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Roundtable: Milwaukee’s Early Dominance of the Eastern Conference

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Chicago Bulls Kamil Krzaczynski-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 briefly check up on the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks (winners of fifteen straight!) and quickly revisit our Season Predictions and Over/Unders from the preseason.

Be honest: are the Bucks better than last year, or has their record just been kind?

Kyle: No, but that has more to do with the change in approach with the team. As much as I despise talk about him, Malcolm Brogdon is more talented than Wesley Matthews or Kyle Korver. But this team seems to be a better fit for Giannis than last year. Adding more shooters to surround him is paying dividends while having a better backup center is helpful when Brook Lopez is out.

Mitchell: By all indications, the Bucks are about as good as last season and their schedule has boosted their early season win totals. They continue to bludgeon opponents in the paint while walling off the rim from them, and the “Giannis + Shooters” equation continues to fuel a top-tier offense.

I don’t think it matters, but there are people in the world who will point out the Bucks’ record as a larger part of the reason for their success. Yes, the Bucks are in the East, but even looking past that, here’s a list of some of the league’s best players the Bucks haven’t faced off against: Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Steven Adams, Victor Oladipo, Damian Lillard, Blake Griffin, Rudy Gobert, and Nikola Vucevic. That’s...something, isn’t it?

Riley: Yes, but almost exclusively because Giannis Antetokounmpo is even better than he was a year ago. Milwaukee’s been able to weather some truly mediocre outings from everyone outside Giannis and maybe one to two other players and still rack up wins. It’s not even just the sheer output, impressive as that may be; he’s minimized detrimental decisions while become more efficient. Where he goes, the Bucks go, and right now he’s going to the proverbial mountaintop.

Andrew: I believe the Bucks are significantly better now that they were at this point last season. They are playing cohesive basketball and are operating more efficiently on both ends of the floor. Adding guys like Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews have been a huge boosts as well. Wes has been a stalwart defensively. I will also eat crow on Robin Lopez. I was not a fan of the signing when it occurred, but I have been proved wrong. Like Mitchell said, the Bucks have done a better job at taking care of the basketball and minimizing big plays from their opposition.

Excluding Giannis, Jon Horst, and Mike Budenholzer, who has been most important in turning the Bucks into the powerhouse they are today?

Kyle: The LED ownership group. They trusted Horst to build the roster that’s there now and were involved with getting Budenholzer to Milwaukee. They also raised the standards and aspirations of the team. Gone was the “8th seed or bust” mantra, and now it was time start building for a championship. #TrustTheResults

Riley: Brook Lopez. The outside shooting hasn’t been nearly as crisp this season, but his mere presence and track record keeps the offense from gumming up. Defensively, it’s his natural reading of an opponent’s ideas that give Milwaukee so much flexibility without compromising defense at the rim. Everyone else can be replaced more or less; a seven-footer who does what Lopez does on both ends is tough to replicate.

Mitchell: Riley has it right, it’s Brook Lopez. Giannis gets a ton of the credit, and Eric Bledsoe has rightfully earned accolades, but the defense works because Brook makes it work. The zone drop works because he makes it work, and the team wins as a result.

Andrew: Everyone has played a hand in the Bucks success this season. This goes from how the franchise is ran from top to bottom. It is crazy to see how fast the Bucks have turned into a world-class organization.

We all know Giannis Antetokounmpo is the MVP. Who, in your opinion, is the runner-up?

Mitchell: This is a legitimately tough question. LeBron James has been great. James Harden has been great. I don’t know if he’ll hold up this type of production, but Luka Doncic has been great. Ditto for Anthony Davis and...wait, Karl-Anthony Towns? Yes, even him! I guess I’d go with Harden, but they’re all worthy candidates.

Kyle: I would go with Luka. LeBron has been fantastic, but he also has Anthony Davis which feels unfair. This Mavs team has stood out and Luka has taken them to another level that I wouldn’t have expected. James Harden will high usage his way into the conversation but I don’t believe he should be in the conversation.

