As we all find ourselves appraising the remaining schedules of the Sixers and Bucks, looking for possible wins in both, we should probably start thinking about how the Bucks might approach the final weeks of their schedule. As Steve pointed out in his most recent lottery update, those few "winnable" games left for Milwaukee look a bit more dicey considering the tanking aspirations on the other side. So while the Lakers, for example, haven't been bashful in winning their last two games by a combined 40 points, don't think they've overlooked the fact they're a game and a half behind Utah for the 4th-best lottery odds. In short, a loss in Milwaukee tomorrow night probably wouldn't bother them too much.
If the Bucks are serious about taking down Philly in this oh-so-abstract-and-confusing sense, it may take more than passive tanking. It could require concerted effort by the Bucks to decrease their chances of winning individual games, even if those efforts run counter to the team's consistent dedication to, well, trying. The other problem is that for most of the season, the Bucks' best players have been the young guys nobody wants to see benched. That creates a conflict of interest between the short-and-long term, which is nothing new, but hasn't typically manifested itself like this. As an exercise in brainstorming, here are some options for the Bucks to consider, rated 1-10 on how much they help the current tank job. We'll call this rating Tank Factor, where a 10 means it will significantly damage the Bucks' performance, thereby helping them out-tank the Sixers.
Idea #1: Shut down Ersan Ilyasova for the rest of the season
Tank Factor: 5
Ilyasova has been dealing with lingering ankle and foot injuries for weeks now, hurting his play and keeping him out of random games. It's hard to say, in his current state, that he's really helping the Bucks win, but he's also capable of random 31-point outbursts that can easily win you a game versus a disinterested opponent. The rationale for shutting him down is easy to manufacture (harder to sell), but doing so would put a decidedly disappointing period on an already unfortunate season. That could make it even harder to trade him this summer, if the Bucks decide to pursue such a course. Conversely, if he strings together a few good shooting games and hits the glass, suddenly he's reminding people of why the Bucks gave him a big contract in the first place--while also tipping the scale toward a win or two. Calculated risk on both sides, but the payoff seems bigger for the "shut him down" route.
Idea #2: Start a D-League guard and give him regular minutes
Tank Factor: 9
Ramon Sessions is too good to play big minutes for the Bucks. This is perhaps the strangest sentence I have ever written for this site, but there's some truth there. Since acquiring him at the trade deadline, the Bucks' efficiency differential has been 3.6 points better with Sessions on the court than off. His success is completely related to his offense (by the same measures he's been a disaster on defense, but so has everybody), so the Bucks need to bring in somebody completely lacking in the skills that have made Sessions so effective: passing, getting fouled, and not turning it over. A D-League player would, given the chance, try to do all of those things and probably fail miserably, thereby hurting the Bucks chances at winning quite a bit. Of course, such a player isn't likely to ever have much value to the Bucks in the future beyond a deep bench player, so it's purely a short term play. But man, it would be funny to watch. Horrifying, perhaps, but funny.
Idea #3: Play Giannis as much as possible and ask him to do everything
Tank Factor: 7
At this point we have to admit that Giannis Antetokounmpo is not a consistently positive contributor on the basketball court. He's still super exciting to watch and has loads of potential, but there are just too many missed shots and missed rotations to say that he's helping Milwaukee win. He's just not ready to be the player the Bucks sometimes ask him to be. Taken all together, giving him tons of minutes seems like the most obviously tanktastic move available. But then there are those times where Giannis just goes crazy, and they always seem to happen when the opponent loses interest or starts floundering themselves. Keep in mind that those are exactly the types of opponents the Bucks need to be careful of in this tank-off. If he gets the opportunity, Giannis might just go out and dominate some lottery-bound team for the 8-12 minutes it takes to turn defeat into victory. There's also the question I raised (to near universal denouncement, I might add) the other day, which is whether a bunch of extra minutes would really do anything to help Giannis in his development. I'm all for asking Giannis to try a bunch of stuff when he plays, I just want the Bucks to approach it responsibly. And if he starts dunking on guys, make up some excuse about him being tired or something.
Got any other ideas for the Bucks to consider as they try to keep the 76ers at bay? Do you think the Bucks will change their game-to-game approach in an effort to decrease their chances of winning? Vote in the poll and leave your ideas in the comments!