Giannis Antetokounmpo: Can he regain early career free throw success?

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 25: (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 25: (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

Giannis Antetokounmpo started out his career with the Milwaukee Bucks as a solid free throw shooter, can he ever return to that level?

As the years have gone on, there’s not much that Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t quite mastered yet.

Even rarer, though, are to find areas of the reigning MVP’s game where he has regressed over the course of his career to date with the Milwaukee Bucks.

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One notable exception in that department is Antetokounmpo’s free throw shooting, which has gone from a relative strength in his arsenal to one of the most pressing areas of concern.

It goes without saying that this is far from unexplored territory and, in fact, it’s a subject that I’ve written about countless times over the course of the 2019-20 season alone (such as here and here).

Still, it bears repeating, and is very much worth consideration when highlighted alongside the success he has enjoyed at past junctures of his still relatively young career.

Having started out as a 68.3 percent shooter from the line as a rookie, Antetokounmpo climbed up into the 70 percent range in his sophomore season and would stay there for the next five seasons.

Of course, that’s before the 2019-20 campaign where Antetokounmpo’s free throw mark has plummeted to 63.3 percent.

The fact that Giannis is now averaging 10 free throw attempts per game for the first season of his career, makes it worth revisiting just what could be if he could find a way to return to the very respectable heights of his 2016-17 and 2017-18 free throw shooting.

With those extra attempts now coming his way, in part because of a slight increase in his ability to draw favorable calls from officials, Antetokounmpo’s already impressive scoring numbers could soar if he was able to find the 10-15 percent bump in his efficiency that is far from unrealistic based on the evidence of prior performance.

If Giannis had made his free throws at his career best 77 percent mark on the same number of attempts this season, that would have equated to an extra 77 points, or 1.35 per game.

That kind of jump is by no means insignificant considering just how it could be obtained, but on top of taking Antetokounmpo’s scoring average to 31 points per game, his improved reliability in that department could be transformative for the Bucks in a postseason setting.

Giannis’ free throw attempts jumped up to 11.2 per game in the playoffs last year, yet his percentages have routinely tumbled down from his regular season averages over the course of his playoff career so far.

Much more so even than his jump shot, Antetokounmpo’s free throw struggles offer opponents an easy way out when the pressure is at its greatest.

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More than maybe any other element of the game, so much of free throw shooting is mental, and tied to routine and superstition. Antetokounmpo has certainly been guilty of overthinking his own tendencies at the line at times, but if he was to ever regain his past glory at the stripe, it would only make him and the Bucks even more difficult to stop.