The best players in the NBA can shoot. Not all of them are good enough to make it their go-to weapon like Stephen Curry, but they can all do it to some degree. Russell Westbrook, for example, has an explosive pull-up to supplement his knack for getting to the rim. Big men such as Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins shoot well enough from distance for it to open up the rest of their game. Even Dwyane Wade, who has the reputation of not being a great floor spacer, was a tremendous mid-range shooter in his prime.
That’s why it’s remarkable Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to score as efficiently as he does without the makings of a jump shot. When he was handed the keys to the Milwaukee Bucks’ offense down the stretch of last season, he posted 18.8 points per game on 50.9 percent shooting from the floor while making about one 3-pointer every three games. He is now one of 27 players averaging at least 20 points per game this season, and he’s doing so by making the same amount of 3-pointers.
To make those totals more impressive, Antetokounmpo plays a position where floor spacing comes at a premium and still makes the Bucks a much better team when he’s on the floor. His playmaking and defensive potential have been put on full display over the last two seasons, but he’s starting to come into his own as a scorer despite a big part of his game being non-existent. There are three main reasons he’s been able to become a devastating scorer without a jumper.
Antetokounmpo is unstoppable in transition
One of the best ways to prevent teams from clogging the paint is by beating them down the court. So far this season, Antetokounmpo has scored 18.5 percent of his points in transition to the tune of 1.39 points per possession. He’ll likely hover around those marks for the entire season seeing as he scored 20.4 percent of his points on the break last season at a rate of 1.22 points per possession, which ranked him in the 77.3 percentile.
He doesn’t need someone else to ignite the offense for him in these situations, which makes Antetokounmpo a greater threat than most. Even at his size, he can push the ball himself from one end of the court to the other following a rebound or steal, and finish at the basket with an array of moves. Similar to how LeBron James benefits from getting out on the break, teams are at a huge disadvantage in those situations since guards tend to be the first players back following a missed shot or turnover.
Unless they’re willing to take a charge, there’s little that can stop Antetokounmpo from getting an easy bucket.
Antetokounmpo can also play the role of a wide receiver by running the floor without the ball in his hands. He’s a massive target at 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, and he can take off from unbelievable distances for finishes. With Jabari Parker and Matthew Dellavedova both being capable playmakers in the open court, he can safely leak out knowing someone will reward him for running the floor.
Antetokounmpo changes directions on a dime
Watch Marc Gasol on this possession:
He plays Antetokounmpo perfectly. Knowing he’s only made over 30 percent of his jump shots in one of his four seasons with the Bucks, Gasol backs way off of him to encourage him to settle for a jumper. Even when Antetokounmpo sizes him up by backing up to the 3-point line, Gasol barely moves.
Check out Gasol at the start of the sequence…
…and when Antetokounmpo retreats to the perimeter.
Gasol is no slouch on defense, either. Antetokounmpo is just a nightmare matchup because he has the physical attributes of a center and the agility of a guard. He looks completely undeterred by Gasol standing with his arms raised thanks to his ability to eurostep around a defender and use his length to finish at the rim. There aren’t many normal-sized guards who would’ve been able to pull off the same move without getting their shot blocked or having it ignite a fastbreak in the other direction by ricocheting off the backboard.
Here’s another example of how Antetokounmpo works his way around defenders in the half court. Al-Farouq Aminu slides his feet well to stay in front of him and even beats him to his spot once once he picks up the ball. Based on this image alone, it doesn’t look like Antetokounmpo has much of a chance to create a good look for himself:
And yet, Antetokounmpo pulls the same move as above to score an uncontested layup. With his long strides, he’s able to read how the defense is covering him and react accordingly. Had Aminu not jumped out as far as he did, Antetokounmpo would’ve likely continued along the same path for a finish over Mason Plumlee. But because Aminu did put himself between Antetokounmpo and the rim, he’s able to use those slow steps to his advantage by changing direction at the last second.
Those counters are important because it forces opponents to worry about Antetokounmpo moving east and west, not just north and south. Shot blockers like Marc Gasol and Anthony Davis can think they have him covered, only to lose sight of him in a split-second and fail to react in time to protect the rim.
Antetokounmpo is developing into a versatile scorer
Antetokounmpo isn’t just a one-trick pony on offense. He scored 8.1 percent of his points out of the post last season at a rate of 0.80 points per possession. While that only ranked in the 41.3 percentile, he has showcased excellent footwork on the low block and his size allows him to rise over defenders for soft finishes in the paint. When faced with the right matchups, he can easily bulldoze his way to the basket for finishes.
James Ennis is one of those matchups. Watch how Antetokounmpo turns this possession into a quick post-up so he can get closer to the rim. After he bumps Ennis twice with his wide shoulders, Antetokounmpo simply uses his length to sink a smooth runner over him.
To put into perspective how unique Antetokounmpo’s skill set is for his size, he can pull similar post moves against traditional centers. When you watch the next video of him draining a hook shot over Robin Lopez, remember Antetokounmpo is basically Milwaukee’s point guard.
Antetokounmpo is also an excellent cutter, which helps him keep the defense honest when they abandon him in the corner in an attempt to expose his only weakness. Together, those factors allow the Bucks to use him in a variety of ways. There aren’t many players who can be used as the ball handler and roll man in the pick-and-roll, but Antetokounmpo’s ability to take bigger defenders off the dribble, attack smaller players in the post and finish at a high rate around the basket means he can function as a guard and big man depending on the situation at hand.
For those reasons, if Antetokounmpo ever develops a jump shot defenders have to respect, the sky truly is the limit for him. Until then, though, he’ll continue to get by just fine without it.