Milwaukee Bucks

One Play: Giannis Antetokounmpo getting comfortable from midrange is a scary development

Welcome to "One Play!" Throughout the 2020-21 NBA season, our NBA.com Staff will break down certain possessions from certain games and peel back the curtains to reveal its bigger meaning.

Today, Milwaukee Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo takes the spotlight.

Context: Giannis Antetokounmpo had himself a game against the Brooklyn Nets.

In Milwaukee's 117-114 win over Brooklyn, the back-to-back MVP scored a season-high 49 points on 21-for-36 shooting from the field. He dominated the paint as always, but Antetokounmpo had his jump shot rolling, going 6-for-11 in the non-restricted area part of the paint, 3-for-7 from midrange and 4-for-8 from 3-point range.

The combination made for a shot chart you don't usually see from him.

Let's take a closer look at one of Antetokounmpo's makes from outside of the restricted area before getting into why it matters so much.

The play:

Breakdown: Antetokounmpo receives the ball from Khris Middleton with 13 seconds remaining on the shot clock.

Sharing the floor with Antetokounmpo and Middleton are Jrue Holiday, Donte DiVincenzo and Brook Lopez. Holiday is hanging out in the dunker spot on the weak side while DiVincenzo and Lopez space the floor for Antetokounmpo by parking themselves on the wing.

Fully aware of his strengths as a driver and limitations as a shooter, DeAndre Jordan backs way off of Antetokounmpo, hoping that he'll settle for a 3-pointer.

The problem? Antetokounmpo doesn't take the bait.

As Antetokounmpo approaches the free throw line, Jeff Green helps off of Lopez, who is one pass away from Antetokounmpo, to wall off the paint.

Antetokounmpo doesn't panic. He pauses for a second at the elbow, knowing Green can't stay in the paint for more than three seconds.

When Green recovers to Lopez, Antetokounmpo continues his attack.

Jordan does his job in preventing Antetokounmpo from getting all the way to the basket, but Antetokounmpo has a counter.

Weighing in at a solid 242 pounds, Antetokounmpo uses his upper body strength to knock Jordan back ever-so-slightly. (You can see Jordan bracing himself for the contact).

That creates just enough separation for Antetokounmpo to rise up for a baseline jumper, using his go-go gadget arms to shoot over Jordan.

Why it matters: Antetokounmpo has led the league in paint scoring in each of the last three seasons. Zion Williamson (20.3) has him beat this season, but he still ranks second with 16.7 points per game in the paint, which happens to be the third-highest mark of his career.

Knowing that he lives in the paint, teams tend to defend Antetokounmpo in one of two ways. One, wall off the paint like the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat did. Two, defend him with size and sag way off of him.

Where it gets interesting is that there might not be a team in the Eastern Conference right now that can replicate the scheme Toronto and Miami used to slow him down in each of the last two postseasons. The Philadelphia 76ers are perhaps best suited to with Ben Simmons, Matisse Thybulle, Danny Green and Joel Embiid, but a lineup built around those four would likely struggle to keep up with the Bucks on the other end of the court. (Simmons, Thybulle, Green and Embiid haven't logged a single minute together this entire season, for what it's worth).

The Heat are still looming, but Jae Crowder was a key piece of their success against Antetokounmpo last season. If Milwaukee and Miami do meet again in the playoffs, it'll be interesting to see if they can limit him again even without Crowder.

As for option No. 2, it leaves teams vulnerable to Antetokounmpo doing things like this...

...this...

...this...

...and this to them:

Now, that was one game in which Antetokounmpo had the hot hand, but he's shown signs of improvement as a shooter all season long. While his 3-point shot has remained more or less the same, he has made 44 shots from midrange and 64 from the non-restricted area part of the paint through 54 games. Why is that notable? It's almost as many as he made from midrange (45) and the non-restricted area part of the paint (68) in 63 games last season.

Antetokounmpo still hasn't been particularly efficient from either of those distances, ranking in the 23rd percentile for his position in shooting efficiency from floater range and midrange, but he appears to be more comfortable getting to his spots and weaponizing his jumper as opposed to going to it only when he has to.

It's something Antetokounmpo talked about after the game.

"As I said, I've been working on my jump shot my whole life and I know eventually one day it's all going to click," he said.

"I've said in previous interviews, basketball is like art. Every day, you have the opportunity to create the art and once you're done with that, you put it in your garage or wherever you want to put it and move on, away from that.

"Tonight, that picture that I created, that's who I want to be moving forward. It doesn't matter the points I score, 49 points, it does not matter. I don't care about that. What I care about is how I was getting to my spots, how I slowed down, how I was able to find my teammates, how I was able to miss one, miss a second one, miss a third one and still be able to come down and shoot another one.

"So, looking at this picture, this is who I want to be moving forward and this is who I believe I can be, but the game is over with."

The real test for Antetokounmpo and the Bucks will come in the playoffs, but performances like the one he had on Sunday should send a shiver down the proverbial spine of every team in the league.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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