Throughout his career, Giannis Antetokounmpo has had to work to improve many aspects of his game. But, for the most part, free throw shooting wasn't one of them. He entered the league shooting 68.3 percent in limited attempts as a rookie, and was above 70 percent the next five seasons -- not stellar numbers, but more than good enough for a big man.
Then, all of a sudden, he suffered a major drop-off last season, when he shot 63.3 percent. Based on the early returns from this season, it doesn't appear that was a blip. In the Milwaukee Bucks' win over the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night, Giannis went 1-of-10 from the line, which was not only the worst free throw night of his career, but one of the worst ever.
Only three other players in NBA history had ever shot less than 10 percent from the line in a game with a minimum of 10 attempts: Shaquille O'Neal, Andre Drummond and Al Horford. As a result, Giannis is now shooting a career-low 57.5 percent from the foul line this season, and he and the Bucks appear to have a major issue on their hands.
To his credit, Giannis isn't shying away from his struggles. He told reporters late on Friday night that he would put in the work to try and improve.
"It's simple," Giannis said. "Just go back. Shoot more. Focus on your technique. Take it step by step. Just shoot more. That's it. The more you shoot, the more you work on it, the better you get. There's no secret in that."
Giannis' free-throw shooting trending the wrong way
And true to his word, he was spotted out on the court after the game getting in some more reps. On that front, there should be no concern. Giannis has always been an incredibly hard worker, and the Bucks trust that he'll give his best effort to figure things out.
"He's just got to keep working through the free throw line," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Continue to put the time in, grow his confidence and step up and make them."
Whether or not he can actually start making them in games, however, is another matter. He tried a motivational tactic during the offseason where his girlfriend would come to his workouts and she would have to run if he missed free throws -- sometimes while carrying their son. But that hasn't seemed to solve anything, and neither did a short-lived form adjustment, which Bucks beat writer Eric Nehm detailed at The Athletic.
Giannis is an incredible player, and is once again putting up MVP-level numbers at 26.6 points, 10 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. But the past two years have shown us that he has to work a lot harder to have that same level of impact in the playoffs, and both he and the team have failed to maintain the dominance they show in the regular season.
If he's now a major liability at the free throw line, it's only going to be harder for the Bucks to breakthrough, and the Mavericks game was a perfect example. Up by 14 at one point, the Bucks needed some big shots by Khris Middleton down the stretch just to hang on for a three-point win. Obviously, Giannis' free throw shooting wasn't the only issue, but if he was making them things would have been a lot more comfortable.
The Bucks managed to escape this time, but you can't expect to keep getting positive results against good teams when your star is giving away that many points at the line.