The Milwaukee Bucks are coming together at the right time

The improved offensive ability and malleable defense suggest that the Milwaukee Bucks’ best play is yet to come, and that the defensive champions can remain the best team in basketball.

The case of the Milwaukee Bucks as NBA championship contenders is not built on a historically dominant season or a massive rise in the rankings, but on the solid foundation of a team that knows exactly. who you are and have spent a bonding season the best version of itself.

Like Miami, the Bucks haven’t cleared up the same hot streaks that have propelled teams like Phoenix, Golden State and Boston into the championship conversation, as has Milwaukee’s statistical background – 45-27, third in the East, with the seventh best net rating in the NBA – hinting that these are some of the playoff warm-up games. However, the improved offensive ability and flexible defense provide reason to believe that the Bucks’ best play is still ahead of them, and after a season that changed the NBA landscape, the Defensive champions can still be the best team in basketball.

Even if they win the title in 2021, the Bucks’ offense is often more like a collection of disparate parts than a interconnected creature. Milwaukee could punish the defence with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s downhill attacks, Khris Middleton’s midfield co-ordination or Jrue Holiday’s stunner, but it has struggled to blend it all. all those threats into a balanced attack. This season, those parts have flowed more smoothly together, and the Bucks have been one of the league’s best offenses as a result. They ranked fourth in offensive ratings and, critically, fourth in halfcourt efficiency – an important indicator of how infractions a team can take in a more extreme playoff environment.

Milwaukee Bucks have never been better at attack

Although generating less points in the transition and take less pictures at the rim, Milwaukee’s offense still stems from the overwhelming pressure Antetokounmpo exerts, which has made the Bucks arguably the NBA’s deadliest 3-pointer team. The five players in Mike Budenholzer’s penalty shootout shot from distance at least 38%, and of the four teams with a better three-thirty percentage than Milwaukee, none had a higher percentage of long shots.

It is the product of Antetokounmpo’s personal greatness, but also an improvement in the movement and fluidity of the team. The Bucks are still not an elite passing team, but better movement and quicker decision-making have reduced some of the conflicts that once bogged down in their offense. Giannis, Middleton and Holiday were all very good at reading defenses and finding teammates, and Milwaukee’s players decisively threw the ball around the floor until an open shooter was found. Where the Bucks once tended to stop if an initial action didn’t work, they can now cycle from one sequence to the next in a system that is more movement-heavy and improvised:

That increased connection comes from Milwaukee’s stars getting more representation together, but also from the individual growth of each player. Somehow, Antetokounmpo has taken it a step further this season serving as the fulcrum for everything the Bucks do at both ends of the floor. Like he did in the NBA Finals last yearGiannis has played less as a starter this season and more as a finisher who can catch the ball well and move powerfully against dominant defenders.

In addition to being a dangerous finisher with a dribble, Antetokounmpo is also one of the NBA’s best dribblers, and the Bucks have used him more often in that capacity. He’s also leveled up as a passer, finding teammates with more creative and precise serves than ever before, while improving at fouls and adding new wrinkles to his scoring arsenal. mine:

That left the rest of the league with no real antidote to Giannis, who eventually conquered every defender, scheme or gimmick that threw his way in the knockout stages of the year. last. Miami didn’t have an answer for him last season, while this year’s Nets weren’t equipped from the distance to slow him down. In theory, Toronto and Cleveland have opportunities to throw at Giannis, but lack the firepower to outlast the Bucks in a series. Boston and Philadelphia have provided at least some resistance over the years, but this upgraded version of Giannis presents a different challenge altogether.

Holiday, meanwhile, is playing at an All-NBA level while sliding seamlessly between the different offensive roles he’s been asked to play. He is hitting 43% catch and shoot 3 seconds and 41 percent pull up, and his ability to downhill when dribbling was a key part of Milwaukee’s halfcourt attack. He’s still not an elite distributor, but Holiday puts enough pressure on his pass that the defense has to deal with both his scoring and his play.

Middleton has eased some of the pressure on the game with Holiday, although much of his interest lies in the undeniably goalscorer role. He’s not quite a Durant or DeRozan mid-range shooter, but he’s as good as any other wing in basketball when it comes to moving into his preferred position and sinking contention shots. , and Milwaukee has enough offensive weapons that it doesn’t have to rely on Middleton for other teams with mid-range assassins to do.

The Milwaukee Bucks won with almost any combination of stars

Perhaps the most encouraging data point for the Bucks going into the knockout stages is how well they have performed with varying combinations of their stars on the floor. With the exception of Middleton acting as a lone star, Milwaukee is ahead of its rivals by at least 4.5 points out of 100 in possession with one or more of their three catalysts on the floorand teams are completely destroyed when all three play together:


Those numbers won’t be all that different in the knockouts, where opponents ramp up and opponents play their best units for more minutes, but they do indicate that Budenholzer should be able to hold up. his stars without much of a slump when Antetokounmpo rested. Even if the other teams were able to start with the Bucks’ start, the few had the depth needed to keep pace for 48 minutes.

According to statistics, Milwaukee’s defense does not have the same force as previous seasons. Although allowing fewer third shots in the NBA within six feet of the belt, the Bucks are 13th in defensive rating and only 16th in goal percentage – a sharp drop from three seasons ago. Much of that was the result of Brook Lopez’s prolonged absence, which left the Bucks playing Antetokounmpo primarily in the center without a reliable backup for nearly an entire season. They’re still an elite perimeter guard with Giannis on the floor, but none of their other centers provide much support for the second unit.

One trade-off of that slippage, however, is that it has yielded a more diversified defensive approach. Losing Lopez in the paint created more space in the wing rotation, and the Bucks could go away with playing smaller formations for extended minutes as Antetokounmpo maintained their defensive integrity up front. after.

Lineup with Giannis in the center has allowed under 107 points out of 100 possession this season while hold off the opponent only 60% hit the rim, and the ability to cover the entire field while staying in place to protect the rim allows Milwaukee to execute almost any defense scheme. Choosing between conversion, abandonment, hedging or any other coverage is not a matter of personnel, but simply how Budenholzer chooses to deploy Antetokounmpo on a given property. It’s possible that each playoffs could require the Bucks to play a different style of defense, and they’re (in theory at least) prepared to do that kind of change of shape.

That said, Budenholzer has stubbornly stuck to his preferred methods in the past and the Bucks’ preference for keeping their big boys can still leave them facing pick centers. -and-pop – especially with Lopez on the floor. Bucks allow most 3 . pointers in the NBA (they’ve been on top for 5 years during Budenholzer’s 4 years in charge), and while that math tends to be solved over 82 games, it leaves them vulnerable to shot variance in a shorter playoff time.

There’s also the question of how Lopez fits into Milwaukee’s post-season plans; An encouraging first week back shows he can secure solid rims and a massive body to grapple with Joel Embiid in case Milwaukee faces the 76ers in a series. Even if he loses value at the end of the season, he will at least help Antetokounmpo lose his strength playing center full time. The Bucks also lack a real backstop to throw on the superstar wing, although their biggest threats in the East are without any scorers that could trouble them.

The outcome of this year’s knockout stages may depend more on the games than anything else, especially in the Eastern Conference. The right path can lead a team to the Finals, while an unfavorable match can lead to an elimination in the first round. There is no perfect team, no overwhelming favorite. In that case, the safest bet might be that the team most recently proved itself in the knockouts and shows no signs of weakness compared to the rest of the competition. The Milwaukee Bucks are coming together at the right time

John Verrall

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