A Free-Throw Expert’s Advice for Giannis: Just Shoot It
Philip Flory, a college basketball player from Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, is a huge Milwaukee Bucks fan. He backs them up in the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns, although Flory has found himself backing down whenever Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks forward and one of his favorite players, tries to do one of the rare things that make him look vulnerable: shooting free throws.
“It really bothers me,” Flory said.
All things considered, Flory knows this is a picky grievance. Two-time NBA MVP winner Antetokounmpo has been outstanding in the playoffs. On Wednesday, he showed the full range of his skills as the Bucks tied the best-of-seven finals series at two games apiece. He had 26 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists and preserved his team’s 109-103 victory with an absurd block late in the game over Deandre Ayton of the Suns.
But as the series returns to Phoenix for Game 5 on Saturday, Antetokounmpo returns to the scene of the crime – the petty crime he committed against free throws at the start of the series.
In the first two games, the two losses for Milwaukee, he combined to shoot 18 of 30 from the line as Phoenix fans heckled him, counting the seconds that went by – “Seven! Eight! Nine! ”- before he finally let go of every attempt. Free throws have been a lingering challenge for Antetokounmpo, who only made 56.8% in the playoffs.
“I feel like he needs to speed up a bit,” said Flory. “Take a dribble or just grab and shoot. Instead, he dribbles, dribbles, dribbles, and then the shot itself is slow too. It doesn’t look anything like his normal shot.
Flory, a 6-foot-5 forward, is uniquely equipped to assess free throws: he’s never missed one as a college player. Last season, he made his 41 attempts at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a Division III team that played a shortened nine-game schedule due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, Flory understands that the circumstances are slightly different for Antetokounmpo, the atmosphere more charged.
“You have people screaming, waving their hands – there’s a lot of distraction,” Flory said. “But he devotes so much time to it and has an incredible work ethic. There’s no reason he couldn’t be a more consistent free throw shooter.
Antetokounmpo, of course, isn’t the only hard-working NBA star. Shaquille O’Neal was a famous free throw shooter. And just a few weeks ago, Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers managed to turn his playoff free kicks into carnival rides, losing just 34.2% before the 76ers were knocked out in the semifinals. of the Eastern Conference. (Simmons is now the subject of commercial speculation.)
What’s odd is that Antetokounmpo is a career 71.7% free throw shooter, which is enough that he’s not a handicap. But his percentage generally dipped in the playoffs. Last week, he admitted he was aware of the hustle and bustle in the crowds in Phoenix and said he needed to “kiss her and have fun with it.”
Antetokounmpo had more fun at home in Milwaukee, where the crowd sang “MVP” chants to him and he made 13 of 17 free throws in Game 3.
“And that’s one of the reasons they won,” said Don Kelbick, basketball instructor and former college coach based in Melbourne, Florida.
Kelbick was careful not to overanalyze Antetokounmpo’s issues as he had no direct knowledge of the Bucks star’s thought process. But when good players have such obvious problems, Kelbick said, the problem is “not so much technical as it is mental”. Antetokounmpo shot 4 of 8 from the line in Game 4, although the Bucks still won.
“You have to be confident enough that you know how to do it – and just let it go,” Kelbick said. “I feel like he’s trying to put the ball in the basket, which never works.”
The key to success, said Flory, is repetition. He trains early so he can take dozens of form-centric photos about three to five feet from the hoop. “Pleasant and close,” he said. He is aware of the feel of the ball at his fingertips and pays attention to its tracking, ensuring that the ball does not drift left or right. He tries to swish every shot.
Eventually he returns to the free throw line for about 50 attempts. And after training, he takes 50 to 100 more.
His routine is the same each time: one deep breath, two dribbles, then the shot. The entire sequence takes about three seconds, he said. He doesn’t want to be on the line forever.
“If you spend too much time on it, you think about it too much,” he said.
In fact, Flory avoids getting on the line during matches before he needs to. Instead, he said, he winds towards the 3-point arc to “socialize” with his teammates and chat with them about defensive missions or their next possession – all not to think. on the free throw itself.
“And when the referee signals me, like ‘Let’s go’ then I go to the line,” he said.
Antetokounmpo, on the other hand, has been online for so long that he should be paying rent. Even before receiving the ball from the referee, he repeats his form. It would be wise to eliminate the clutter, said Flory.
Flory’s process was very effective. His perfect strip record includes his freshman season as a preferred substitute at Seton Hall (6 of 6) and a second season marked by stock market injuries at Albany (2 of 2).
During a college career hampered by a series of chronic injuries, Flory underwent three surgeries on her left foot and one on her right. Finally in good health, he signed up for Wisconsin-Stevens Point and played well last season, averaging nearly 21 points and 6 rebounds per game. Towards the end of the season, opponents became aware of his free-throw streak.
“I started to get heckled,” he said.
He blocked out the noise, he said, leaning into his routine and keeping the process simple. Easy, right? Not for everyone, not even the best.
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