Riley: Sigh. James Harden? The Russell Westbrook experiment hasn’t gone well, the Rockets are really scraping the bottom of the NBA talent barrel past four guys, and they’re fourth in a good West. I hate watching it, you hate watching it, but he puts up so many numbers that it’s tough to deny.

Andrew: He won’t finish in the top-5 for MVP voting, but Jimmy Butler deserves a lot of credit for what he has done in his first season with the Miami Heat. He’s averaging 20.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 6.8 assists, and 2.2 steals per game this season. His contributions on both ends of the floor have the Miami Heat looking like serious contenders in the Eastern Conference. He’s the perfect fit in Miami.

Which Buck has been most impressive (relative to expectations) so far this season?

Kyle: Donte DiVincenzo. We were wondering if he was even going to be healthy going into this year. Not only has he been healthy but he has contributed in a positive manner especially on the defensive end. How he played during Khris Middleton’s absence was a good preview of a successful 6th man.

Riley: George Hill. I anticipated his dropping off from the highs of last year’s playoffs, but he’s been supremely steady so far this year. Competent on both ends with the ability to shift fortunes when he wants on offense has made the system run smoothly regardless of who is on the floor.

Mitchell: The clear answer is Donte. He has demonstrated an impact nearly every time he takes the floor, particularly on defense. He’s blowing up passing lanes and getting deflections, diving after loose balls, and even if he blows easy layups it’s still exciting seeing him run the break after defusing an opponent’s possession.

Andrew: Donte for me as well. He was plagued with the injury bug last season so I definitely did not expect him to have this big of an impact right away. It took a few games for him to get acclimated with the starting unit, but he has gelled nicely. The kid rarely takes plays off and has already made a handful of winning hustle-plays this season. He can use a little work on that layup package, though.

After seeing this level of dominance, if the Bucks can make a trade in-season...should they?

Kyle: Sure, why not? But what are you trading and getting in return? If you have a chance to ship the Indy pick, Ersan Ilyasova and Pat Connaughton or Korver for a high level guard/wing like Bogdan Bogdanovic, then sure. I wouldn’t want to part with Sterling, DJ, or Donte.

Andrew: Not sure there is any reason to make a move while playing this hot. Ride the wave.

Riley: Not sure it should be a trade, but they should be more than open to cutting someone if a valuable buy-out guy becomes available. I’d rather offload that Pacers first sooner rather than later to maximize what you can get for it, but I’m not selling low at this point either. You’ve got enough talent on-hand it seems to handle most challenges down the road.

Mitchell: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Bucks should only make a trade if there’s a clear upgrade available that doesn't cost more than a handful of bench pieces and some of those Indiana draft picks. I’m talking a player that can be had for a package containing D.J. Wilson, Sterling Brown, and an Indy pick, and that’s about it. Bud will be using an 8 or 9-man rotation in May, so anybody that can be acquired had better be a part of that rotation.

As of today, what would you think the playoff rotation should be?

Mitchell: The starters don’t change. The bench includes some combination of George Hill and Donte DiVincenzo at guard, Sterling Brown and Pat Connaughton at the wing, and Ersan Ilyasova and Robin Lopez at the big spots. Again, if it ain’t broke...

Kyle: Starters are Eric Bledsoe, Wes, Middleton, Giannis, and Brook. Bench guys are Robin Lopez, George Hill, Sterling and one of Ersan/Donte/Wilson, depending on matchup.

Riley: Eric, Donte, Wes, Giannis, Brook. Khris as sixth-man extraordinaire and early off the bench guy. Then George, Sterling, Ersan, Robin, Pat? I’m very open-minded as of this moment.

Andrew: I would imagine the Bucks rolling with a Bledsoe, Matthews, Middleton, Giannis, and Lopez starting unit. I trust Bud and his rotations.

This is what we think; what do you think? Let us know your answers in the comments, and ask questions of your own! This Roundtable is big enough for all of us!