Milwaukee Bucks 2020 Playoff Preview
Updated: Aug 16, 2020
The 2019-2020 season was one of the best regular seasons in franchise history for the Bucks. Milwaukee will most likely finish regular season play as having the best point differential (+10.3) in the league. For comparison, the Clippers in second place posted a net point differential of +6.3. The Bucks currently lead the NBA in scoring at 118.7 points per game. However, that could be eclipsed by the Rockets who have 118.5 points per game and have consistently demonstrated the qualities of an offensive juggernaut in the bubble seeding games. Defensively, the Bucks have allowed 108.4 points per game, which is tied with OKC for the seventh best mark in the league.
Since the NBA Restart, the Bucks haven’t been the same team that we remember from earlier in the season. Through six bubble games the Bucks have allowed 119.5 points per game; that shouldn’t be of too much concern amongst Bucks fans though, as the starters have seen significantly fewer minutes per game. With the number one seed locked up, it was to be expected that we wouldn’t see their sharpest work in the seeding games.
Without further ado, let's dive into what makes the Milwaukee Bucks one of the very best teams in the NBA.
The Bucks roster is made up of a solid group of veteran players such as George Hill, the Lopez brothers, Ersan Ilyasova and Kyle Korver. Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are good-to-great players as well, and there's also that Giannis guy to worry about.
With all of the veteran leaders on the team, the Bucks have an ability to play great team defense in an era where we see less and less of it. They’re able to guard the perimeter very well and protect the rim with tenacity. The communication amongst the team on the floor is better than just about every other team in the league. Collectively, they’ve been able to hold their opponents to converting only 41.3 percent of their field goal attempts, which ranks as the best in the league. Offensively, the Bucks are nearly just as good: they’re tied for being the second most efficient team in the league, draining 47.7 percent of their attempts from the field.
t’s hard to find weaknesses with the Bucks, but what stands the most is their free-throw shooting. As a team, the Bucks shoot only 74.4 percent on free throws. That’s the fifth worst rate in the league. There are only two bubble teams that shoot free throws at a worse rate: the Los Angeles Lakers and the New Orleans Pelicans. The Bucks are also tied for having the fourth most turnovers per game at 14.7, with the Pelicans being the only bubble team with a higher rate of turnovers. Tied with the Bucks in turnovers per game are the Timberwolves, Jazz, Grizzlies and Lakers.
It’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning league MVP and the likely candidate to win the award again for this season. He is unquestionably the best player the franchise has possessed since Kareem was last with the team in 1975. Giannis has improved his basketball IQ and physical strength every year since being drafted by Milwaukee with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 NBA draft. In last year’s playoffs, Toronto was able to play physical against Giannis and limit him just enough to defeat the Bucks in six games. It will be interesting to see if Toronto can play Giannis the same way in a playoff series without Kawhi.
Players to Watch
Khris Middleton is going to be one of my focal points to watch for the Bucks postseason run. Middleton's level of consistency will likely determines the series for the Bucks, who are prone to struggling when Giannis is tactically limited by quality opposition. We saw this in last year’s playoffs in the series against Toronto. During the six-game series against Toronto, Middleton shot an ugly 41 percent and failed to score more than 14 outside of one game. Another stat that stood out is that Middleton scored less than 10 points in two games that series. Leading up to the Toronto series in last year’s playoffs, however, Middleton averaged an impressive 19 points per game over nine games.
In the bubble games, Middleton had a great performance against Miami, but the Heat didn’t play Jimmy Butler and the other starters saw reduced minutes. Middleton had a great first half against Houston, but failed to show up in the second half. Most eyes will be on Giannis, but my eyes will be on Middleton and how consistent his performances are as the team’s second best player. That will be a determining factor in whether the Bucks are able to make the NBA Finals.
Another player that I can see being an underrated factor in the team-wide success of the Bucks is George Hill. Hill has a tremendous amount of experience playing on good teams such as the San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers. His leadership and production coming off of the bench will be huge.
Estimated Playoff Run
I expect Milwaukee to make the Finals, but I also think that once they get there, they would lose to the Lakers. LeBron will win his third championship with a third team and will prove that he is the true league MVP even though he won’t win that award. I think that Giannis is the second-best player in the league currently. Giannis is obviously more athletic at the present juncture, as LeBron is on the back nine of his career, but LeBron offers a quality that Giannis has not yet mastered. There has not been a single player in the league since Magic that has had the ability to elevate the play of his teammates like LeBron has done year after year. Without LeBron - and even with Anthony Davis - the Lakers would be just another team trying to make it into the Western Conference playoffs. Without Giannis, the Bucks could be a fifth or sixth seed in the East without a question.
Lastly, I do want to say that if the Bucks don’t at least make it to the Finals, you can expect Giannis to go elsewhere - which is unfortunate. I think that would be terrible for the NBA if that happens. If Giannis does stay in Milwaukee, yet is unable to win a championship after three more seasons, then I wouldn’t blame him for leaving. In this era we are continuing to see the best players following LeBron James’ path of bouncing around the league and signing two to four year contracts in attempts to recruit other really good players to build a super team. The NBA needs to see more great players like Damian Lillard and James Harden that stay with one team, and hopefully we can see the same with Giannis.