Four key Bucks storylines ahead of 2021-22 season: Milwaukee’s depth offers real chance to repeat as champions

How a lot time have you ever spent fascinated about the Milwaukee Bucks over the previous six weeks? It has been a remarkably calm offseason in Cream Metropolis. Gone are the cynical questions in regards to the luxurious tax and the existential dread of Antetokounmpo’s impending free company. Now not will the discourse surrounding this crew give attention to its supposed playoff shortcomings. The Milwaukee Bucks are your 2021 NBA champions, and it will be simple to overlook that in gentle of the Lakers-Nets arms race that adopted. 

Misplaced within the hoopla of these coastal tremendous groups is the truth that Milwaukee may need the NBA’s greatest participant, and so they nearly definitely have the very best roster they’ve ever been capable of put round him. The Bucks consciously selected to sacrifice depth within the identify of top-end expertise once they traded a number of key gamers for Jrue Holiday, however a 12 months later, they’ve managed to recoup that depth. In George Hill’s case, that is literal. One of the best participant Milwaukee gave up for Vacation is already again, and becoming a member of him is former Memphis marksman Grayson Allen and a seemingly wholesome Donte DiVincenzo, who missed many of the 2021 championship after tearing an ankle ligament towards the Miami Heat

That hardly ensures a repeat, but it surely positions Milwaukee as a surprisingly compelling foil to the large dangerous Nets and Lakers. Right here we now have two metropolitan juggernauts seemingly on a crash course for the Finals, and all that is standing of their method is… the man who scored 50 factors in a Finals closeout recreation and an nearly unfairly deep solid of supporting gamers. As badly because the plenty would possibly need to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant slug it out for the title, the champs can be heard from earlier than it is all stated and executed. Listed below are the largest storylines getting into their title protection. 

Milwaukee Bucks roster

  • Grayson Allen
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo
  • Thanasis Antetokounmpo
  • Elijah Bryant
  • Pat Connaughton
  • Donte DiVincenzo
  • Mamadi Diakite
  • George Hill
  • Jrue Vacation
  • Rodney Hood
  • Justin Jackson
  • Georgios Kalaitzakis
  • Brook Lopez
  • Sandro Mamukelashvili
  • Khris Middleton
  • Jordan Nwora
  • Semi Ojeleye
  • Bobby Portis
  • Justin Robinson
  • Jeff Teague
  • Axel Toupane
  • Tremont Waters

1. Giannis has by no means had this a lot area

Mike Budenholzer’s Bucks groups have all the time been diligent about taking 3-pointers for Antetokounmpo’s sake, however they actually have not been all that good at making them. They ranked 14th and seventeenth in 3-point proportion in his first two seasons regardless of ending a lot greater in quantity, and whereas they leaped as much as fourth within the 2020-21 common season after making nearly 39 % of their makes an attempt, they fell to 32.1 % within the postseason as soon as P.J. Tucker changed DiVincenzo within the beginning lineup. 

Defenses did not guard Tucker. That will not be true of the gamers changing him. Hill led the NBA at 46 % from behind the arc in his final season with the Bucks. Allen hit a extra modest 39 %, however took extra 3-pointers per 100 possessions (10.4) than anybody in Milwaukee’s Finals rotation. The Bucks aren’t simply getting higher behind the arc. They will take much more pictures from there. 

That is going to make Antetokounmpo’s life considerably simpler. Basketball Index’s lineup grading device positioned Milwaukee’s playoff beginning 5 in solely the fifty fifth percentile for spacing amongst all NBA lineups. That is roughly the place Milwaukee has been throughout the Giannis period because of subpar shooters like Eric Bledsoe. Sub in Allen and also you soar as much as the 76th percentile. If Antetkounmpo can rating 50 in a Finals clincher primarily enjoying 4-on-5 offense, how a lot better could be with optimum lineup spacing?

2. The experiment is over

Milwaukee ranked first in protection in every of Budenholzer’s first two seasons. It wasn’t even shut the second time round. The Bucks performed such flawless drop protection that regular-season offenses had been primarily barred from the basket. Playoff offenses discovered workarounds, and the 2020 Warmth specifically decimated the Bucks with their motion, screening and capturing. The 2021 Bucks devoted their whole common season to correcting that. They experimented with switching and all manners of different defensive approaches within the common season. That dropped them to a No. 9 rating… however the outcome was effectively value it. Milwaukee’s 106.8 Defensive Score within the postseason surpassed even the 2020 champion Lakers. They received the title with their protection. 

Tucker’s absence will harm that protection, however within the common season? The Bucks have defended simply high quality with out him and ought to be simply nearly as good now. With no extra have to experiment, Milwaukee can lean extra closely into its drop-coverage scheme within the common season each as a method of racking up wins and to make life simpler on weary gamers. Schematic versatility is vital within the playoffs, however sticking to 1 type within the common season can save psychological power. 

Here is a prediction: the Bucks will return to the highest of the league defensively this season, no less than within the common season. Who’s getting of their method? Philadelphia is a multitude proper now. The Lakers have two of the very best assist defenders on Earth, however no guards to stop dribble penetration. The Knicks are due for some critical opponent capturing regression and the Jazz crumble if Rudy Gobert a lot as stubs his toe.

The playoffs are a unique story. Antetokounmpo and Middleton ought to be capable of defend Kevin Durant roughly in addition to Tucker did, however the issue with that strategy is how taxing it’s for his or her greatest offensive gamers. Can Antetokounmpo rating 40 and stop Durant from doing the identical? Is defending Durant a essentially much less taxing endeavor if Kyrie Irving and James Harden are wholesome sufficient to isolate at their typical ranges, thereby minimizing off-ball motion and possessions with the ball in Durant’s palms? Can the Bucks successfully defend the rim with Giannis outdoors of his weak-side shot-blocking function? These aren’t simple questions, and the solutions are in all probability going to find out whether or not or not the Bucks can actually cling with the Nets.

3. How badly do they need home-court benefit? 

As we have lined, Milwaukee’s protection ought to be again close to the highest of the league and its offense has extra capturing than ever. That is its first season with significant depth and three doable All-Stars. Milwaukee has performed at a 58.5-win tempo over the previous three common seasons, and this crew ought to be even higher. 

That raises some attention-grabbing strategic questions. The Bucks received the championship as a No. 3 seed final season, however the advantages of home-court benefit cannot be ignored. Milwaukee went 10-1 at house within the playoffs in comparison with 6-6 on the highway. They managed to win a Recreation 7 in Brooklyn final season, however they wanted Durant to put on the improper shoe dimension to advance to the Japanese Convention finals. A wholesome Nets crew can be favored towards the wholesome Bucks. Dwelling-court benefit is among the few methods they’ll tip the scales, and given Brooklyn’s accidents final season, the Nets are prone to make use of no less than some extent of load administration. 

That is going to be one of many greatest tales of the 2021-22 NBA season. Milwaukee has been a dominant regular-season crew previously, but it surely has by no means married that excellence with the postseason progress we noticed final 12 months. If the Bucks need to repeat the latter this season, they may have to exert the power it takes to decide to the previous as effectively. 

4. What comes subsequent?

One of many quietest tales of the Finals got here the second the Bucks lifted the trophy. By securing the title, Vacation earned a $1 million bonus that pushed the Bucks into the luxurious tax. They’re going to be there once more this season with a team-record $153.5 million payroll earlier than tax funds. Even when the Bucks had a comparatively meager cost final season, Vacation pushing them into the tax in any respect continues to be extremely vital as a result of it begins their repeater tax clock one 12 months earlier. With Vacation, Antetokounmpo and Middleton all locked into long-term offers, the Bucks will nearly definitely be paying the punitive repeater penalty two years from now. 

That’s going to affect how they deal with their very own free brokers, and there are quite a lot of them. Portis and Pat Connaughton each have participant choices for the 2022-23 season, and DiVincenzo and Allen are each restricted free brokers. The Bucks aren’t protecting all of them. They in all probability aren’t protecting most of them. This actuality is a part of what motivated Milwaukee’s push for Bogdan Bogdanovic within the 2020 offseason. High-end expertise is nearly all the time cheaper than depth within the mixture. Bogdanovic could also be making $18 million subsequent season, however that will surely be cheaper than, say, DiVincenzo for $13 million, Portis for $8 million and Connaughton for $6 million. When your starters are ok you get to depend on minimums for the bench. Simply ask the Lakers. 

Do not be shocked if the Bucks sniff round consolidation trades for this very cause, particularly if they’ll get a ball-handler. Pushing again the extension clock on one among their youthful guys by buying and selling for a decide would possibly make sense as effectively. Regardless, the Bucks are in all probability by no means going to have this deep a roster once more, and quietly, the Middleton-Vacation-Brook Lopez triumvirate at the moment are of their 30s. The Bucks haven’t got a lot younger expertise to encompass Antetokounmpo with in the event that they fade. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that this could possibly be Milwaukee’s greatest likelihood at getting Giannis his second ring. | 4 key Bucks storylines forward of 2021-22 season: Milwaukee’s depth provides actual likelihood to repeat as champions


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