NBA: Are the Milwaukee Bucks championship contenders?

The Milwaukee Bucks have been cannon-fodder in the playoffs for almost 30 years now, only once since the 1989 season have they made it out of the first round. 2001-02 was the last season Ray Allen was in town, Allen Iverson scuttled what looked like a Finals appearance when he brought the 76ers back from a 2-1 deficit. 

This year new coach Mike Budenholzer has given Giannis Antetokounmpo the keys to the offense. By loading the roster up with strong shooters and emphasizing space and pace, Giannis has taken his game to a whole new level. Driving lanes are open for him to dunk as potential defenders help off outside shooters.

Not since the days of Wilt Chamberlain has the league seen someone as dominant in the paint as Giannis. His percentage in the paint is a scarcely believable 64 percent.

Not only has Coach Bud supercharged the offense he has turned the Bucks defense from 19th in the league last year to leading the league this year. Defending the 3-point line has been of utmost importance. Bud’s defensive system pushes opposing teams into midrange shots and keeps them off the 3-point line and out of the paint.

Brook Lopez is the defensive linchpin for the Bucks, his 3 and D play has been massive for the Bucks.

Coach Bud has his key players firing on all cylinders and at the trade deadline they even managed to improve their team. An unhappy Thon Maker is now in Detroit while Jason Smith was shown the exit. With arguably the best move of the trade deadline as far as fit goes, they sent out four second rounders for Nikola Mirotic from the Pelicans.

Niko is a massive addition for the Bucks. Ersan Ilyasova has been playing back up power forward and although hasn’t been doing a bad job, offensively he is not the player Mirotic is. Mirotic’s defense is strong enough to hold his own in a playoff series and he is an excellent defensive rebounder.

To win in the playoffs you need five guys that can knock down shots and defend their butts off. A lot of teams will use screens to switch smaller defenders onto bigger guys. The Bucks starting line-up has no weak links in it that can be exploited by switches. Malcolm Brogdon is a great defender at 6’5″. While Eric Bledsoe is only 6’1″, he is built like a Greek god and is one of the best guard defenders in the league.

A solid bench is also needed to go on a run.

With a strong bench now headlined by Mirotic, Sterling Brown and DJ Wilson have made leaps and bounds as players. George Hill and Pat Connaughton are two guys that can defend and knock down shots sparingly.

Potential playoff matchups often come down to two key factors, getting defensive stops and having an MVP level player. This Milwaukee team has the league’s best defense and they also have Giannis.

Though Giannis was huge in last year’s first round matchup against Boston. He took a lot of jumpers, rather than the barrage of dunks he has been throwing down this year.

Coach Bud’s system of putting four shooters around Giannis will ensure the driving lanes are open for him to take most of his shots in the restricted area.

The Bucks will probably finish the regular season. They will probably have the NBA’s best record. And, they will probably make it to the Eastern Conference Finals, if not the NBA Finals. Coach Bud will have a few tricks up his sleeves for the postseason. Don’t be surprised to see a jump in performance come April.

Much of the responsibility lies on Giannis shoulders. If his MVP level play continues, fans have a good chance of seeing a Warriors – Bucks matchup in the Finals.

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