• Alder Almo

2019 Playoff Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

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Season Recap

The reboot in Milwaukee came faster than what many expected.

Mike Budenholzer succeeded where Jason Kidd failed.

With basically the same core, Budenholzer was able to unlock the team’s potential by providing space for Giannis Antetokounmpo to wreak havoc. The initial results – first 60-win season since 1981, the best regular season record and home court advantage all throughout the playoffs – have emboldened their title aspirations.

As the rest of the East loaded up during the February trade deadline, so did the Bucks who have solidified their bench depth with the arrival of Nikola Mirotic. Not even the late season injuries to some of their key players slowed down the Bucks. At full health, they are really looking good to take over the East in the post-LeBron era.

Biggest Strength

No doubt, the Bucks’ biggest strength is the Greek Freak.

We could be looking at the best two-way player in league history with such a rare combination of size, athleticism and speed. Antetokounmpo is poised to join Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon as the only players to have won both the MVP and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season. And it could happen as early as this year.

The Bucks’ high-octane offense is predicated on Antetokounmpo’s strong game and floor spacers who can shoot the three-ball, the same formula of the LeBron-led Cleveland teams that ruled the East the past four seasons.

Biggest Weakness

There’s not much weakness in the Bucks’ game statistic-wise. They have the best offense in the league with 118.1 points per game spiked by their East-leading 13.5 three-pointers made and have the best defense in terms of limiting their opponents’ field goal percentage.

If there’s anything, it could be their perimeter defense which is susceptible to a team like the Golden State Warriors, who mirror their pace-and-space game. They allow a league-worst 13.1 three-pointers per game.

Team’s X-Factor

The Bucks have never gotten out of the first round despite holding a homecourt edge in their last two playoff trips. But that is about to change. They have never had a coach of Budenholzer’s caliber and his experience will be crucial, especially when the going gets tough in a seven-game series.

Players to Watch

This team is pretty loaded as much as the rest of the favorites in the East. While they only have one superstar in Antetokounmpo, they have borderline stars and effective role players in Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic but injuries to the last two opened up opportunities for some of their bench players to step up. Tim Frazier and DJ Wilson are the two players to watch out for in the playoffs. They were fantastic (Frazier: 29 pts 6 rebs 13 asts, Wilson: 18 pts 17 rebs 4 asts) in their last regular season game without their stars but the pressure in the postseason is a different animal.

Estimated Playoff Run

The last time Budenholzer had a 60-22 regular season record, he steered an Atlanta Hawks team whose core was composed of Al Horford, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague and DeMarre Carroll to the Eastern Conference Finals only to be swept by LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

With a better overall team and talent at his disposal this time around, Budenholzer could go all the way.

They have the edge in their head-to-head records against the other top four seeds in the East. They won the season series with the Boston Celtics (2-1), Toronto Raptors (3-1), and Philadelphia 76ers (2-1), their projected opponents in the second round and Eastern Conference Finals. They maintained that success against two of the favorites in the Western Conference by sweeping the season series with the Houston Rockets (2-0) and splitting their two games against the Golden State Warriors (1-1).

But then again past records won’t matter in the playoffs, except maybe for the psychological edge. Anything can happen in the playoffs as the Bucks could also be one Greek Freak injury away from crumbling down. But if healthy, expect the Bucks to make a really deep playoff run.

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