FG, 94% FT) compare quite favorably with him last year’s regular-season numbers (6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 blocks, 41% FG, 68% FT) while playing approximately the same number of minutes (26.0 minutes this preseason compared to 24.6 minutes last season).
The biggest difference is that Antetokounmpo’s jump shot has backpedaled. Last season, Giannis made 34% of his three-pointers. In this preseason, Antetokounmpo hasn’t made one yet in seven attempts. Five games and seven shots is a marvelously small sample size, and no reason to jump to any conclusions. But the bigger concern is his inability to make any type of jump shot. Here is a list of Antetokounmpo’s shots on the season sorted by distance, from shortest to longest.
Antetokounmpo has made only 1 of 18 shots beyond 8 feet.
His finishing skills have gotten better, as he has shot 13-for-16 on layups and dunks while taking a nice percentage of his shots from the restricted area. On the other hand, Giannis has only converted 2 of 23 jump shots. (Layups, dunks and jumpers account for all his shots except for one terrific hook shot, a weapon worth developing for the sake of taking advantage of size mismatches.)
When looking to the experiment at point guard, it is worth noting that part of the reason Giannis stagnated with the ball in his start at point guard is that he couldn’t hit the jump shot that the Cavaliers were conceding. Furthermore, he hesitated to take it. There were numerous instances in that game where Giannis flinched his arms forward, not so much as a pump fake to fool a defender but more as a means of reining in a shot he couldn’t fully commit to. Part of the reason Matthew Dellavedova was able to guard the much taller Antetokounmpo was that he simply backed up toward the paint as a means of limiting Giannis’ ability to create off the dribble.
And again, it’s a REALLY small sample size. That’s just the nature of the preseason. The only fact that makes it slightly more concerning is that it continues a trend that started this summer when Antetokounmpo played for Greece in FIBA play. The Greek plan kept Giannis largely off the ball (except for in transition) and kept him in the corners. There, he hesitated to shoot jump shots and when he did, he wasn’t terribly effective. Most of his points came of cuts to the hoop and passes that put his in position to score at the rim. In six FIBA games, Antetokounmpo made 11 of 24 shots, but he only made 1 of 9 three-point shots. Nearly all the points he scored came from the restricted area.
So the concern here isn’t so much that Giannis struggled for a handful of games, but instead that teams may start to scout the trend and play defense against him accordingly. For Giannis to truly succeed at the level at which the Bucks want him to succeed, he is going to need to knock down a jumper or two.
Based on his results from last season and his shooting form, Antetokounmpo has shown that he has the ability to do it.