Milwaukee Bucks: Clutch free throws remain an issue for Giannis Antetokounmpo

SHENZHEN, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 9: (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)
SHENZHEN, CHINA - SEPTEMBER 9: (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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As Greece crashed out of the FIBA World Cup early, Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s clutch free throw woes came to the fore again.

There wasn’t a whole lot Milwaukee Bucks fans could learn about Giannis Antetokounmpo from his play with Greece in the FIBA World Cup over the past couple of weeks.

As has been well-documented and discussed at length at this point, Greece failed to utilize the NBA MVP in any fashion close to what we’ve seen with the Bucks. That’s understandable on the surface given the differences in roster construction, yet simply giving Giannis the ball more frequently to avoid him being marginalized offensively would have been a start.

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There was one element of Antetokounmpo’s campaign in China that jumped out and can be applied to the Bucks, though, particularly given how Milwaukee’s playoff run ended against the Raptors back in May.

As I explored earlier in the summer, the Bucks don’t necessarily make the most of their free throw opportunities, and given how often he finds himself at the stripe, Antetokounmpo is more responsible for that than most.

Generally a steady but unspectacular free throw shooter across his career, Antetokounmpo’s free throw accuracy took a step back last season. Given just how phenomenal he was in an MVP-winning season, that makes it a true exception in his game.

While the 24-year-old’s regular season free throw success rate dropping to 72.9 percent was less than ideal, what is really most troubling is how that figure tumbled further backward once the playoffs got underway.

Even his postseason mark of 63.7 percent represented a slightly inflated measure given how that percentage regressed as the importance of the games, and each individual free throw, ratcheted up.

The Conference Finals against Toronto offer a suitable snap shot as Antetokounmpo went 9-of-12 (75 percent) from the line in the Bucks’ Game 1 and 2 victories, before combining to go 17-of-36 (47.2 percent) over the series’ remaining four games. Given just how tight the margins were, it’s not overstating things to point out a free throw performance more in line with his average in those final few games could have swung the series in Milwaukee’s favor.

That trend points to something of a concern with how Antetokounmpo’s free throw stroke holds up under pressure, and on that front the World Cup provided further troubling evidence.

Giannis started the World Cup looking automatic from the line, even making his first 13 free throw attempts of the tournament, but by the time the intense pressure of the second round came around, old struggles came back to haunt him once again.

As Greece crashed out on points differential (five points short) against the Czech Republic in their final action of the second round, a disappointing finale overall for Antetokounmpo was compounded by his 4-of-8 shooting at the free throw line.

Overall, after shooting 20-of-24 (83.3 percent) on his free throws in the first round, Antetokounmpo floundered to just 4-of-10 (40 percent) in the second round.

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Whether the increased attention he received from defenses, and the added physicality, wore him down and affected his free throws is certainly up for debate. What remains clear, though, is that for all of the talk of Giannis’ jump shot, simply ironing out his free throw shooting could make all the difference in the world for the Bucks when it matters most next season.