Key Reasons for Bucks Early Success
(Photo: Benny Sieu, USA TODAY Sports)
After entering the 2018 playoffs as the seventh seed, the Milwaukee Bucks were bounced in the first round by the Boston Celtics in seven games. Firing head coach Jason Kidd in the middle of the season attached extra adversity for the team, as he had the players' support, but management decided to go in a different direction.
With the Bucks bringing in head coach Mike Budenholzer from the Atlanta Hawks this past offseason, expectations began to build for the "Fear the Deer" fanbase. This was, in fact, the man who orchestrated a team where an entire starting five ended up as Player of the Month while guiding them to 60 wins and an Eastern Conference Finals birth in 2015.
Bringing in a coach who spent 17 years under San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is always a good start, but there weren't many who foresaw the Bucks to be this good, this fast. Scoring is up for Milwaukee, currently bringing in 120.1 points per game, as opposed to 106.5 last season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been the clear MVP front-runner so far this season, which is a vital reason why the Bucks have gotten off to a hot start. Even though his three-point shooting has been abysmal at 10 percent, his field goal percentage, scoring, rebounds, and assist numbers are up across the board. Giannis has been utterly unstoppable attacking the basket, converting on 79 percent of his shots at the rim. For a comparison, Shaquille O’Neal shot 78 percent at the rim during the 2000-2001 season, a year after winning his first MVP award.
The heroics of Antetokounmpo do not overshadow the incredible season Khris Middleton has been having either. Middleton is currently shooting 42 percent from downtown, and 48 percent from the field, while also knocking down 91 percent of his free throws. Defensively, Middleton has also been outstanding, both as a help defender and one-on-one defender, something he has been stellar at his entire career.
Schematically, the Bucks have been doing quite a bit of five-out on the offensive end, spacing the floor by having all five offensive players outside the three-point line, all of which are a threat. This creates an absurd amount of space for Giannis to attack the basket with his long strides. If any help from the defense comes, it has led to a high percentage shot from the arc.
The Bucks were also able to bring in new role players that have had an immediate impact. Brook Lopez has been the biggest surprise thus far, as the former Laker is shooting a career-high 37 percent from beyond the arc, while also connecting on 94 percent of his free throws. Although the seven-footer is only bringing in 3.6 rebounds per game, the fact that Milwaukee has serviceable seven-footer who can space the floor has been a blessing. Ersan Ilyasova is also a huge factor for success, as the NBA journeyman has matched his career high in three-point percentage at 36 percent so far. Bringing in 5.6 rebounds helps fill the void that Lopez leaves on the boards, but the spacing he brings has been his biggest contribution. While somewhat undersized for a center, the Bucks do have the option of putting another 6"10 plus big man on the court who can help open driving lanes for Giannis to attack the basket.
Currently occupying the second best record in the Eastern Conference, only time will tell if the Milwaukee Bucks will be able to sustain this blistering start to the season. With a little luck fighting the injury bug and maintaining their current effort defensively, nobody should be shocked if they end up in the Eastern Conference Finals come playoff time, and in a seven game series, anything can happen.
*Stats courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference