NBA: Bucking the Trend

LeBron James leaving the East for the Los Angeles Lakers drew many headlines. The Kawhi LeonardDeMar DeRozan mega-deal also drew the attention of many. Finally, Jimmy Butler’s antics in Minnesota had many clamoring for the start of the NBA season.

However, the team that may have the most potential is the one that seems to be constantly overlooked by the general public: the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks should feel like contenders with James no longer in the East. They are led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who last year averaged a monster per-game stat line of 26.9 points, 10 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks. The Greek Freak’s dominant play on the offensive and defensive ends garnered him plenty of MVP buzz. Nothing should change this season.

Now, Milwaukee arguably has the best player in the conference in Giannis. While other players like Kawhi Leonard, Joel Embiid, and Kyrie Irving may have something to say about that, there is no denying how impressive Antetokounmpo has been the past three years. Having him puts everyone on notice in the East.

Yet, it’s the supporting cast that will help make the Bucks a top-three seed in the East. After taking the undermanned Celtics to seven games in the first round last season, the Bucks will be looking to improve upon back-to-back first round exits in the past two seasons. To help Giannis take his game to the next level, the Bucks decided to hire the best free-agent coach on the market in Mike Budenholzer.

It is believed that Budenholzer’s pace-and-space offense will help Giannis flourish even more.

The new coaching regime will also certainly have an effect on the other Bucks. Veteran point guard Eric Bledsoe is the perfect player to run Budenholzer’s fast-paced offense. His explosiveness will be his greatest asset for this Bucks team. Both Malcolm Brodgon and Khris Middleton will be looking to supplement Giannis’ post presence as perimeter threats that can shoot and slash.

Brogdon had a bit of a regression in his sophomore season, he is seeking to establish himself as a full-time starter. Meanwhile, is Middleton coming off a career year in which he averaged 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4 assists per game. If Middleton can maintain those stats and further improve his game, then he will be the definitive second scoring option for the Bucks.

The biggest free-agent addition for the Bucks was the acquisition of Brook Lopez. Lopez creates space on the floor for Giannis to operate. Lopez can act as either a stretch-five, with his new-found three-point shooting ability, or a relentless down-low finisher. Either way, his versatility on the court may prove to be the biggest boost for Giannis and the Bucks. In fact, Lopez is so confident in his new team that he believes that they can win the East. Those are the words of a player who sounds all-in on the Antetokounmpo-led Bucks hype train.

The grandest obstacle for the Bucks getting a top-three seed are the aforementioned teams that are favored ahead of them in the East. The Celtics have one of the best rosters in the entire league, the Raptors were the first seed last year without Kawhi, and the Sixers have Simmons and Joel Emiid to further their self-proclaimed “process”. However, of these three teams, I believe the one that will fall out of the top-three is Phily. Even though Simmons and Emiid will both have outstanding statistical seasons, the Bucks simply have the more complete team.

The Bucks second unit consists of veterans like Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, and Tony Snell. They also seem to be promoting Villanova rookie Donte DiVincenzo over Matthew Dellavedova as the primary ball-handler in the second unit. DiVincenzo flashed plenty of potential as one of the leaders of the NCAA Championship-winning Villanova squads. The fifteenth pick in the draft, DiVincenzo was the most outstanding player in the Final Four last year, and earned many quality starts towards the end of season. Although he only started in 10 of their 40 games, he was a lethal shooter, shooting 48 percent from the field and 40 percent of threes. If he and the other bench players can consistently produce, they will be a scary team to deal with night-in and night-out.

With some slight adjustments from a relatively successful season last year, the Bucks can form themselves into a title contending team. Although everything will be centered around the 23-year-old Greek All-Star, it is up to Antetokounmpo’s teammates to step up. However, there is strong belief  that coach Bud is the perfect man for the Bucks given his track record in Atlanta. The Bucks are on the cusp of turning a crucial corner. One that involves more success.

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