Why the Bucks Depth Will Prove Key in the Postseason
Paul Rutherford of USA Today Sports
The postseason started just as expected for the Milwaukee Bucks. With a 60-win regular season, the Bucks locked up the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee faced the eighth seeded Pistons as their reward, a team that snuck into the playoffs on the regular season’s final night.
As the 1 vs. 8 matchups typically go (especially in the East), the Pistons were absolutely no match for the Bucks. Blake Griffin sat out the first two games, and was clearly hobbled despite good efforts in Games 3 and 4. Regardless, Detroit didn’t come close to stealing even a single game. It was a clean Bucks sweep to the tune of a nearly 24 point margin per game.
Milwaukee’s stars played exceptionally. Giannis was nearly unstoppable in the opening series - particularly in Game 4 - scoring 41 points in a closeout game.
Fellow All-Star Khris Middleton was excellent as well, averaging 19 points per game in the series. Brook Lopez was a force on defense against the Pistons interior, blocking 14 shots across the four games while shutting down Andre Drummond.
However, the Bucks depth was one of the brightest points this series. Contributions off the bench are key for any playoff team, but as the Bucks look towards their second round series versus a similarly deep team in the Celtics, the reserves may become more important than ever.
The Bucks saw their guards come up big against Detroit, December acquisition George Hill in particular. He set the tone in Game 1 with 16 points, and the Bucks were plus-24 and plus-29 when he was on the court in Games 3 and 4 respectively. Hill clearly still has plenty to givel, and his veteran playoff experience is already paying dividends.
Backcourt depth will become especially important versus the Celtics. Hill will be tasked with stopping Kyrie Irving. He’ll also have plenty of looks at Boston’s own backup point guard Terry Rozier. Rozier proved a bit of a villain in the postseason last year for the Bucks, but he could be less of a factor this time around.
Hill won’t be alone in providing support for Milwaukee’s backcourt. Pat Connaughton stole the bench spotlight in Game 2. Connaughton scored 18 points in the second game, to go along with nine rebounds and an incredible four blocks.
While he has fallen out of the rotation at times this season, Connaughton has been sneaky good when given time on the court. He averaged over 27 minutes a game in the opening series.
There is no doubt the Bucks will need Connaughton’s energy and explosiveness against Boston in the second round. Connaughton will probably match up a lot with the same Celtics guards as Hill will, and if Marcus Smart returns, Connaughton could be key in neutralizing him. He has really been one of the Bucks’ best players off the bench this year. Strong play from him is again crucial in the next round.
Milwaukee has a few other key reserves who will be in line to step up against the Celtics, and quite possibly further down the road in the playoffs. One is Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic returned to the lineup in Game 1 after a month-long absence with a thumb injury. Mirotic was noticeably rusty.
Playing just 25 minutes combined in Games 1 and 2, Mirotic shot a meager 3-13 for 6 points. However, as he got his legs under him again, Mirotic began looking like the player of old, going 7-12 combined in Games 3 and 4, including six three-point makes over a pair of 12-point efforts.
Mirotic will be a key factor versus the Celtics. The Bucks are going to need his scoring off the bench, and his ability to stretch the floor will be huge, something the team had trouble doing against the Celtics last season. He continues to get more and more minutes as he gets back, and head coach Mike Budenholzer will likely give him all he can handle by the end of the Celtics series.
Ersan Ilyasova may also play a pivotal role. Ilyasova was perfectly serviceable in the Detroit series, and even scored an efficient 15 points in Game 3. While the Bucks do need him to hit the occasional open three, it’s the Turk’s intangibles that will be most important moving forward.
Ilyasova’s ability to rebound, defend, and take charges will be huge against a Boston team that likes to attack. He will likely matchup a lot with Al Horford when in the game, someone the Bucks had all kinds of trouble with in their playoff series last year.
The Bucks clearly have options off the bench, but the biggest x-factor in the series may be Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon has been out since mid-March with a plantar fascia tear, but we are creeping towards the early part of his 6-8 week injury timetable.
It has already been reported that Brogdon will sit out the first two games in Milwaukee, and even if he does return at any point this series, it will likely be off the bench in a limited capacity. However, having Brogdon back should certainly help this Bucks team.
The third year guard from Virginia started all 64 games he played in this year. At the time of his injury, Brogdon was averaging a career high 15.6 points per game, and had an incredible 50-40-90 shooting season going.
It may take a while until Brogdon gets back to his early season form, but if he does, it might just lead the Bucks past the rest of their Eastern Conference competition. It was an exceptional first round series for the boys from the Brew City, and if they get the same contributions alongside Giannis, Middleton, and Bledsoe against Boston, the team might just play their way into their first Eastern Conference Finals since 2001.
Statistics Courtesy of Basketball Reference