Stop me if you’ve heard this before. As this is being posted, there are three regular season games remaining on the schedule and the Milwaukee Bucks are one of the premier teams in the Eastern Conference. Seems like a duplicate of the previous two years’ campaigns, no?
You’d be correct. The Bucks are currently jockeying for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference, as they’ll most likely land with either the two or three seed. Once the playoffs come, it will be time for them once again to defy the haters and doubters that cascade a pile of pessimism onto them, saying that they’re only a regular season team and aren’t built for the playoffs.
So, what will postseason success look like for the Milwaukee Bucks? How do they get there? How do they construct it? Obviously, there will be many factors that will play into how far they will get in the playoffs, but for the sake of this article, I’m going to keep it to three subjects. Think of these subjects as ingredients to a cooking recipe. If you follow the instructions as they’re written, you should see some sort of success — but the level of success is determined by how well you do those steps.
So, let’s get started with the first ingredient for the Milwaukee Bucks in this postseason success recipe. (Editor’s note: The stats below were pulled before the San Antonio & Orlando games)
Create a comfortable Giannis Antetokounmpo at the free throw line (even better if you’re able to expand that to his jump shot on the floor).
Sometimes, the most important ingredient to a recipe is the first step in the process. That might be the same here. We all know how Giannis can struggle at the charity stripe, especially in the playoffs. Bucks fans will shudder when reminded of the scenes in Toronto where Antetokounmpo was at the free throw line in the closing minutes of a tight game, then air-balling a free throw, and then having the camera then panning to a laughing Drake on the sidelines. This season, Giannis has taken strides in that area of his game. In February, he’d shoot 74.7% from the line. He then followed it up with 75.6% in March. However, consistency remains the challenge for Antetokounmpo. In April, that number fell back down to 68.3%. It’s currently hovering around the 75% mark for May, but the consistency will remain the big question here.
He’ll also aim to get to the free throw line more in the postseason. During last year’s playoffs, he only shot double-digit FTA in four of Milwaukee’s nine postseason games. I also mentioned his jump shot. Lately, Antetokounmpo has been getting more comfortable in shooting from the perimeter. Take a look at this heat map of his shot selection from February 1st to May 8th, courtesy of Cleaning the Glass:
Giannis is currently boasting a 125.8 total points scored per 100 shot attempts (PSA). Also, Antetokounmpo currently holds a 28% ASTD percentage from three, showing that just 28% of his threes have been assisted and that the bulk of his 3-point shots occur from off the dribble. He’s beginning to take what defenses are providing him, essentially when they give him space and dare him to shoot. If he’s able to connect on a small handful of threes during the course of playoff games, it would be massive for Milwaukee.
Ensure that there is a healthy amount of Jrue Holiday in all facets of the game.
When the Bucks made the move to acquire Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans during the offseason, many in the national media thought it was an overpay due to the price Milwaukee had to pay. However, over the course of this season, Holiday has already shown his worth, making massive impacts all across the board. Offensively, Holiday’s 119.9 PSA is the highest of his career. His eFG% of 57.9% is also the highest of his career. It’s clear that he’s thriving by having the duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton at his side. In addition to his shooting, one of the standouts from Holiday’s game with Milwaukee is his ability to facilitate the basketball.
Every time Bucks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer discusses Holiday in any of his postgame pressers, that’s always one of the first parts of his game he discusses. He also heaps praise for Holiday on the defensive side of the ball, which is something that makes Holiday one of the most revered point guards in the league. With the Bucks, he’s currently averaging 1.7 steals per game, a career high. He also boasts a 111 DRtg. Despite being a point guard, Holiday often matches up against the opposing team’s best player and does quite well (just look at what Kevin Durant has said). It’s becoming very evident that Holiday will continue to have his fingerprints all over the box score, especially in the playoffs. Given how Eric Bledsoe would have frustrating playoff series during his tenure in Milwaukee, that will be something that should really aid the Bucks in their championship run.
Have consistent production and shooting from the bench.
In recent years, the Bucks have used the term Bench Mob to describe the contributions that their second unit provides. While the bench unit personnel has changed through the last few years, the impacts of players remain. Bobby Portis, Bryn Forbes, Pat Connaughton, and even Thanasis Antetokounmpo have all provided sparks throughout the year.
Looking at Bobby Portis, his 47.1% from 3-point land is by far a career high, and is also in the 97th percentile of his position. He’s also trotting out an eFG% of 58.6% — another career high. While we’re talking threes, let’s take a look at Bryn Forbes and Pat Connaughton. Forbes is also shooting a career high from deep at 44.4%, which ranks in the 94th percentile for his position. The catch-and-shoot capability from Forbes provides Milwaukee a weapon that will surely be dangerous throughout the playoffs, as shown by his 97% ASTD% on threes. Forbes constantly receives praise from his coach and teammates, with Giannis even going as far as saying that Forbes may be the best shooter he’s ever played with.
Additionally, Pat Connaughton has made tremendous improvements in his shooting. After shooting 33.3% from deep last season, he’s worked to grow that number to 38.6% — also a career high. During the clutch, Connaughton is shooting 7-for-12 (58%) from three, showing that if needed, he can be relied on during those intense playoff possessions. Last,PJ Tucker, who the Bucks traded for to bolster their bench even further, has been making positive impacts on both ends of the ball ever since he’s returned from injury. If the Bucks make it out of the East this year, strong bench play will surely be a reason as to why.
Milwaukee will surely be inclined for a rebound in the playoffs this season after losing to Miami down in the bubble in the second round last season. If all of these boxes get checked, they should have a pretty good chance of making their first NBA Finals appearance since 1974. However, like all recipes, sometimes things can go wrong — even if you try your best at following it.
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