With how they seem to be flying under the radar right now, you
would have never guessed the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Finals
last season. Checking in with a 28-19 record, Milwaukee is only two
games back of the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The difference between the top six teams in the East is
two-and-a-half games, and I’m here to stake my claim as to why
Milwaukee should still be the favorite among that group. Honestly,
the Bucks would probably prefer to stay under the radar anyways,
but they'll have everyone right where they want them once
postseason play kicks off in April.
Milwaukee has operated all season long without Brook Lopez, the
team's anchor on defense. However, the Bucks are actually carrying
a better Defensive Rating compared to the last season (110.7),
allowing opponents to score 107.6 points per 100 possessions. Lopez
should actually be returning to the court soon for the Bucks as he
begins to ramp up on-court activities. Once Lopez is officially
cleared, Milwaukee will have another valuable weapon at its
disposal in the playoffs.
On top of Lopez’s lingering stint on the injury report, the
Bucks have been battling similar issues all season long. Jrue
Holiday has been in and out of the starting lineup with injuries,
and Donte DiVincenzo recently returned from a long-term absence
that extended throughout the Bucks’ championship run. Finally,
though, that page is beginning to turn in favor of Milwaukee as it
approaches a fully healthy rotation for the first time all
We saw a sneak peek of it during the 2021 NBA Finals, but
Giannis Antetokounmpo has embraced playing more bully-ball this
season. In place of Lopez, Antetokounmpo has logged plenty of
minutes as a small-ball center, and the Bucks are more than holding
their own with that.
Another underrated asset to the Bucks in their frontcourt has
been Bobby Portis, who re-signed with Milwaukee on a two-year, $9
million deal this past offseason. Portis playing heavy minutes
alongside Giannis has been a blossoming success story. In the 612
minutes Portis and Antetokounmpo have shared the floor, Milwaukee
is outscoring opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions (113.6
ORTG, 103.9 DRTG). It’s the best two-man lineup combination for the
Bucks — a strengthened inside-out duo that really feeds off one
another. As Giannis dominates around the basket, Portis optimally
spaces the floor, hitting three-pointers at an elite clip of
Imagine all the possibilities for the Bucks when Lopez is back.
This frontcourt trio will allow head coach Mike Budenholzer to mix
and match how he pleases, presenting endless mismatches to the
The Bucks lost some depth this offseason, especially with PJ
Tucker going to the Miami Heat in free agency. However, they have
made up for it by adding more floor-spacing acumen to boost their
offensive ceiling around a generational talent in
Grayson Allen has been an amazing boost for Milwaukee, purely
from an offensive perspective. Allen’s role in the offense is to
make the right reads as a passer and splash threes at an
above-average rate. Allen is accomplishing both for the Bucks,
including a three-point percentage of 39.0% on 6.8 attempts per
Wesley Matthews returned to Milwaukee during the season, as
well, after his one-year stint with LeBron James and the Los
Angeles Lakers. Matthews was another vital piece to the puzzle a
few years ago, and he’s seamlessly fit back into his role in
Once DiVincenzo finds his rhythm, the Bucks will have a lot of
guards who can make the lanes wider for Antetokounmpo to bludgeon
defenses with nonstop aggressiveness.
Recently, we’ve seen what could be the future vision for the
Bucks come playoff time as it relates to their offense hitting peak
levels of dominance behind their MVP winner.
Since Christmas, Antetokounmpo is averaging 31.9 points, 10.6
rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.3 blocks while carrying an outstanding
63.7% True Shooting percentage. Giannis’ usage rate has ramped up
from that point as well, checking in at 37.1%. It’s a lot on the
Greek Freak's plate, but he’s shown consistently throughout his
reign of terror that he can singlehandedly put the Bucks on his
back without issue.
The Bucks are still trying to gain a consistent rhythm from last
season’s championship run, the first Finals victory in 50 years for
the organization. However, once the playoffs officially arrive,
this team is set up to do some serious damage in a more revamped
(It will also be very interesting to see what the Bucks do at
this year’s Feb. 10 trade deadline. With not a lot of assets to
work with, maybe the Bucks view Lopez’s eventual return as their
Yes, the Brooklyn Nets look legit as usual behind Kevin Durant,
James Harden and a part-time Kyrie Irving when all healthy. The
Chicago Bulls are now back in the mainstream with an outstanding
season headlined by their dynamic duo of Zach LaVine and DeMar
DeRozan. Never rule out the Miami Heat either, who are beginning to
turn their own corner as well.
Joel Embiid is putting up jaw-dropping numbers for the Ben
Simmons-less Philadelphia 76ers right now, keeping them in the
top-tier race of the conference. The Cleveland Cavaliers are right
in the thick of it as this year’s surprise team making the
certified jump to legitimacy.
In the end though, the Bucks are where I lean regarding who
eventually comes out of the East to get to this year’s Finals.
Whichever way you want to slice it, the Bucks are not a team to be
underrating. If anything, when you dive deeper, they look to be
even stronger for a deep postseason run.