"I'll tell you this. Giannis, at 21, needs two simple things to become an all-star, from this moment we're speaking: to score the open jump shots from 15-16 feet and hit three pointers from the corners."
The above quote is an excerpt from John Hammond's recent conversation with Nikos Varlas of Eurohoops.net. Giannis Antetokounmpo's jump shot has always been a hot topic of conversation among Bucks fans because of the immense impact it could have on his future and ultimate ceiling as a NBA player. With that in mind, Brett Abramczyk and I decided to exchange a few messages discussing Antetokounmpo's jumper.
ERIC: I think there are a lot interesting things to discuss about Antetokounmpo's jumper, but let's start at the most basic level. What do you think of his jumper right now? Has his jumper improved this season?
BRETT: The first word that came to mind was 'broken', just because of where his numbers are at right now compared to where they were a year ago...but I think that word ignores context. In this case, that context happens to be the constant tweaking of his jumper from when he came into the league until now. With that in mind, you can still rationally be okay (or at least not petrified) that his jump shot still comes and goes, with the latter being far more frequent these days. But if we're sitting here having a similar discussion a year from now, that's going to be a hell of a lot harder to defend.
ERIC: That makes sense. It's just a bit disappointing to see him shoot as poorly as he has this season after the step forward he seemingly took after the All-Star Break last season and over the summer with the Greek National Team. As you mention though, Antetokounmpo has been asked to continually change his jumper, the Bucks last season placed restrictions on the type of shots he can attempt, and his role on the team has changed considerably in the last two seasons. So, I think it's fair to say that though an improved jumper has always loomed large in the minds of Bucks fan, it may not have actually been on the top of Antetokounmpo's list. And thus, he probably deserves some more time before we effectively shut the door on an effective jump shot.
With that being said, do you see anything that makes you hopeful that Antetokounmpo will develop a good jump shooter? Will his range extend to the three point line?
BRETT: That's why I think this situation is so murky at this point -- all of the different factors and situations in play are pretty distinct from many other situations in the NBA.
And even a question pondering what the future holds for Giannis' jump shot is a loaded one. On one hand, you can say "Well, we're closing in on 3 years in the league and he's made almost no empirical progress." On the other hand, you can counter with the fact that he's been playing competitively for a relatively short period in his life, that he's shown the ability to modify his form to (presumably) what his coaches have asked for, and that consistency and repetition is the only thing that's missing. After all, shouldn't we have reason to trust that the "shot doctor" himself, Bucks assistant coach Josh Oppenheimer, has been teaching the necessary fundamentals to get his shot where it needs to be?
But evaluating the progress the coaches have made with him on his form proves to be pretty difficult without being much closer to the situation. Do you consider the modifications to his jump shot to be proof of potentially meaningful progress? Or does it remain unimportant until he ultimately proves his shot?
ERIC: That's a great question to pose because I think changing to "better" form almost always represents progress...until it doesn't. As players make adjustments and improve their form, there is a lot of talk of progress, but sometimes that "progress" doesn't actually improve the results of a shooter's jump shot. And, at that point, the "progress" was just a group of changes that ultimately didn't have any effect on player's jump shot.
When people first saw Antetokounmpo, his release was often lower in front of his body and much slower. Fast forward to this season and his release has been moved higher, further back, and sped up. Those are all pretty much undeniably good things and show an improved shooting stroke.
Yet, the thing I look for most in shooters, consistency, is still missing. There are times when Antetokounmpo's stroke looks good, but there are also times where a shot flies off the backboard or ends up missing the entire basket apparatus long or short. Those misses though are not due to poor aim, but rather Antetokounmpo's stroke looking different than the previous shot. In that regard Giannis also makes for an interesting contrast to Jabari Parker; while he's battled his own inconsistency in making perimeter shots, Jabari also has a more natural, repeatable stroke that rarely misses badly. When Antetokounmpo's shot looks the same every single time, I will start to get excited about his "progress" as a shooter. That also goes for his work at the free throw line, where he had shown good progress the past two seasons before dipping back down to 65% since the all-star break. Streamlining his ponderous and borderline illegal free throw routine should probably be on his to-do list for the summer.
I guess, though, this brings about an important question. A popular basketball theory posits that long limbs and large hands can make developing a consistent shot difficult. Do you think Antetokounmpo can become a consistent shooter?
