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NBA Daily: Milwaukee Striking While the Iron is Hot

While overshadowed in the East early this season, the Milwaukee Bucks have proven the class of the conference in November. Amidst their 13-3 start, Chad Smith breaks down what has worked for the Bucks and where they could go over the rest of the season.

Chad Smith

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Don’t look now, but the Milwaukee Bucks are about to take ownership of the Eastern Conference.

As hot as the Boston Celtics have been to start the year, Milwaukee owns the best record in the conference at 13-3 heading into the Sunday slate. Following Thursday’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Bucks find themselves amidst one of the easiest stretches of the entire season; in the 16 games between now and their Christmas Day matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers, the Bucks are expected to face just four teams with a winning record.

Forecasting further into the year, after one of the toughest schedules of the NBA’s opening month, the Bucks have the easiest remaining schedule in the entire league.

It goes without saying, but that’s pretty good for Milwaukee. They’ve won seven straight, while they’ve averaged just under 120 points per game in that span. Their offense has already shifted into high gear, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement on either side of the ball.

Even with their success, it’s important to keep in mind that the Bucks have done this without their second-best player, Khris Middleton. The former second round pick has been sidelined while nursing the left thigh contusion and is expected to miss more time. On the season, the All-Star was averaging 19 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists.

Of course, reigning Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo has done the heavy lifting in his absence, as he leads the team in points, rebounds, assists, steals and ranks 2nd in blocks. In fact, Antetokounmpo has put up better numbers than his MVP campaign — a scary thought for the rest of the league. In November alone, Antentokounmpo has averaged 32.4 points, 14.4 rebounds and 6.1 assists.

Antetokounmpo has also continued to push himself; he doesn’t settle for anything and has always looked for ways to improve his game. Perhaps his biggest flaw was his outside shot, but Antetokounmpo has made a concerted effort to get better in that area as he’s averaged nearly two more threes per game this season.

The three-point shot was the Bucks’ postseason Achilles heel, and Antentokounpo isn’t about to let that happen again. He may never prove Klay Thompson or JJ Redick from beyond the arc, but even an average percentage and the threat of the outside shot could change everything for him and the Bucks.

Beyond the Greek Freak, the Bucks have placed a heavy burden on their depth to keep the train rolling with Middleton sidelined. And they’ve responded on multiple fronts.

Eric Bledsoe has scored at least 28 points two of the last three games while he’s shot 47.1 percent from the floor and 46 percent from three. George Hill and Brook Lopez have remained consistent on both ends of the floor, while Wesley Matthews has shot the ball well and has played true to form as an excellent wing defender. Sterling Brown has seen a significant uptick in production, a welcome uptick in the frontcourt without Middleton, while Robin Lopez seems to be settling into his role, too.

Arguably the biggest increase in production has come from the Bucks’ pair of young guards, Donte DiVincenzo and Pat Connaughton. DiVincenzo has averaged 12.4 points per game over the team’s last five and Connaughton, while he has averaged a less impressive 6.4 in that same span, erupted for 18 on Thursday and has been a constant presence on the defensive end of the court.

A different guy has seemingly stepped up every single night. And now, with 12 of their next 16 games in front of their home crowd, the Bucks have a real opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the East over these next few weeks.

Entering Sunday, the Bucks are second in the NBA in scoring while the lead the league in rebounding. They’re top five in terms of field goals made, three-pointers made, and blocks. They’ve accomplished all of this while also locking down their opponent with the third-best defensive rating in the league.

And, again, all of this is happening without their second-best player on the floor.

The assist numbers are not where you might expect (13th in the league), but they’ve made their passes count; 56 percent of Antetokounmpo’s assists have resulted in a made three-pointer by his teammates. Surrounding him with capable shooters has proven vital to Milwaukee’s top-ranked three-point shooting.

Of course, Mike Budenholzer will need to keep them motivated over the course of these next few weeks. The competition may prove soft, and they are games the Bucks should win, but they are games Milwaukee needs to win if they expect to maintain their spot atop the Eastern Conference and nab homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs.

That said, the Bucks are more than capable, and could see a major production bump with the return of Middleton.

So, while the 76ers were the talk of the conference over the summer, the Celtics their most recent darling behind a hot start, keep on the lookout for Milwaukee, who, behind Antetokounmpo, could prove the best team in the conference and the East’s eventual representative in the NBA Finals.

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Legacy

Looking For A Few Great Voices!

From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

Basketball Insiders

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From time to time we have open chairs at Basketball Insiders for writers looking to gain experience, grow their brand and to be part of an aggressive up-tempo content team.

We are considering adding new voices for the 2020-21 NBA Season, and what we are looking for is very specific.

Here are the criteria:
– A body of professional work that reflects an understanding of the NBA and basketball.
– Must live within 30 minutes of an NBA team.
– Must be willing to write two to three times per week on various topics as assigned.
– Must write in AP style and meet assigned deadlines.
– Be willing to appear in Podcasts and Video projects as needed and scheduled.
– Have a strong understanding of social media and its role in audience development.
– Be willing to work in a demanding virtual team environment.

Some things to know and consider:
– We are not hiring full-time people. If you are seeking a full-time gig, this is not that.
– This will be a low or non-compensation role initially. We need to understand your value and fit.
– We have a long track record of creating opportunities for those that excel in our program.
– This will be a lengthy interview and evaluation process. We take this very seriously, so should you.
– If you are not committed to being great, this is not the right situation for you.

If you are interested, please follow these specific instructions, Drop us an e-mail with:

Your Name:

The NBA Market You Live Near:

And Why We Should Consider You:

We do not need your resume, but a few links to work you have done under the above information would be helpful.

Please send all of this to: openings2021@basketballinsiders.com

 

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Headlines

#17 – Aleksej Pokusevski – Oklahoma City Thunder

David Yapkowitz

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With the 17th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder select Aleksej Pokusevski from Serbia. The Thunder completed a trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves to acquire the pick.

Pokusevski is a long term project, but one that has has an intriguing skillset. A 7-footer with good speed and quickness, Pokusevski plays like a wing and can pass like a guard. But, to truly thrive at the next level, Pokusevski will need to put on some serious weight.

Again, he’s a project. But Pokusevski’s ceiling is sky-high. And, with a rebuild ahead of them, the Thunder have more than enough time to work with him and ensure he reaches it.

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Mock Drafts

2020 NBA Mock Draft – The Final 60-Pick Mock

What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Steve Kyler

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What a long and winding road the 20201 NBA Draft has been. While this draft cycle has seen its ups and down, the moment of truth if finally upon us.

Here is a final look at the 2020 Draft, and how it may play out in this final 60-pick Mock Draft of the 20202 NBA Draft process:

 

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