Basketball is on the horizon. We can see it. We’re so close! It’s just over two weeks until the Bucks face off against the Boston Celtics, picking things up right where they left off when the pandemic disrupted the season. There will be eight regular season games before the playoffs kick off, which is when things really start to matter and the Bucks aim to bring an NBA Championship back to Milwaukee.
What will the resumption look like? We don’t really know, but there’s sure to be some rust among the players. Once that settles in and the team slides back into a rotation for the playoffs, things will begin to take form. That brings forth the question — who are the most important Bucks players for the restart?
Now, there are a lot of different routes you can go for this, and that’s the fun of it! It’s fun to share opinions. For those who follow me on Twitter, you may know my mantra of “Not here to argue.” However, healthy debate is always fun! With that being said, here’s my take on the most important Bucks for the restart:
1) Eric Bledsoe
We all know of Bledsoe’s struggles in the postseason, which is the main reason why he’s here at No. 1. Top-tier play at the point guard position always goes a long way in the and is a great appreciation to have in the postseason. Unfortunately, the Bucks haven’t exactly had that in the last two years. Two seasons ago in Bledsoe’s first bout with Milwaukee in the playoffs, he was outperformed by Terry Rozier. Last year, it was Fred VanVleet who took the headlines as Bledsoe once again became absent in the series. We all know what Bled brings to the table when he’s himself — a level of aggressiveness that always seems to tip things in the Bucks’ favor. He says it himself, as he describes himself of having a bulldog mentality. When his shot is falling in addition to that, Milwaukee becomes a team that’s very difficult to defeat. The only problem with all of that is that it seems to disappear in the playoffs. Could things without the crowd make it a different postseason for him than in years past? We won’t know until the time comes, but we can hope.
2) Brook Lopez
Close your eyes. It’s Game 1 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals. Things are extremely tight down the stretch — and Brook Lopez hits a three. Fiserv Forum loses it. Lopez’s 29 points would help Milwaukee take a 1-0 lead. That’s the type of weaponry that Brook brought last season — a 36.5 percent clip from deep. Unfortunately, that same rate wasn’t discovered this year, as Splash Mountain struggled to find a groove. As things stand, he’s currently holding a 29.6 percentage from deep, well-beyond last season’s numbers. His 3-point shooting is the biggest X-Factor in his game. Everyone knows how lockdown his defense is, and if that was faltering, he’d likely be No. 1 on this list. However, Milwaukee has earned the best record in the NBA despite his woes from beyond the arc. Nonetheless, if that element of his game gets re-discovered when the playoffs tip off in Orlando (maybe the Disney magic will kick in), the Bucks will add another dimension as they duel their way to the Finals.
3. Khris Middleton
You could make the argument that Middleton should be higher on this list, but I felt that in addition to the reasons above that I listed, it’d be boring. However, that doesn’t eliminate the importance he does bring to this team. I just felt Bledsoe and Brook are more important. Before the hiatus, K-Midd was coming off another brilliant season, a campaign which saw him earn his second All-Star honor. After earning his max contract with healthy play in last year’s postseason, it’s going to be required again if the Bucks are going to want to win their first title since 1971. We all know teams are going to wall off Giannis and eliminate his chances as much as possible, which adds to the crucial need that the Bucks have for Middleton and his scoring output. Remember, he’s currently riding the best shooting of his career — a 57.8 percent effective field-goal percentage, 54.7 percent from midrange, and a blazing 41.8 percent from deep. If he even comes relatively close to those numbers, it’ll be greatly appreciated and will help carry the Bucks a long way.
4. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Like his All-Star teammate Khris Middleton, you could make the argument that Antetokounmpo should be higher on this list, with a very reasonable case to be made as to why he should be No. 1. However, we all know what he brings to the table and the level of effectiveness he’s had this season and in the playoffs. Remember, he’s going to repeat as MVP this season — no matter how many times ESPN mentions how LeBron should get it. However, there are a few things that will be important to watch with Giannis. First, his usage rate. He’s currently averaging 30.9 minutes played per game, which is the lowest since his rookie season. How will he hold up in playoff games where he’s playing close to the entire game? The hiatus could help him and the Bucks in that facet, as a lot of other team’s star players will be getting their sea legs under them too. The other part of Giannis’ game that will be crucial is his free throw shooting. We all know the mind games it played on him last season. At times, it looked as if he didn’t even want to be there. Thankfully, the bubble won’t have any crowd nose, which will hopefully raise his percentage and help him see more trips to the line where he converts.
5. George Hill
George Hill continues to show his importance to this Bucks squad, and he does it from deep. Prior to the pandemic pausing everything, there was a question being asked, “Can George Hill miss?” It was an entirely valid thought, as his 48.0 percent clip from the perimeter is a career-high. The Bucks will surely be benefitting from that level of play in Orlando, and he likely doesn’t even need to continue shooting that well for him to make an impact. Hill’s contributions will weigh even more if Bledsoe’s postseason struggles continue into this year’s playoffs. However, let’s hope we can get the best of both worlds from these point guards. Hill helps bring one of the veteran pieces to this team, as he knows what it takes to get to the Finals. In addition to his on-court play, there’ll surely continue to be some off-the-court impact that’s made as well.
