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Roundtable: Early Success for the Milwaukee Bucks

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The Milwaukee Bucks are 4-0, and fans are loving it.

NBA: New York Knicks at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t feed the pugs from the table, thanks. Today, we gather to celebrate the 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks’ ascension to the best team in the history of sport...after only four games. We’re not jumping the gun, you’re jumping the gun!

On a scale of 1 to “Giannis Mean Mug,” how hyped are you right now?

Kyle: Hype Train is going well, tracks are in good condition. The best part is seeing how many people are generally positive, something that was a far cry from the previous few years.

Mitchell: I put myself at a Malcolm Brogdon shrug, which is jarringly low on the scale. I love the way the team is playing, and I especially appreciate the way Mike Budenholzer has overhauled the team’s approach to offense. But I’m waiting to get too excited until after I’ve seen a) more than a handful of games, and b) games against higher-caliber teams.

Adam: I have some lingering questions about how this system will whir against the league’s elite defensive units, but early returns are quite encouraging. Enjoying, rather than lamenting, offensive possessions has been a delightful change.

Riley: It isn’t often we’ve gotten to celebrate a perfect four game start to the season (haven’t been able to since 2001, in fact) so my hype has risen a smidge. Like many, I picked the Bucks to compete for the East’s four or three seed and the team appears right on track. That they’re burying opponents under threes is a cherry on top.

Sylvan: I’m spouting superlatives and dreaming of win streak records, which probably means Orlando is a trap. This team is playing a modern game, and it’s beautiful. The scary thought is that these guys are shaking off the rust and learning to play together in a brand new system, when the machine gets rolling it feels like it may be a juggernaut.

Andrew: I can’t remember the last time I was this amped about a Milwaukee Bucks squad. This team feels like one the Bucks have never really had before, where they’re sharing the rock and launching threes at will. At this point, I don’t see why the Bucks can’t go 82-0 :D

What’s your favorite takeaway from these first few games?

Kyle: The team is rebounding!!! Too many times, the Bucks would force a miss only for the opposing team to get a cheap rebound and an easy putback. Espicially against the Knicks which is how Enes Kanter hurt them last year, this has been a nice change of pace. Milwaukee is currently 9th in REB% after being near the bottom the past few years, and that makes the defensive play look better. Also shoutout to Eric Bledsoe, who has looked so much better this season.

Adam: Khris Middleton doesn’t care that you’re in his face, he’s launching that pull-up 3-pointer. His renewed vigor from behind the arc is beautiful to watch, the type of transformation Bucks fans have been yearning for the past several years. Those are the types of shots that keep a crowd entranced and the team engaged.

Mitchell: Eric Bledsoe looks like he’s playing under control and with discipline, which is easily one of the keys to his future success in the NBA and one of the aspects of this season I was least sure about. Bledsoe’s an instinctive player, and seeing him make smart plays, take quality shots, and move the ball well while still capitalizing on open lanes is encouraging.

Riley: Donte DiVincenzo, in defiance of all my ragging on his nickname, appears worthy of the 20-ish minutes he’s gotten nightly. His game is rough around the edges in some aspects, but he has no fear taking the three ball, shows solid ball control and ability to playmake in difficult circumstances, and runs through screens on the reg. I’d love nothing more than to be proven a #hater and see DDV improve on his (very) early returns.

Sylvan: It hasn’t been raining threes in Milwaukee, it has been a veritable typhoon. It has been an adjustment seeing guys like John Henson get the green light from downtown, but you can’t argue with results. Some nights we will go cold, but Bud seems content to shoot through winter.

Andrew: No more midrange, thank heavens. Last season the Bucks were so reliant upon midrange jumpers, and were actually discouraged from shooting three-pointers. Lol @ Jason Kidd. I love how the Bucks offense has really zeroed in on points in the paint and threes only, no more midrange shots. Don’t think the Bucks have attempted more than 5 midrange shots in a game this season. It’s beautiful.

Per bball-ref, the Bucks have a 113.8 ORtg. Is this offense sustainable?

Kyle: Have you seen Milwaukee’s shot chart? Gone are the midrange attempts, and say hello to threes and points in the paint. While teams will make proper adjustments, I don’t see why Milwaukee wouldn’t sustain their offense...and this is with them going cold in a few third quarters!

Mitchell: I’m bullish on Milwaukee’s offense, and I can see them shooting their way into the top-5 of the league by the end of the year. Scoring is up overall in the NBA, but the Bucks are standing at the forefront for three pointers taken and made. That bodes well.

Adam: Their much-improved shot distribution is bearing out the thought there was significant low-hanging fruit for this team to capitalize upon. I doubt they’ll keep riding a wave of this height, but a top-ten finish seems almost assured, even when they hit an inevitable shooting swoon from deep.

Riley: The bad habits of old aren’t dead just yet. Slow second halves have kept games tight, isolation basketball occasionally creeps back into view, and an offense dependent on threes is bound to be streaky. Bud’s scheme is relatively simple (pass, pass, pass, drive-and-kick, dive on P&R), so the question of a 115+ ORtg will be answered when opponents start forcing Milwaukee to try something new.

Sylvan: The swift consensus is that Jason Kidd’s offense was awful, or at least an awful use of resources, yet the Bucks last year posted a 109.8 ORtg, good enough thanks to talent to be 9th in the league. Given the circumstances, a 114 ORtg isn’t just sustainable, it’s surpassable.

Andrew: Absolutely it is sustainable, in fact, I don’t see why it can’t get better. Like Sylvan said, the Bucks mainly were “successful” offensively last season because they relied on pretty much giving the ball to Giannis and having him make a play. Now, with Milwaukee’s offense so spread out and getting balanced scoring from up and down the roster, they can attack opponents from all sides of the floor.

