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 celebrate the return of the NBA regular season and answer some of the bigger questions on the minds of our staff.
We’re so close. You can see it on the horizon. The Milwaukee Bucks will resume their bid at a championship as they pick things back up on Friday vs. the Boston Celtics. Of course, like all of you, we here at Brew Hoop are awfully excited and cannot wait for the squad to take the floor again. Enjoy!
First things first. Given the struggles some sports are having combatting COVID-19 in their league resumptions, how confident are you in the bubble and that the season will be played to completion?
Gabe: Given the fact that Major League Baseball has Rob Manfred in charge of things and the NBA has Adam Silver leading the way, I’m pretty confident that things are actually going to work out for the NBA. We’ve now seen consecutive rounds of testing come back with zero positive results, which is fantastic. The NBA really seems to have things under control regarding all angles of the bubble. Fingers crossed that it stays that way.
Adam: So far so good, but it’s hard to have any level of certainty in practically anything right now, so I have my doubts. Here’s hoping they continue to proceed without any positive tests, but I’m still unsure what will happen if (likely when) we find out someone does test positive.
Mitchell: I actually think they’ll pull it off. This is not to say that they should’ve done the bubble in the first place (in terms of overall health and safety), but of all the possible approaches to restarting the season, the NBA both found a plan that works and is executing it relatively well. I think that the backlash to reports of Richaun Holmes and Lou Williams violating protocol was substantial enough that most players will think twice before taking a risk, and once the playoffs get here in a few weeks I can’t imagine anyone being reckless. Dennis Rodman is retired.
Andrew: I will definitely eat crow - as I thought this would be a total failure before teams arrived at the bubble. While there are currently no active COVID-19 cases amongst players - I am still not 100% confident it will be smooth sailing from here on out because all it takes is one careless player to potentially ruin everything. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that ditching quarantine for a gentlemen’s club is not a very good idea. However, the NBA’s handling of COVID-19 has been far superior than the MLB, as Gabe stated.
Kyle: As Major League Baseball and United Soccer League have shown, sports need to be inside a bubble to even have a chance at working. The National Womens Soccer League (NWSL) was able to successfully run a tournament in Utah, and had no positive tests. Major League Soccer had some teams drop out early, but have not had positive test in weeks; now and with the WNBA and NBA not having positive tests, it has shown the bubble works. So I suppose I can say “congrats” on your dumb gamble to put a bubble in Florida so far working.
The Bucks dominated competition in the regular season, especially the Eastern Conference. This means that it’s a safe bet that they make the Finals...right?
Gabe: One would think, and that’s my assumption. Sure, there are a lot of elements that can come into play given this unique scenario, but at the end of the day, it’s basketball. Everybody on the Bucks is now healthy and if it stays that way, I’d expect Milwaukee to pick up where they left off and be the team that comes out of the East in the Finals.
Adam: That seems to be what the experts assume, but I think there’s a possibility we’re underrating the fact there is no home court advantage and the strangeness of this entire scenario. It’s impossible to bake the bubble scenario into predictions, so falling back on what we knew back in March feels like the best course of action. I predicted they would at least make it to the Finals then, but I think there are too many random variables now for it to be a safe bet.
Mitchell: The seeding games are going to be like pre-season games. The first round series is going to be against somehow lesser competition than that. Last year’s Bucks might have fallen into a false sense of security, but I get the sense that this iteration won’t get caught slipping. With Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee will have the best player in any Eastern Conference series, and their discipline and depth should result in success.
Last year’s playoffs was a disappointment, but not a total surprise. This year is different.
Andrew: My parents raised me to never assume, because when you do, “you make an ass out of you and me.” However, in this case with the Milwaukee Bucks, I believe they’re the safest bet to make it to the NBA Finals. If Brook Lopez continues to shoot lights out from deep like he did during the scrimmages, the Bucks might not even be pushed to more than five games in a series. Another huge positive from the scrimmages is that Milwaukee’s defense remained elite and it looked like they didn’t miss a beat – aside from the last scrimmage. Not having home court is not ideal, but a positive from having no fans in the stands is improved free throw shooting from Giannis Antetokounmpo. His shooting from the line has looked much more fluid since arriving to the bubble. VERY NICE!
Kyle: Yes, the Bucks SHOULD win the East this year, and even last year if certain players step up and Fred VanVleet doesn’t happen again. The team is nearly 100% healthy and defensively seem to have hit the ground running again. Brook Lopez is making shots, which is encouraging, and Milwaukee can play with less pressure in these 8 games as they don’t have to fight for seeding like some of the other Eastern Conference teams.
Who do you view as the most important Buck in their efforts to win a title?
Gabe: This question was nagging me a couple of weeks ago, so I decided to sit down and write a piece on it. After some thought, I decided to go with Eric Bledsoe. His absence in the past two playoff runs have proven troublesome for the Bucks, and prime point guard play always goes a long way in the preseason. If Bledsoe can play to his strengths and exhibit the aggressive mentality that signifies his playing nature, things will be looking pretty good for Milwaukee.
