Will Giannis Antetokounmpo ever develop a reliable jump shot?

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 10: Giannis Antetokounmpo
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 10: Giannis Antetokounmpo /

Giannis Antetokounmpo is coming off of a season in which he averaged 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.5 steals per game with the Bucks. According to Basketball-Reference, he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Kevin Garnett in the process as the only players since 1946 to finish a season with those sorts of numbers. Unlike them, though, Antetokounmpo pulled it off at the age of 22. Garnett was 25 when he did it for the first time and Abdul-Jabbar was 28.

Those numbers speak to how dominant Antetokounmpo already is and how bright of a future he has ahead of him. Even without a reliable jump shot, he’s become a two-way force capable of finishing a season in the top-20 in all major statistics. (The first player, it should be noted, to ever do so). If he can therefore develop a respectable jump shot at some point in his career, it’s scary to think about what he could become.

The what-if surrounding Antetokounmpo’s jump shot is nothing new. It was his biggest weakness entering the 2013 NBA Draft and he hasn’t shown much improvement in his four years with the Bucks. As you can see in the table below, his volume in catch-and-shoot and pull-up situations has increased since he was drafted while his success rate has remained almost the same. That trend indicates some improvement — same success over higher volume is a promising sign — but he’s yet to make a significant jump in any notable category.

Antetokounmpo’s shot selection hasn’t even changed much. Following his rookie season in which 28.2 percent of his shot attempts came from the perimeter — still a career-high to this day — half of his shot attempts have come at the rim and around a quarter have been a combination of long 2-pointers and 3-pointers.

His success rate in each of those areas over the last three seasons in particular has been almost identical. Antetokounmpo’s saving grace is he’s unstoppable when he gets to the basket considering half of his attempts come at the rim and he capitalized on 70.9 percent of those opportunities last season.

He will turn 23 in December, so Antetokounmpo still has plenty of time to develop a jump shot. The fact that he’s gone from making 68.3 percent of his free throws as a rookie to 77.0 percent last season is another encouragement improvement. So is the fact that he’s gone from attempting 44 3-pointers as a second-year player to 180 last season, while increasing his success rate from 15.9 percent to 27.2 percent.

Antetokounmpo’s progression in that regard fits the vision he set out for himself prior to the 2015-16 season: “The first year I made like five midrange jumpers,” he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “This year I’m making more. Next year I’ll be more efficient in the mid-range jumper and try to work on 3s. And the fourth year try to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together.”

Through that lens, Antetokounmpo has improved more than it seems. According to NBA.com, he made 13 midrange jump shots as a rookie compared to 92 as a sophomore. He made less the following season — at a lower percentage as well — but he made up for it by shooting a lot more 3-pointers. Then in his fourth season, he combined the two to some success.

It might not look like much, but it points towards some signs of progression. Whether or not his progression can continue incrementally to where Antetokounmpo eventually becomes a decent shooter is where the obsession over his future begins.

Still, while Antetokounmpo certainly wouldn’t be the first player to enter the NBA with a shaky jump shot and develop into a knockdown shooter, the little improvements he has made in four seasons makes it hard to project how good he could one day be. There aren’t even many players of his mold — forwards over 6-foot-7 who are the primary playmakers for their team — but the likes of LeBron James, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Tyreke Evans can at least provide a blueprint when it comes to Antetokounmpo’s potential as a shooter.

In the case of Artest and James, their most consistent stretch as 3-point shooters came in their eighth, ninth and 10th seasons. James made 36.5 percent of his 3-pointers during that time and Artest made 38.2 percent of his attempts. Odom had his most consistent stretch during that time as well, although those three seasons weren’t close to being his best from the perimeter. In fact, Odom shot under 30.0 percent in six of his 14 seasons in the NBA. He shot a combined 29.6 percent from the 3-point line in his eighth, ninth and 10th seasons.

As for Evans, his 3-point shooting has fluctuated greatly throughout his career and he only played in a total of 65 games in his two best seasons. He made 38.8 percent of his 3-pointers with the Pelicans in 2015-16 (25 games) and 35.6 percent of his 3-pointers with the Pelicans and Kings in 2016-17 (40 games). Outside of those seasons, he has made 27.8 percent of his 3-pointers in 408 career games.

Who knows if Antetokounmpo will follow in one of their footsteps or not. His first season from the 3-point line was comparable to Odom’s and Artest’s, but his second, third and fourth seasons would’ve been some of the worst shooting seasons of their careers. None of them showed a linear progression, either, which raises concerns about Antetokounmpo’s ability to make a significant jump over the next couple of seasons.

For as much as Antetokounmpo’s jump shot has been a point of emphasis since he came into the league, however, he doesn’t necessarily need one to be a dominant offensive weapon in today’s NBA. We’ve already looked at how he’s overcome the inability to shoot to become a volume scorer and one of his former teammates explained why shooting will continue to be “settling” for him last season.

“I think a lot of times our weaknesses are our weaknesses for a reason,” Steve Novak told The New York Times. “I’m a great shooter because I realized early on that I couldn’t drive by guys. I had to shoot the basketball. In Giannis’ case, shooting is settling. And for the next 10 years, it will be settling for him. So I think he needs to develop it as a weapon, but he’s at his best scoring in the paint and getting fouled and getting by his man. That’s always going to be his go-to.”

Next: What if Andrew Bynum hadn’t gone bowling?

It’s true — Antetokounmpo’s greatest asset will always be his ability to get into the paint. He’s already found ways to make up for not having a consistent jump shot, whether it’s getting out in transition, posting-up smaller guards or using his long limbs to snake his way around defenders. But like James, Antetokounmpo’s jumper could be what one day separates him from probably being the best player in the league and him being the unquestioned best player in the league.

All we can do is wait and see how he progresses.

All statistics are from NBA.com and Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted.