The Milwaukee Bucks are big favorite participants of the Eastern Conference. According to Caesars Sportsbook, they are entering the bubble at -22 to reach the NBA Finals in October.
Respect for Vegas is still one thing, but the execution in Orlando is another. While the Bucks hold the league’s best record, reigning MVP and highest defense, these boys are defeatable. Ask the world champion in Toronto, the Raptors, who eliminated them last year with a simple proposal that could be repeated this year.
On the occasion of the premiere of the Boston Celtics’ debuts on Friday (6:30 pm ET on ESPN) of each team, there are three rules that each contestant will have to follow to eliminate the seeming juggernaut in Milwaukee.
Rule 1: Keep Giannis out of the heat
Giannis Antetokounmpo comes to the corner as the most effective shooter in the league. He is currently releasing an effective field goal percentage (eFG%) of 58.3%, the highest mark among the NBA’s top 50 scorers.
How does he do it? Dunks and layups – many of them. Just look at this:
More than almost any other modern superstar, Antetokounmpo dominates with one outdated location. Its impressive overall effectiveness numbers are based on its ability to attack and end up on the rack around the world. If you can keep it out of color, it’s deadly. If you can’t, it’s over.
Let’s take these two statistics:
This season, Antetokounmpo tried to take 727 color shots and converted 66% of them. Of the 81 NBA players who have at least 300 paintings this season, he is the fifth most effective.
He also tried 393 colorless trials. His eFG% on these experiments is only 43.6%. Out of 116 players with at least 300 unpainted shots, it ranks 109th in efficiency.
It’s basically Shaquille O’Neal in color, but Andrew Wiggins is out of it. Shaq has won four titles by dominating inside. If Milwaukee wins this year, it will be because no one could suppress the inner strength of the Antetokounmp. But when the Bucks were repulsed last year, Toronto did.
During the regular season 2018-1919, Antetokounmpo led an average of 17.5 points per game in the league. His dominance extended to the postseason when Milwaukee moved 8-1 in the first two rounds. But after Toronto head coach Nick Nurse moved Kawhi Leonard to Giannis, the Raptors won four straight by featuring the NBA’s most dangerous interior shooter.
Last season, Milwaukee won an average of 15.8 PPGs in ten winning positions, compared to 10.8 PPGs in five losses.
The good news for Bucks fans is that Leonard is now in Los Angeles. The bad news is that he and the Raps gave the league a road map. If the team can figure out how to slow down Giannis’ interior, history can repeat itself.
Maybe it won’t be so hair-raising. Two potential opponents from the second round have already found success.
At Christmas in Philly, Giannis took only 6 of 15 color shots when the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Bucks by 12. Brett Brown used a combination of Al Horford and Joel Embid to defend Giannis and keep him away from the edge.
A few months later, Antetokounmpo took 5 of 10 color shots when Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat placed Milwaukee at just 89 points in an impressive 16-point victory. (If there’s one lawyer in the east who would scare the Bucks, it’s Adebayo).
Milwaukee should still be favored to beat either Miami or Philly in seven game series, but matches are key in the playoffs. Both teams have already shown that they could slow down the MVP and place a burden on Milwaukee’s secondary pieces.
Rule 2: Let Middleton defeat you
Speaking of secondary options, Khris Middleton has been incredible this season. He became a 50/40/90 shooter, an NBA All-Star and, of course, a very rich man. It’s in the first year of a five-year, $ 178 million contract, because the Bucks believe it can be a deciding factor when it matters most.
Middleton has become one of the most effective volume shooters in the league. Just look at this:
When the Bucks needed Middleton last year to succeed in the Toronto series, he took a different path. Milwaukee gave up the chance to go up 3-0 with a six-point loss in Game 3, scoring 3 by 16 with Middleton and scoring nine points in over 44 minutes. Phew. Then, when the series was tied at home 2-5 in Game 5, Middleton didn’t answer and in 36 minutes went 2 for 9. The Bucks lost again by six. The rest is Canadian history.
Antetokounmpo has become a permanent candidate for the MVP, as it is the most furious two-way player on Earth. However, his case is also helped by the fact that he watches himself during the big games. It can easily seem much more valuable than any other player in his team. Middleton could certainly turn it into a bubble, but you can bet that the Bucks’ opponents will design their game plans to prove it.
Rule 3: Make 3 s
At the other end of the court, Mike Budenholzer’s top defense perfectly protects the drive at all costs and at the same time dares to defeat the opponents using jumpers. It’s an extreme dichotomy: No team in the league gave up fewer points in the painting and no team gave up more than three indicators.
Their defensive philosophy is based on the premise that you cannot effectively protect everything. Due to their massive staff at the front of the twins Lopez and Giannis, the Bucks may dominate the protection of the rim and defensive glass, while spending fewer resources at the edges.
No team gave up more open 3 s than Bucks. Milwaukee gave up 1,301 3-point attempts (7.6 per game) with the nearest defender at least 6 feet per second watching the spectrum. Although it’s a risky game, it worked well overall. The Bucks were the most effective defense in the league in each of Budenholzer’s two seasons. But when the shooters warm up, Bucks’ defense can weaken what happened to the Raptors.
Go back to the last four games of these conference finals, when new father and Canadian folk hero Fred VanVleet started shooting and made 15 of his 25 3-point attempts. That’s wild.
While VanVleet is a good 3-point shooter, it’s not Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson. Most NBA teams now have shooters capable of shooting. All of Bucks’ best Eastern European rivals – Toronto, Boston and Miami – stand out from the center, and they all have snipers capable of VanVleeting for a few games, punishing Milwaukee’s tendency to give up the juicy look from the center.
Here is an example of Eastern snipers and their open three-point numbers:
The league is now full of sharp shooters, but looking at the table, some teams have more boys who are better at fighting Milwaukee’s defense. Miami seems to be in a unique position to punish Milwaukee’s defensive approach, and that’s more than hypothetical. Miami is 2-0 against Milwaukee this season, partly because of Adebay, and partly because their shooters made 42% of their 3s and scored 51 points per game from the center in these wins.
The point is that what happened before can be repeated. Milwaukee deserves to be popular in the East, but the Bucks are by no means invincible. Just ask Fred VanVleet.