Adam: Giannis and Khris answers aside, I think it’s Brook Lopez. Who knows if his post game will actually prove a panacea, but if nothing else I think Milwaukee will need to find new ways to manufacture offense this postseason, and he’s one of the few players who offers stylistic diversity from the bulldozing ball of Giannis/Bledsoe and Khris’ shooting acrobatics. He’ll need to continue his All-Defensive effort throughout the postseason and keep teams honest from the outside consistently.
Mitchell: Let me make the case for George Hill. When Giannis is off the floor and the opponent is ramping up the intensity, a cool-headed veteran can stabilize things and hold down the fort. Hill is that cool-headed veteran; he’s steady on defense and plays to his strengths on offense, and his presence could stifle any big runs before they even happen.
A part of me also wonders about Marvin Williams, and the benefits of him on the floor compared to the aging Ersan Ilyasova or last year’s ineffective version of Nikola Mirotic.
Andrew: I really wanted to go with either Brook Lopez or Eric Bledsoe here, but I’ll go with Donte DiVincenzo. He was playing at a very high level on both ends of the court before COVID-19 hit. If he can recapture that form, this nearly impossible to beat Bucks team will be even more difficult to outmatch. The Bucks’ ceiling is much higher with Donte on the court and watching how he blossomed from his early season struggles has been a treat.
Kyle: I will say Wesley Matthews; brought in as a Malcolm Brogdon replacement, his 3&D is going to be needed against other wings that the Celtics, Raptors and Heat have. He has to shoot the ball well to lighten the load on Khris and Giannis, and defensively it will be good to have another wing defender to put in. With Bledsoe’s uncertainty (both with COVID and past showings), Milwaukee can’t afford two starters to play poorly the deeper they get into the playoffs.
What’s one thing that cannot go wrong for the Bucks if they want to win a title?
Gabe: In their 12 losses to date in the regular season, there’s one common denominator — the Bucks’ opponent shot better than them. With a team that’s stacked with versatile weaponry from behind the arc, it’s crucial that the Bucks stay consistent throughout the playoffs. Will there be a game or two where they’re off? Sure, that’s to be expected. But if things start to go cold on a consistent basis, there could be some trouble. It’ll be interesting to see how shooters adjust to the backdrop of playing in the bubble, but fingers crossed that Milwaukee doesn’t miss a beat.
Adam: Besides any positive tests * knocks on wood *, I would say Eric Bledsoe playing like Playoff Eric Bledsoe. It’s easy to forget just how lights-out George Hill was in last year’s postseason, which alleviated some of the concerns associated with Bledsoe’s slump. I’m not sure if Hill can repeat that performance, and the Bucks need Bledsoe to play like his regular season self if they want to emerge as NBA champions.
Mitchell: In the spirit of controlling what they can control, I think the Bucks’ key is making enough threes on offense to keep up with the ones they give up on defense. The zone drop scheme is a sure-fire way to win a ton of regular season games, but the teams best suited to exploit the biggest weakness are on the Bucks’ playoff path, especially the Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, and Toronto Raptors. Khris Middleton, George Hill, and Kyle Korver have to hit the expected number of threes, but more important is the next tier of shooters. The Lopez brothers, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, and Eric Bledsoe simply cannot afford to all hit a slump.
Andrew: The Bucks need good play from Eric Bledsoe on both offense and defense in order to make their quest for a championship easier. It’s hard for Bledsoe to play any worse than he did against the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals, so let’s hope it’s only up from here for the tenacious point guard. Another key factor is the second unit for the Bucks. If they can’t help pick up some slack if a starter has an off night, things could get a little uncomfortable down in Orlando.
Kyle: Besides the obvious health concerns, Milwaukee’s perimeter defense can’t allow what happened to the Sixers on Christmas day, or what the Spurs, Mavericks and even as recent as the Pelicans in the scrimmage did. The rim defense has been stellar, but that has also meant that at times Milwaukee has dared teams to beat them from three. You can only hope for mean regression for so long and simply banking on that happening might not be enough.
Alright, prediction time! How do you see the Bucks finishing their journey in Orlando?
Gabe: Where would the fun be in not predicting Milwaukee to win it all? I think they’ll represent the East in the Finals and knock off the Lakers in seven.
Adam: I see Milwaukee finding their way into the Finals, but ultimately succumbing to the Los Angeles Clippers in seven.
Mitchell: Bucks in six, always. That’s for the culture. In terms of who they beat? I’ll say they take down Brooklyn in four, Philly in five, Toronto in six, and the Clippers in six.
Andrew: The Bucks win the NBA Finals in five games over the Los Angeles Lakers.
Kyle: Bucks beat some peasants in the first round in four, then some other peasants in the second round in five. Get revenge on Toronto to win in six, and then squeak by the Lakers in seven.