Also per bball-ref, the Bucks check in at a 103.3 DRtg. How real is that?

Kyle: I need to look into this more, the Bucks are forcing more midrange shots from their opponent, but they haven’t played teams that are eager to bomb away a lot of threes. It did take a hot Kemba Walker (with some help from Malik Monk) and Trey Burke to give Milwaukee issues but i think we still need more time to fully know how real this is.

Mitchell: This is the crux of my concern about the team, which might be unfounded but it exists anyway. The Bucks are freely allowing opposing guards to take mid-range pull-up shots, which have the lowest expected value of any standard basketball shot. But how long is it until teams wise up and start attacking the center sunk all the way into the lane? When will other squads see what Kemba Walker did and encourage their guards to hunt for threes off the pick and roll? Maybe I’m being paranoid, but there’s nothing that’s unbeatable in basketball...it’s just a matter of finding it.

Adam: What Mitchell said. I knew the offense would bump up this year, but the defense is what could take this team to an upper echelon team. I’m not sure they’re there yet. We haven’t seen any trace of the switchiness that seemed to unlock their potential last year. Bud’s scheme is theoretically pristine from a shot selection standpoint, but how long until opponents shift the actions higher up in the halfcourt and those midrange pull-ups turn into 3-point pull-ups. This one needs far more time to marinate.

Riley: Well, the Bucks have gotten to their impressive rating by holding back the 11th, 18th, and 15th ranked defenses, so I can’t really say whether it’s here to stay or a blip. As Mitchell noted, it is hilarious just how deep our Cs drop in P&R coverage so that’s an area of concern, and we’ve also seen a number of possessions where the Bucks tried trapping ball-handlers only to be sent scrambling from shot-taker to shot-taker like dark days of old. Let’s check in a few weeks from now on this.

Sylvan: The Bucks plan is to outscore their opponents first, while the defense seems to be focused on winning the long grind of efficiency. Bud’s okay with giving players open looks in the midrange, and the hot hand will burn us some nights. My greatest concern is the teams with the talent and modern approach to match us.

Andrew: I don’t mind them leaving opponents open in the midrange, but like Mitch said, it’s only a matter of time before opponents start attacking Milwaukee’s sinking defensive strategy. I’m not overly concerned with the defense, but it’s a little too early to tell. Let’s see what happens when they start playing better caliber teams.

What’s the deal with Giannis Antetokounmpo? Incredible stat line, but he’s been...merely okay?

Kyle: Giannis hasn’t gotten as many calls as he should, which would get him to the line. I think he will slow down and stop “running people over” when he is more comfortable with the system and everyone adjusts to the freedom of movement rules.

Adam: How many times have we asked this same question after a game? Feels like we’ve done it a lot for several years now. I wonder what it will take for Giannis to reach his “Lebron in Miami” levels of efficiency, if he ever does?

Mitchell: Teams are targeting Giannis with their defensive game plans, making sure he pays for what he gets in the form of contact (called fouls and otherwise), but the biggest obstacle has been Giannis. He’s still prone to hunting for things that might not be there, and that will settle in due time under Bud.

Riley: He’s our alpha and our omega, but he doesn’t need to be; whether he knows that’s now the case is an open question. Even when he’s trying to do too much he’s posting career numbers, so my concerns are as close to nil as they can get. If he retains a willingness to shoot the open three and cleans up unnecessary fouls he’ll be more than fine.

Sylvan: I think we’re a bit jaded by expectations when career highs in points and rebounds aren’t good enough. Giannis is putting up MVP numbers while winning on the sixth-highest USG% in NBA history, but we want more. We want those threes to drop now, we want the offense to keep flowing with the ball in his hands. We want him to be the avatar of buddy ball when he is a human being trying to learn a new system. Patience.

Andrew: Crazy that Giannis has gotten off to “slow” start but is still averaging a ridiculous stat line. NBA refs have definitely been calling Antetokounmpo differently than last year, and he isn’t getting to the foul line as much. My big issue with this is that Giannis gets no calls when he’s clearly being whacked. However, we saw Trey Burke and Malik Monk get star calls in previous games. Weird. I definitely expect his shooting percentage to rise, especially with us USG% the highest in his career.

Here’s the next four games, before the first West Coast road trip: @ Minnesota, vs. Orlando, vs. Toronto, @ Boston. How do the Bucks fare?

Adam: 2-2. We’ve always had trouble against the Raptors and I see Milwaukee tripping up somewhere else along this road.

Kyle: 3-1. Boston hasn’t looked great, and just lost to Orlando, and we all know how things are going in Minnesota. Toronto has looked good and will easily be the toughest matchup for the Bucks.

Mitchell: 1-3. This four game stretch is a major litmus test of how serious the 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks should be taken. It’s fair to say that they’ve taken themselves seriously, which is how they were able to take back control of both the Hornets and Knicks games. But is struggling to maintain a lead a future trend, or more of an exception? Until further notice, I think it might be the former: I’m picking a stumble against both the Timberwolves and Magic, an upset of the Raptors, followed by a heartbreaking loss to the Celtics.

I cannot wait to be proven wrong.

Riley: 4-0. Psh, the rest of the East is some of that old news. Boston? They have the worst offense in the league. Toronto? I’m supposed to fear this guy? And I won’t waste my breath on teams from the dystopian swamplands of Florida or with a “star” player who goes ‘meow’.

Andrew: I’m going to be cautiously optomistic and say the Milwaukee Bucks will go 3-1 in that stretch. Love the fact that they’ll be facing Toronto in the Fiserv forum, but I do think Brad Stevens and the Celtics will get the better of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics are a different beast at home, and we saw that last year in the postseason.