BRETT: Well can he become a consistent shooter? I think it's going to pretty difficult to say with certainty that he never will given his situation -- so at this point, yes, I think consistent shooting is still very much in play for Giannis.
The long arms/big hands "excuse" for players makes logical sense. Probably the most important building blocks in a good jump shot, specifically a consistent one, are almost always repeatability and simplicity. It makes sense then for a player to struggle to repeat a precise motion consistently when there's that much more of your body to control, specifically 7 feet and 4 inches of it. So, while I think it's very possible his physical makeup has proven to be an additional challenge in this regard, it's far from an end-all be-all, and there's plenty of examples around the association that help to quell that notion (Durant, Leonard, etc.).
Will he become a consistent shooter? I think both of us are lying if we claim to know the answer to that. His success towards the end of last year was encouraging, but this 'step back' it seems he's taken is starting to fog up the situation. Then again, maybe the fact that he did in fact show relative consistency at one point should be a reason for hope, no?
ERIC: I think you're right in saying that we don't really know if Antetokounmpo will ever become a consistent shooter and even more right to say that he still can become a consistent shooter.
As our discussion has progressed though, I've become increasingly interested in attempting to find out when the possibility of consistent shooting disappears. Does it take just one more year? Two years? Or does it remain a question that could turn around at any point in his career with the right coach? At some point, you would think that the potential to become a good shooter no longer exists, and I'm thinking if things don't start to look up next season, it may be time to worry about Antetokounmpo's jump shot.
So, with worrying on the mind, let's end this conversation with the worst possible scenario. What if Antetokounmpo never develops a consistent jump shot? Does it even matter? He seems to be doing just fine without one right now.
BRETT: Ah, our favorite question these days. "He might not even need a jumper!" we all scream as we slowly come to terms with it never coming and rationalize what might be the inevitable -- but at the same time, he is kind of thriving without it. At this point, it's definitely looking more like a conversation worth having rather than a coping mechanism we use given his jump shot's current stagnation.
From what we've seen, an offense centered around him as a playmaker without a reliable jumper might actually work. It's easy to play off a guy standing on the wing without the ball, but rather different to play off a dribbler who can use that space to build a head of steam toward the basket or find passing angles over the top. Even so, a non-shooter at the "point" has essentially turned into death in this league -- defenses, for the most part, are too smart to let another team get away with it. But players come in and break the rules of everything we know from time to time in this league; Russell Westbrook is a career 30% shooter from three, while Derrick Rose and John Wall grew into stars despite taking three-plus seasons before becoming respectable (if not inconsistent) shooters from deep. Maybe a 6'11" freak with the length of a center and the fluidity of a guard is the next wrinkle that turns the league upside-down?
He might be! But just because he's doing the things he's doing right now at the ripe age of 21, it might not mean things can only go way up from here. Giannis playing the point is still a very fresh concept to the league -- one that it still hasn't had much time to game plan for. It should be interesting to see some new things thrown at him next season, and if he can survive them without a jumper. Recent history has seen Bucks lineups thriving with Giannis at the point, and you can only hope that trend continues.
ERIC: Like many have pointed out, a lack of shooting can be somewhat mitigated by shouldering a heavy playmaking load and that might be the ultimate solution to fixing -- or at least mitigating -- Antetokounmpo's shooting woes. I'm just not a big fan of the thought process behind saying "it doesn't matter" because, of course it matters.
It matters because otherwise we wouldn't be talking about how it might affect Antetokounmpo's ultimate ceiling as a player. If this seven foot point guard racking up triple doubles also adds a jump shot, you're looking at a possibly transcendent, once-in-a-lifetime type player. If he doesn't, his ceiling is still that of a multiple-time All-Star and one of the best Bucks ever, but it does change his ceiling and it does affect what he can ultimately become as a player.
That seems like something that should matter.
BRETT: While I think the "well boy if he ever figures out his jumper, watch out!" thinking (my personal favorite Jonny Mac-ism) has almost gone too far at this point, I think it pretty obviously matters. Finally finding his stroke might not be the ultimate thing that holds Antetokounmpo back from very good, but it very well could be the thing that holds him back from being great.
I'm sure we'll all be watching the situation like a hawk in the coming year, as we should be. Let's just hope this conversation is something of a distant memory a few years down the line.