The NBA is back, sort of! We’re still about a month away from it becoming a reality, but the league has put together a plan to try and restart the season (suspended on March 11, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic) and move on to the playoffs. There’s a schedule and everything! It might even happen, if nobody gets sick!
Bucks Schedule:— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) June 26, 2020
Fri., July 31 - Boston - 5:30 PM
Sun., Aug. 2 - Houston - 7:30 PM
Tues., Aug. 4 - Brooklyn - 12:30 PM
Thurs., Aug. 6 - Miami - 3:00 PM
Sat., Aug. 8 - Dallas - 7:30 PM
Mon., Aug. 10 - Toronto - 5:30 PM
Tues., Aug. 11 - Wash. - 8:00 PM
Thurs, Aug. 13 - Memphis - TBD
If you’re already on the bandwagon, it’ll be good to see you again. But if you’re new to this party, or you’re just trying to get better acquainted with the Milwaukee Bucks, here’s a list of the eleven things that you should know. If I missed anything, be sure to let me know in the comments.
1. The Bucks are the best team in the NBA.
It’s true, and by any reputable measurement. At 53-12, they’re the only team with a winning percentage above 80% (0.815). In the East, they’re 6.5 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Raptors, and they’ve accumulated four more wins than the West-leading Los Angeles Lakers.
But the Bucks don’t just win, they dominate. Consider this:
- Their average margin of victory is 11.3 points. The difference between Milwaukee and the next-best team (3.9 MOV points ahead of the Lakers) is larger than the difference between second place and seventh place (the Houston Rockets, at 3.8).
- Their net rating is +10.7. Again, the difference between Milwaukee and the next-best team (3.3 NRtg points ahead of the Lakers) is larger than the difference between second place and sixth place (the Boston Celtics, at +6.1).
- Their ‘simple rating system’ score is 10.4. You guessed it, the difference between Milwaukee and the next-best team (2.8 SRS points ahead of the Lakers) is larger than the difference between second place and sixth place (the Boston Celtics, at 5.7).
- Their defensive rating is 101.9. Who would’ve known, the difference between Milwaukee and the next-best team (3.3 DRtg points ahead of the Raptors) is larger than the difference between second place and seventh place (the Indiana Pacers, at 108.3).
They also boast the league’s fastest pace (105.0), the best effective field goal percentage (0.553) on offense, the best effective field goal percentage allowed (0.486) on defense, the best defensive rebound rate (81.7%), the third-highest true shooting percentage (0.583), have the fourth-highest three-point attempt rate (0.423), and are tied for seventh in Offensive Rating (112.6).
2. Milwaukee, historically, has been a basketball afterthought.
If all those numbers bored you to tears, just know that this is legitimately the first time in decades that the Bucks could brag about their elite status. Sure, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar delivered the franchise’s lone trophy in 1971, and the 1980s were an impressive era, and the 2000-2001 team is an underrated “what if?” in league history. Those are mere blips on the radar for Milwaukee; it’s been a long time since they’ve mattered. And this is when everything changed:
"I will give 100% for the team."— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) June 28, 2020
Giannis Antetokounmpo's introductory press conference on this day in 2013: pic.twitter.com/dFQn8FsErN
3. The COVID-19 shutdown robbed the Bucks of momentum.
It’s easy to look at the Bucks’ last few games (1-4 in their last five, pre-shutdown) and conclude that the hiatus came at a good time for them. There is some truth to that, especially since the team’s star was nursing a minor knee injury at that point. Who doesn’t want an extended rest period to recover from nagging injuries before the playoff push?
The thing is, everybody got the same break, and everybody was able to recharge their batteries. This is not objectively a bad thing, but it takes away the advantage that Milwaukee had created for itself when considering the context of a normal NBA season. Because of their consistently overwhelming performance, most Bucks games were blowouts by the second half this season, meaning that the starters got additional rest and the bench got additional reps. Giannis played fewer minutes than Kevin Love this season. Khris Middleton played less than than Eric Paschall. Brook Lopez logged less time than Carmelo Anthony.
Of everyone on the Bucks, only Giannis and Khris averaged over 30 minutes per game. There were 62 players who averaged 31 minutes (or more) in the entire league. Milwaukee was primed to be the freshest of the league’s playoff teams, and their best players would have been set to benefit from that lack of fatigue all throughout the playoffs. Ah, the best laid plans...
4. Despite that, Milwaukee is good enough anyways.
Remember all those boring numbers from further up the screen? Those numbers aren’t a fluke; the Bucks have been world-beaters since Mike Budenholzer came aboard and implemented his systems that fuel Milwaukee’s fire. Despite a stumble in last year’s playoffs, the Bucks have become something of a basketball inevitability, and now they’re at least a well-rested one.
5. Khris Middleton is your favorite player’s favorite player (to play with).
Pick a star, any star, in the entire NBA, and try and come up with a capable sidekick for them to excel alongside. You would probably end up with Khris Middleton: a 6’7” wing with exceptional fundamentals in all parts of the game so that he’s never taking anything off the table. He’s not a top-tier athlete, but he has enough strength to play the 4 and enough smarts and length to play the 2. He doesn’t have a razzle-dazzle handle, but he’s a capable playmaker. His shooting form isn’t pretty, but he’s knocking on the door of a 50/40/90 season. Offense clogged up and you need a bucket? Khris Middleton is money from the midrange, turning a bad shot into a good result like a magician. People might balk at his contract figure, but Khris is called Khash for a reason.
