Few players in NBA history had a postseason quite like Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak averaged 30.2 and 12.8 rebounds across four playoff series, punctuated by a 50-point masterpiece to clinch the NBA Finals.
However, Giannis’ postseason brilliance was overshadowed to a degree by his struggles at the free-throw line. But early returns show a departure from his lengthy routine, a move which should only benefit the Milwaukee Bucks during their repeat efforts.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is improving at the free-throw line
As unique a player as Antetokounmpo is, he isn’t without faults. One of which, free-throw shooting, was exposed during Milwaukee’s title run.
Last season, Giannis shot 68.5% from the free-throw line, the third-worst rate of his eight-season career. But that number dropped precipitously come playoff time, falling to 58.7%. Antetokounmpo saw a similar fall in 2019-20, shooting 63.3% in the regular season and 58.0% in the postseason.
While it’s only four games in, the two-time MVP is showing steady improvements in 2021-22. Antetokounmpo is shooting 72.5% from the stripe, his highest mark since 2018-19. Save for a 6-for-10 performance against the Miami Heat, Giannis is 75.0% or above in three games. He’s also getting to the line as often as ever, tying a career-high 10 attempts.
Giannis is taking less time to shoot free throws
When Antetokounmpo was stepping up to the free-throw line, opposing fans would have plenty of time to jeer. That’s because the 26-year-old would often stretch the limits of the NBA’s rule requiring shooters to take 10 seconds or less on a free throw.
But with a Finals MVP already in hand, Giannis can potentially add another award to his decorated resume: The “Most Time Slashed Off a Free-Throw Routine” Award (name still in progress).
Starting in Milwaukee’s season-opener against the Brooklyn Nets and continuing onward, Antetokounmpo has shortened his routine at the stripe by a significant margin. The five-time All-Star was previously shooting a shot or two without the ball before dribbling multiple times and firing away. Now, he’s taking a single dribble before looking toward the basket and attempting his free throw.
With Giannis’ struggles at the line exacerbated by a painfully long routine, teams often had an excuse to give him two free shots. Now, fouling the Greek Freak isn’t nearly as beneficial.
The Milwaukee Bucks are title contenders once again
As Antetokounmpo’s free-throw concerns are moving further and further in the rearview, the Bucks look like an NBA title contender once again.
With Giannis leading the way with 24.5 points, the Bucks are seventh with 115.5 points per game on 46.2% shooting. One bright spot has been, naturally, free-throw shooting, with only the Golden State Warriors averaging more than Milwaukee’s 25.0 attempts.
The Bucks have six players averaging double-figures, ranging from All-Star Khris Middleton to 2020 second-round pick Jordan Nwora. Eight players are also seeing 20 or more minutes each night along with another pair seeing 15 or more. That depth sets Milwaukee apart from other teams, especially with key veterans Bobby Portis and Donte DiVincenzo yet to make their season debuts.
With the ability to overcome injuries, as well as a superstar like Giannis making small but notable improvements, the Bucks should be in the thick of the race for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.