Welcome to “One Play!” Throughout the 2021-22 NBA season, our TSN Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.
Today, Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo takes the spotlight.
Context: If you look at the numbers, you’d think Antetokounmpo hasn’t changed all that much over the last few seasons.
After all, Antetokounmpo picked up his first of two MVP awards in 2018-19 when he averaged career-highs at the time of 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists on 57.8 percent shooting from the field. In the two and a half seasons since, he’s averaged an almost identical 28.8 points, 12.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists on 55.4 percent shooting from the field.
The thing is, Antetokounmpo has improved a ton since then. The game appeared to slow down for him in a big way in Milwaukee’s championship run last season, and he’s entered this season as a more confident passer, free throw shooter and midrange shooter, among others.
Even though he’s still not at a point where teams fear him taking jump shots, there is one particular shot Antetokounmpo is going to more that’s basically impossible to defend.
You know what that means — to the film room!
NBA LEAGUE PASS: Sign up to unlock live out-of-market games (7-day free trial)
Breakdown: The Bucks have the ball with 53.9 seconds remaining in the game and only six seconds remaining on the shot clock.
The four Bucks on the court with Antetokounmpo are George Hill, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton and Bobby Portis. Hill is in charge of inbounding the ball and Antetokounmpo sets up shop in front of him in the post. Holiday, Middleton and Portis, meanwhile, camp out on the opposite side of the court.
Hill passes the ball to Antetokounmpo, and the possession is underway.
The Bucks don’t exactly give Antetokounmpo a whole lot of space to work with. Middleton quickly makes his way towards Antetokounmpo along the 3-point line, but Hill and Portis park themselves in the paint, and it takes a couple of seconds for Holiday to clear out to the opposite corner.
That allows Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke to have both feet in the paint. John Konchar and Ziaire Williams don’t seem to be all that worried about Antetokounmpo kicking the ball out to Middleton or Holiday either, as they both have their feet in the paint as well.
You think the Grizzlies want to keep Antetokounmpo away from the basket?
Jaren Jackson Jr. does a good job of bodying Antetokounmpo up when he tries to back him down, but Antetokounmpo is able to knock him back ever so slightly.
Notice where Jackson’s left foot is when they make contact:
And where it is after they make contact:
That’s important because it creates a slither of separation between Antetokounmpo and Jackson.
Jackson recovers well and uses his massive 7-foot-4 wingspan to contest Antetokounmpo’s turnaround, but it’s not enough to prevent him from putting the nail in the coffin.
Why it matters: There’s only one other time in Antetokounmpo’s career that he’s ever gone to his fadeaway jumper as much as he is so far this season.
According to NBA.com, Antetokounmpo has already knocked down a total of 24 fadeaway shots this season. It might not sound like a whole lot in the grand scheme of things, but that’s already the fourth-most he’s ever made in a single season. Not only that, but it’s almost as many as he made in each of the last two seasons (26 in 2020-21 and 34 in 2019-20) in 20 fewer games.
At the rate he’s going (24 in 41 games), Antetokounmpo should surpass his previous career-high (43 in 75 games) by the season’s end.
Need you be reminded, Antetokounmpo is one of the most dominant paint scorers the league has ever seen. So far this season, he’s averaging 15.3 points per game in the paint, tying him with Nikola Jokic for second-most in the league. (Only Ja Morant is ahead of them, an incredible feat in its own right.) Antetokounmpo finished behind Zion Williamson last season, but nobody averaged more paint points than him in 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20.
The last person to lead the league in paint scoring in three consecutive seasons? Shaquille O’Neal, who might be the most physically imposing player of all time.
Antetokounmpo is, of course, a freak of nature himself. He can overpower smaller players with his size, and he’s too quick and shifty for defenders his size to stay in front of him. The only hope most teams have at keeping him away from the basket is by building a wall, which requires a lot of coordination, help and, well, fearlessness, because Antetokounmpo is a 6-foot-11, 242-pound battering ram who will try to put anyone who dares stand in his way in the rim.
That fadeaway jumper is another way for Antetokounmpo to beat the wall he’s become so accustomed to seeing.
Check out this possession from Milwaukee’s matchup with Toronto a couple of weeks ago, which is another great example of how effective it can be:
Antetokounmpo takes one dribble towards the basket and Fred VanVleet, one of the league’s peskiest defenders, crowds him like a moth to a flame. So what does Antetokounmpo do? He spins in the opposite direction where there is no help defender in sight and calmly rises over OG Anunoby to sink a turnaround jumper.
Pretty smooth, huh?
Antetokounmpo isn’t making those at a particularly high clip (39.3 percent) this season — there are times where it feels like he settles — but it’s a shot he appears to be growing more comfortable with taking, which could pay off in the long run. He’s long been able to bulldoze his way to the basket and eurostep his way around defenders. Now, he’s expanding his repertoire and busting out counters on a more consistent basis.
More than anything, it’s a reminder that Antetokounmpo still has so much room to grow and that he continues to add to his game. That’s a terrifying thought considering how dominant he already is.
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.