SAN FRANCISCO -- It's been uttered in one form or another by pretty much every analyst, pundit and talking head with even the most peripheral connection to the NBA: If Giannis Antetokounmpo can start consistently making 3-pointers, he's essentially going to be an unstoppable offensive player.

Everyone's definition of "consistent" varies, but Antetokounmpo entered Wednesday night's 107-98 win over the Golden State Warriors shooting nearly 33 percent on 5.2 3-point attempts per game. He's already made multiple 3s in 17 games this season after doing it just 13 times all of last year, when he shot just 25.6 percent from deep. He's also doubled his attempts this season as defenses continue to drop back in coverage to prevent his lethal attack to the paint, where he's one of the most dominant players in the history of the NBA.

Season3PA3P%

2013-14

1.5

.347

2014-15

0.5

.159

2015-16

1.4

.257

2016-17

2.3

.272

2017-18

1.9

.307

2018-19

2.8

.256

2019-20

5.2

.326

"If we are going to run out there on those [3-pointers] and let him get to the rim, that is a 100 percent shot," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Giannis, who went 1 for 7 from deep against the Warriors. "So we will live with the 33 percent for now and see where that goes."

The data proves that Kerr is not alone in this philosophy, as Antetokounmpo shoots 4.3 "wide open" 3s per game (closest defender six or more feet away), according to NBA.com. That's the third-most of any player in the league. In fact, some of his attempts feature a comically oversized chasm between him and the closest opponent.

With newfound confidence and willingness to pull from deep, Giannis now encounters a unique dilemma: When is the right time to let it fly if you're always open? More often than not he's bringing the ball up the court, and he's consistently met with a cushion of about three-to-four feet, with a wall of defenders waiting to meet him at the free-throw line. If he wants to shoot, he can -- pretty much any time he wants. 

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said he hasn't really talked to his MVP about when and where to shoot 3s, and instead leaves that in Antetokounmpo's capable -- and very large -- hands.

"He has a good feel for the game and a good feel for what we need, and so we want him to be really confident and really aggressive shooting," Budenholzer said. "He has lots of opportunities, but he also knows it's important that he attacks the basket, gets to the paint. So he figures it out mostly on his own."

It's like a rec league game where one team only has four players show up and has to play 4-on-5 all game. It's great for the team with five players, since someone is always open. But that's also the problem. Someone is always open, so you can shy away from pulling the trigger in search of a better shot. Giannis isn't playing 5-on-4, but he's experienced similar struggles in trying to decide when to take his wide-open looks.

"It's kind of hard because they're playing back all the time," Antetokounmpo said. "You can have the mindset to shoot it every time, or you can have the mindset to pick and choose. But what I think is, I've got to get downhill and try to make plays, and once I feel comfortable enough and feel like I want to take one, I'll shoot one. You know, the defense cannot dictate what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna dictate what I'm gonna do. When I want to shoot, I'm gonna shoot. When I want to pass, I'll pass. Obviously when they're playing back, it's way easier to do that."

Giannis' 3-point shooting is a big reason why he's been able to take his game to an even higher level following a breakout campaign that saw him hoist the MVP trophy last year. Mastering the nuances of when to shoot can make him even better, but the truly terrifying thought for opponents is if he continues to improve his stroke until he becomes a confident, knock-down 3-point shooter.

On a Christmas Day, the 76ers dared Antetokounmpo to fire from 3-point range, and he went 0 for 7 in a bad loss for the Bucks. His poor shooting, coupled with the Sixers' stellar interior defense led by Joel Embiid, highlighted the strategy that some feel will prevent the Bucks from continuing their regular-season dominance come playoff time. However, if Giannis continues to improve his shot to the point that you have to earnestly contest it, that strategy goes out the window.

"It just makes everybody harder to guard," Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton said of how Giannis making 3-pointers changes the offense. "He's such a threat at the rim and such a great playmaker and passer. You put him on top of the key or on the wing and he starts shooting those 3s, you have to come up a little bit more on him. And now there's just more room."  

We've seen this kind of trajectory with great players before. Three-point shooting was once considered the Achilles heel to LeBron James' nearly flawless offensive game. He shot 33 percent from the 3-point line in his first eight seasons, but improved to 36 percent over his last nine. More recently, Blake Griffin has proven that a player who comes into the league as a complete non-shooter can eventually become a consistent threat from deep -- he shot 30 percent on minimal attempts in his first seven NBA seasons before improving to 34.5 percent in 2016-17 and 36 percent last season on a voluminous seven 3-point attempts per game.

But still, there's a difference between being a solid 3-point shooter percentage-wise and a deadly deep threat, particularly in the postseason. Kerr, one of the best shooters of his era who has also coached two legendary marksmen in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, believes there's a ceiling for players who don't come into the league as natural shooters.

"I think if you're saying 'great' shooters, I think you're more born with it and then you can refine it," Kerr said. "I think guys can turn themselves from non-shooters into respectable shooters. I think it's really hard to take somebody who's never been a good shooter and turn them into a great shooter. I think there's a natural touch, a natural feel that has to be there already."

Giannis will likely never reach Curry or Thompson levels of 3-point marksmanship, but if he can continue his progress and settle around that 36 percent mark that James and Griffin achieved, it will force defenders to pay much more attention to him behind the arc. If and when that happens, it will open up previously clogged lanes for scoring and playmaking, and could be what eventually takes the Bucks from a regular-season juggernaut to NBA champions.