Giannis Antetokounmpo has a new jump shot, and after looking back at previous iterations, early accounts are positive that this newest one might be the foundation to success for both the player himself and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks has a new jump shot. Entering his sixth year in the league, Antetokounmpo has already drastically changed his shot on at least one other occasion throughout his already illustrious, yet young career.
However, with a new coaching regime comes a new shot doctor, and at the helm of teaching the science behind the jump shot under Mike Budenholzer is assistant coach Ben Sullivan.
Sullivan also hails from the San Antonio Spurs organization, as Budenholzer brought him to Atlanta in 2014, and has been credited by Kent Bazemore for completely reviving his jump shot, leading to a $70 million contract in 2016. Sullivan credits all of his teachings to Chip Engelland, the famous shot master who was responsible for the shot transformations of Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and many others NBA mainstays.
Sullivan’s newest project is Antetokounmpo, and after only one short offseason and training camp, it is already apparent through shot comparisons to prior years that more mechanical changes have been implemented.
Perhaps of equal importance are the changes to the mindset, covered at length in a piece by Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Simply put, Antetokounmpo is set to shoot three pointers, and shoot them often. Under Jason Kidd, the development priority seemed to be playmaking first and shooting later. Budenholzer and Sullivan implore no such limits to perimeter shooting, which Bucks center John Henson and his one career three-pointer can certainly attest to, as he attempted five in the preseason.
To properly view the progression of a potential new jump shot for Antetokounmpo, let’s take a look at previous versions to be able to better compare and contrast with what he has shown thus far in the preseason.
In this 2013 game versus the Boston Celtics, Antetokounmpo shows off his rookies year shooting stroke in the first highlight of the video, and a second at the 01:22 mark. Of his five years in the NBA, his rookie year was by far his most successful from an accuracy standpoint behind the three point line, hitting 34.7 percent.
From a shot mechanics standpoint, the fluidity shown in his rookie year jump shot was actually a passable foundation to work with. It looked well-balanced, in rhythm, and most of all confident. However a fairly visible minor hitch just prior to the release led to some interesting looking follow-throughs where one arm (or sometimes both) would immediately drop straight down, in order to catch up with the rest of the body already back to the ground.
It was the following year, in 2014-15, when Antetokounmpo and second overall draft pick Jabari Parker were told by Jason Kidd to not take threes, despite the modernization of the NBA suggesting the exact opposite. Antetokounmpo listened to his coach, and only attempted 0.5 three pointers per game, hitting only 15.9 percent on the season.
It wasn’t until the 2016-2017 season when Jason Kidd began extending the leash on Antetokounmpo from the perimeter, as he went on to average over two three-point attempts per game, despite only making 27.2 percent. In this next video, his 53 three-pointers made during this season can be seen consecutively.
Despite these highlights being all makes (his best perimeter jump shots of the season), pay attention to a few mechanical differences and possible concerns from that of his rookie year.
The primary difference noticed between the rookie year form and 2016-17 is the head. In this video, his head tilts much further back, as if he is looking up at the retired jerseys in the rafters. This tends to lead to the ball being brought back behind the head, which in turn lowers the elbows, and flattens the shot as your feet hit the ground (reducing the potential arch). The worst-case scenario result of this problem in much more amateur levels leads to a jump-shot looking like a sideline throw-in in a soccer match.
Another noticeable mechanical concern from the 2016-17 video is when the hips and the ball are not working in direct tandem with each other. When the hips drop and knees bend on the load-up, the ball should drop in unison, and when the hips rise on the launch, the ball should rise with them.
Think of how a free throw is shot; ball, knees, and hips are essentially on the same string. Some of Antetokounmpo’s shots in freeze frame show the ball is raised above his head as his hips and knees are still at its low point. This essentially destroys all timing, and the perfect fluidity of the jump shot is gone.
It must be stated at this point that NBA players are among the best shooters in the world, so many are able to overcome slight mechanical flaws, or even thrive on their own unorthodox mechanics. For example, Ray Allen has arguably the prettiest and most successful jump shot in basketball history, but barely bends his knees at the free throw line. A lot of times the perfect J.J. Redick-like mechanics aren’t needed, but it certainly doesn’t hurt a player like Antetokounmpo and a coach like Ben Sullivan to tinker with them to constantly try to improve.
What is exciting about the 2018 preseason is not only will Mike Budenholzer demand more threes out of Antetokounmpo, but it looks as if both of the concerns noted above seem to be less pronounced. In the video below from Bucks’ recent preseason victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves, you will see two three-point makes (and a whole lot of other impressive highlights) with the first one immediately and the second one at the 0:50 mark.
The jump-shot from the naked untrained eye simply looks more fluid and confident, with better all-around timing of knees, hips, elbows and wrists all working as one unit. The head no longer tilts straight back, instead showing just a slight and more manageable movement backwards. Ideal balance, the one staple in Antetokounmpo’s shooting over the years is still very present. Finally, the alignment of bringing the ball up from the waist even looks to be more centered than past years, a shot mechanic issue that Lonzo Ball is making famous.
While we only have a three-game sample size from this preseason to go off of, the early results have been favorable. Antetokounmpo has made 4-of-10 from beyond the arc, but perhaps just as importantly, looks extremely comfortable and natural taking the shots.
Antetokounmpo is not expected nor counted on to be a 40 percent three-point shooter, but if that does happen through mechanical tweaks, continued work with Ben Sullivan, and flexibility and empowerment from Mike Budenholzer, you will be likely be looking at the next NBA Most Valuable Player.