6. Donte DiVincenzo is the one you won’t see coming.
As a rookie, the Big Ragu was largely forgettable. A foot injury shut him down after a relatively uninspiring initial campaign, and many fans feared that the draft pick was wasted. In his sophomore season, it appears that it was anything but. Donte might not necessarily be a secret weapon, but he’s damn close. He’s a streaky shooter on offense, but he knows how to attack driving lanes and when to give up the ball, he’s a tremendous rebounder as a guard, and he has made his biggest impact as a ballhawk on defense. DiVincenzo is a hooper, through and through, and his knack for the game makes him fun to watch...and helps the Bucks win.
7. They have both Lopezes. Lopii?
Last season, Brook Lopez broke back onto the scene as a shot-swatting, box-outing, long-range-flinging stretch 5, and served as the cornerstone of the Bucks’ vaunted “zone drop” defense. His Greek teammate might be the premier contender for Defensive Player of the Year, but Splash Mountain is a huge part of what makes the defense work.
But why have one giant center when you can have two, and when they happen to have overlapping skill sets, physical profiles, and genetic backgrounds? Twin brother Robin was an offseason acquisition that guaranteed the Bucks would have 48 minutes of Lopez to throw at any other big man they might come across, and Robin shoots threes now too!
I should mention that the Lopez twins are also noted Disney aficionados, and the season is resuming in Disneyworld. It’s kismet.
8. The supporting cast is near-perfect.
You couldn’t ask for a better roster. OK, you could ask for better individual talents on the roster, but that’s not what I mean. Eric Bledsoe isn’t the best point guard in the league, but he is the best at his job in Milwaukee: attack the rim on offense, make (just) enough threes, and blow up opponents’ screens on defense. That dynamic is at play all the way down the roster.
Wes Matthews is the perfect “fifth starter” for a team that doesn’t need more from the SG spot than three-point shooting and stout wing defense. George Hill is the consistent “adult in the room” who adds steady playmaking, sharpshooting, and defensive length. Ersan Ilyasova (drafted in 2006!) defies expectations and remains useful. Pat Connaughton injects chaotic energy into the game with his dunks and rearview blocks. Kyle Korver is an all-time great shooter and spaces the floor. Marvin Williams is a rangy vet who can do just enough of everything in order to keep bench units steady.
Jon Horst isn’t the reigning Executive of the Year for nothing. And by the way, one of the team’s two-way spots is filled by Frank Mason, who just won the G-League MVP award.
9. Bucks’ main weakness = going cold when an opponent gets hot.
No team is truly invincible. Even Achilles had a heel, and the Bucks’ Achilles heel is when hot and cold mix at the wrong times. We covered this at length earlier this year, and the team has a long and complicated history with the long ball. In short, the zone drop weakness opens up two opportunities to the offense: pull-up threes from the ball-handler in a pick and roll, and spot-up threes from the screener in a pick and pop. There are very few guards in the Bucks’ way on the former (Kemba Walker and Kyle Lowry come to mind), but with the evolution of the league, plenty bigs who fit the description of the latter. The good news for Milwaukee is that this is incredibly unlikely. As I wrote in February:
Folks, I hate to break it to you. Milwaukee is boring. The Bucks are boring. They smash their opponents like a toddler smashes a beloved toy: over and over and over. They might give fans a scare for a quarter or two, but the end result is almost inevitable. It took Denver making 22 threesto win by single-digits on the last day of January. The last time the Bucks lost before that was January 6, when the San Antonio Spurs made 19 threes. And the time before that? Christmas Day, against the Sixers, where they made 21 threes.
This is not advanced statistics. This is not detailed analysis. The best way to beat these Bucks is to make 18 (or more) three point shots, and even then, you still might not win. The Bucks’ record in games where opponents make 18 or more threes: 4-3; If you relax a bit and knock that requirement down to 17 makes, Milwaukee is 8-4.
10. Mike Budenholzer in the playoffs is fans’ biggest worry.
It isn’t the most firmly rooted in reality, but fans’ concerns about Coach Bud can be found if you scour Bucks Twitter for long enough. The critique is that Milwaukee did not make enough adjustments to match the Nick Nurse-led Toronto Raptors last postseason, and squandered a 2-0 series lead by sticking to their script and losing 4 straight as a consequence. To a certain extent, this is true, but to blame Budenholzer for Toronto’s success robs the Raptors of credit that they deserve. Kawhi Leonard was outstanding in that series, Fred VanVleet came through at just the right time, and the rest of the Toronto roster neutralized the Milwaukee supporting cast, which had hit an ill-timed shooting slump halfway through the conference finals.
A repeat disappointment is not expected.
11. Giannis Antetokounmpo is entering rarified air.
25 years old. Reigning MVP (and likely repeat MVP). Four-time All Star. Three-time All NBA, two-time All-Defensive team, and likely Defensive Player of the Year. His resume is already approaching Hall of Fame levels, which is probably why everybody is so thirsty to pry him away from Milwaukee. But those are all distractions. Regardless of whether he signs the supermax in Milwaukee, or ends up somewhere else, that’s all immaterial.
Because Giannis Antetokounmpo is primed to enter The Conversation.
Greatest Of All Time.
He’s not there yet. Fair or not, he needs a ring to even apply for membership to that club, which currently includes Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, LeBron James, and perhaps a few others depending on who you talk to. There’s no guarantee that it actually happens, but it’s difficult to see a future that doesn’t include Giannis imposing his will on the league to the point of transcending it, no matter what jersey he dons night to night. Sticking around in Milwaukee might help with that narrative, if only because the franchise has been dedicated to building a contender around him for years to come. But no matter what, you heard it here first.
Giannis will be a part of the GOAT conversation before too long. So sit back and enjoy the ride.