So has the team’s acquisition of Serge Ibaka.
Ibaka is obviously still trying to find himself after undergoing
back surgery last June but, thus far, the returns have been
positive. The Bucks hope it only gets better from here.
Last season, Milwaukee found success with Brook Lopez serving as
the team’s starting center — he started all 70 of his
regular-season appearances and each of the club’s 23 postseason
contests. He’s missed all but one contest this season yet, somehow,
Milwaukee arrived at the 65-game mark this season at 40-25, just
one game off of last season’s 41-24 pace.
Slowly but surely, Lopez managed to make the adjustment that
bigs like Roy Hibbert and even Dwight Howard were unable to — he
managed to maintain himself as a low-post offensive threat while
becoming a willing and respectable floor-spacer. While it may not
be imperative for a team in the NBA to have a center who can shoot,
it sure makes it easier to create problems for opposing teams —
particularly when the team features a slasher like Giannis.
Giannis is obviously an all-world talent and all-time great
player, but nobody’s betting on him to overthrow Karl-Anthony Towns
as the reigning best shooter among the league’s big men. Lopez
figured out how to thrive alongside Giannis and executed his
assignment nearly flawlessly. The same can be said of Bobby Portis,
who has emerged as one of the league’s feel-good stories.
At 26 years old — now in his seventh year — Portis is playing
for his fourth team. He was a key reserve on the Bucks’ title team
last season and has responded to being nominated as Lopez’s
replacement in the starting lineup by putting forth career-best
In 57 appearances this season (including 52 starts), Portis is
averaging 15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, both of which are
career-highs. He’s also connecting on 41.5% of his three-point
looks. His mark from distance is less than last season’s 47.1%, but
due to his career-high 28.9 minutes per game (and the additional
reps he’s getting as a starter), his shot volume from deep has more
That he’s been able to almost maintain his efficiency on more
than double the attempts is an accomplishment.
Whether Lopez is able to completely return to form remains to be
seen, but Ibaka is a hell of an insurance policy in case he
Ibaka is still busting off some of the rust that accumulated
after he — like Lopez, coincidentally — underwent back surgery last
June. However, there’s reason to believe that, in the long run,
Serge will be able to return to being at least a proficient version
of his old self. From a basketball standpoint, he provides many of
the same gifts as Portis and Lopez, so it’s no wonder the Bucks had
interest leading up to the NBA trade deadline.
In nine appearances thus far in Milwaukee, he has shown flashes.
Whether he can fully regain his footing is a question that will
certainly have implications for the Eastern Conference
championship, but Serge was actually showing signs of life even
before the Los Angeles Clippers dealt him to the Bucks.
Since Jan. 1, Ibaka has connected on 37.5% of his three-point
looks and has recorded three double-doubles. He’s only started
seven games in that timeframe, though, and few teams would argue
that a reserve big man with championship experience and those
attributes wouldn’t be an asset.
Milwaukee did give up three players to land Ibaka — Donte
DiVincenzo, Semi Ojeleye and Rodney Hood — however, DiVincenzo
became somewhat redundant with Pat Connaughton and Grayson Allen
each commanding playing time in the backcourt. (Connaughton
suffered a significant injury after the trade, but the point
stands). Neither Hood nor Ojeleye played heavy rotation
Together, none of the three necessarily addressed an area of
need for the Bucks. The same couldn’t be said of Ibaka.
In the end, the Bucks hope that they bought low as Serge rounds
into form and channels the same energy he had as a member of the
Raptors’ 2019 championship team.
Together, the hope is that he can help Portis and Lopez form a
three-man platoon of veteran bigs who know what it takes to win a
championship, but also possess the attributes necessary to excel
alongside Giannis and Khris Middleton.
Thus far, in nine games, Ibaka is averaging 6.9 points and 6.0
rebounds in 20 minutes per game. More importantly, Milwaukee is 6-3
in those contests.
Through 65 games, although the personnel has changed a fair bit,
the Bucks have pretty much looked like the team that they were last
year. With Ibaka now in tow, they’ve increased their odds of having
this season end just as the last one did — with the Bucks on