6. Donte DiVincenzo
Had the Bucks had this year’s version of Donte DiVincenzo last season, would it have been a different outcome vs. the Raptors? We’ll never know, but it very well could’ve been. DiVincenzo brings so much to this team, and it all starts with the speed and awareness that he brings to the hardwood. Wherever he’s on the floor, you know he’s making an impact — whether he has the basketball, whether he’s off the ball, or whether he’s on defense. From straight up stripping the ball away or cutting through a passing lane to get his fingertips on it, DiVincenzo’s instinct make him an X-Factor for this squad that can help them cross the finish line. Add in a few of those plays and the momentum can totally shift. We all know that that’s the most outstanding part of his game, but at times, Donte can find a rhythm from deep. If he does that even just once in a late-round matchup, things are likely going quite well for the Bucks.
7. Robin Lopez
Like his brother Brook, we all know how happy Robin is that the season is resuming in Orlando, home of Walt Disney World. Let’s just hope the Lopez brothers make the games in time instead of riding Space Mountain for the 27th consecutive time. But in all seriousness, the level of play that Robin brought to Milwaukee was massive. The defensive stature he positioned down low made strong dividends for the Bucks whenever his twin was off the court. It’s crazy when you think that Robin would be a starter on a majority of teams in the Association. But what might be the craziest part of his game is his field goal percentage — a very respectable 34.4 percent. I’ll never forget when it was around the All-Star Break, and we were huddled up next to Robin as he was giving his postgame availability. He was asked about having a higher 3-point percentage than Brook, to which he paused for a few seconds. He then quietly muttered, “The numbers speak for themselves, don’t they?” Everyone was quiet for a few seconds before chuckles emitted from the media, but that was one of my favorite moments of the year. The relationship the Lopez brothers have is awesome, and it’ll be great to see them together again with their teammates.
8. Wesley Matthews
Like DiVincenzo, Matthews will be another player that Milwaukee will be happy to have on their side as they head into postseason play. The interesting question will be which of the two finds themselves in the starting lineup. Regardless, we all know the importance the veteran product brings out on the floor with his versatility on both ends of the floor. Surely, we’ll be seeing the bow and arrow fly more than a few times in this restart, along with his defense being appreciated on the other end. Remember how Middleton would get tasked with guarding Kawhi on one end and going up against him on the other? With Matthews, you’d hope that wouldn’t be the case, and boy, would that be appreciated. The dual factor of Matthews’ game makes him a top-10 candidate here.
9. Pat Connaughton
If there was one thing that put Pat Connaughton on the radar last year, it was his athletic feats during the postseason. It seemed as if he was everywhere. Remember that play against the Celtics where he blocked a 3-point attempt at the top of the key, then ended up dunking on the other end of the floor? Truly incredible. However, Pat would be the first to tell you that he’s more than a dunker, and his stats would help back that up, especially his 32 percent 3-point shooting. However, in last year’s playoffs, that could be off at times, so you’d like to see more consistency in that aspect. However, one thing is guaranteed with Planet Pat — he’ll be bringing it for sure.
10. Kyle Korver
Another member of the Bucks that wasn’t a part of last year’s playoff run, it’s pretty easy to see what Kyle Korver brings to the table in terms of importance — 3-point shooting. As the Bucks find themselves in deeper rounds of the playoffs, the more the need for a momentous three will loom, and Korver is exactly the type of player you look for in that situation. Whether it’s to stop the bleeding of a run from the opposing team or to accelerate the separation on a 9-0 run of your own, Korver’s game will be appreciated in that aspect by the Bucks. This is why they brought him to town.
11. Marvin Williams
I’ll be honest — I had forgotten briefly that Marvin Williams had signed with Milwaukee. That’s how long it’s been! I was watching the Bucks’ highlight video of the first practice in Orlando, and was confused for a hot second. However, I quickly came to my senses. Though they’re different positions, I view Williams and George Hill similarly in the following aspect — 3-point shooting and leadership. Both can make contributions both on and off the floor. Williams is definitely a player that Milwaukee will rely on in key moments once the playoffs kick off.
12. Ersan Ilyasova
After a postseason last year that saw him be used a decent amount (remember, he had a podium game!), it’ll be interesting to see how Ersan is used this time around. We all know that he was Bud’s man prior to Marvin Williams arriving in town, but one thing that remains uncertain is how long Bud will stick with that as a gameplan. We won’t really know until postseason play rolls around. However, there’s one thing that’s absolutely certain. Ersan will be taking some charges.
13. Sterling Brown
This is the point of the list where things start to taper off. How much time do we really expect to see Sterling Brown get, especially once the playoffs start up? Not much. However, should there be some foul trouble, we’ll likely see a dosage of Sterling, and he’s gotten enough playing time under his belt that he should be able to hold his own, should things come to that.
14. D.J. Wilson
Like Sterling Brown, D.J. Wilson is in a similar pattern — his playing time comes and goes, and once the playoffs tip off, he’ll more than likely be outside of the rotation. However, should he be thrown into the mix and have his name called, his defense will be the shining piece of his game.
15. Frank Mason III
Could Frank Mason be this year’s Tim Frazier and play in the majority of playoff games due to blowouts? That’s the only thing I really have to say for him here.
16. Thanasis Antetokounmpo
Unless Greek Night is celebrated in the bubble, I highly doubt we’ll be seeing much of Thanasis during this restart and playoffs. However, I’m looking forward to some A+ celebrations from the bench.
And there you have it! My most important Bucks players for the restart/playoffs. What do you think? Who’s too high, and who’s too low? Is it a problem that Cameron Reynolds wasn’t on the list at all? Share your thoughts in the comments!