What’s Wrong With Giannis?

Giannis Antetokounmpo has put together back-to-back regular seasons that most players could only dream of having. Over the past two seasons, he is averaging 28.5 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game. He has turned this production into two MVP Awards and a Defensive Player of the Year Award. Also, he has been named to the All NBA First Team in both seasons as well as All NBA First Team Defense in both years.

These past two years, in addition to the previous two seasons in which he won Most Improved Player and made two All-Star teams, made Giannis one of the most coveted players in the NBA. Speculation abounded in the offseason as to whether he would sign a supermax contract with Milwaukee or if he would test free agency in 2021.

Fast forward to four games into the 2020-2021 regular season. The Milwaukee Bucks are 2-2, but Giannis does not seem to be his usual self. Through four games, he is averaging 21.5 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. How great of a player is he when these are considered down stats! Regardless, Giannis is coming off his worst game of the season against the Miami Heat. In 24 minutes, Giannis had just nine points, six rebounds, and six assists. He was 3/9 from the field and 3/5 from the free-throw line.

In the four games the Bucks have played, Giannis does not appear to be very comfortable. This is to be expected to some extent due to the large roster turnover during the offseason. In the past, Giannis has been relied on to drive to the basket, draw fouls, and be the main force on offense. Now, the Bucks have a plethora of shooters that he can kick the ball out to. The problem is that he does not always seem to know what to do with that option. He has gone so long without reliable shooters that he almost instinctively does not trust them.

This problem will eventually work itself out. The Bucks, like all NBA teams, had very little time to practice during the offseason and only had three preseason games. If anything, the Bucks proved to everyone that they are a great shooting team, setting the NBA record for made three-pointers in a game against the Heat on Tuesday night. Eventually, Giannis and opposing defenses will pay more attention to the shooters. This, in turn, will open up opportunities for Giannis in the interior.

The main issue that continues to plague Giannis is his free throw shooting. After struggling at the line last season, Giannis reportedly spent the offseason working on his free throw shooting. Whatever work he put in mechanically has not produced results. Throughout games, Giannis is shooting just 58.5% from the line. If he continues that pace, it would be the worst percentage of the career.

Already this season, his struggles at the line cost the Bucks a chance to tie or win a game (Opening Night against Boston). This struggle appears to be more mental than mechanical, so the onus is on the coaching staff (and Giannis himself) to figure out what to do. With how often Giannis gets fouled, he can add seven-eight points per game to his average if he can make his free throws. This could very well determine the outcome of games, especially in the playoffs. It is still early, but it is concerning.

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