It feels like a very long time ago that the basketball world discussed the Milwaukee Bucks as a top contender to win the NBA Finals. Despite being a consensus contender just one year prior, a fair few have already forgotten about the Bucks.
That’s a mistake many are guilty of. But it would be an even bigger mistake if any of their potential playoff opponents are overlooking them. That includes the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers, among many others out east.
Inevitably, the Bucks have gotten less love this season after failing in the bubble – in both fair and unfair ways. Add in the extreme roster additions of the Brooklyn Nets and it’s almost understandable why they’ve felt overlooked. Almost.
Sure, the Nets should be the Eastern Conference favorites but his Milwaukee Bucks team is capable of greatness too – ultimately, people have forgotten how much they’ve as well.
Improvement From Three-Point Distances
Last season, the Bucks were a middle-of-the-pack three-point shooting team in terms of percentage. Milwaukee shot the fourth most three-point attempts per game – but as a team only converted on 35.5 percent of them, ranking 18th in the league.
This season, they only trail the Los Angeles Clippers in team three-point percentage, jumping up the league rankings by bumping last year’s 35.5 number to 39.3 in 2020-21. More good news, it’s obviously not a fluke.
The changes the Bucks made to their roster in the offseason are the primary reason they’re a much better shooting team this season. Hugely significant as well, Milwaukee has seen internal development from Donte DiVincenzo.
After shooting 3.7 threes per game last year, he now leads the team with his 5.1 attempts. In addition to the increased volume, he has increased his success rate by nearly five percent.
Of course, the big move to bring in Jrue Holiday during the offseason has made a large impact. Holiday is much better (more on that later) and specifically is a better outside shooter these days.
But beyond adding undeniable talents, some under-the-radar moves like Bryn Forbes (45.7 percent) and Bobby Portis (47.7) have panned out as well. This team has more reliable three-point shooting than a season ago, something that’s been a thorn in their side for far too long.
The Bucks have a plethora of versatile and talented defenders. While their defensive numbers have fallen off, in general, their roster and track record speak for themselves.
Both Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton are more than capable of matching up with the best guards in the game, even defending bigger players. Holiday especially is a hound on the defensive end, capable of single-handily disrupting an opponent’s entire offensive flow.
Of course, Brook Lopez is a solid option as a rim protector and, at the very least, will contest many shots as the anchor down low. But the big X-Factor is, naturally, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Wreaking havoc on the defensive end, the perennial MVP candidate does so regardless of his on-court teammates.
Finally, the last certified defensive difference-maker is the recently acquired P.J. Tucker. Tucker has long been known for his work on the defensive end, holding his own against bigger players and keeping up enough on the perimeter.
The Bucks will have a ton of options to use defensively if they’re healthy when the playoffs begin. Even when they face off against the most lethal offensive teams, they will make them struggle to grind out possessions on that end of the floor.
Jrue Finding His Groove
Somehow, in amongst the other spotlight-stealing NBA headlines, quickly, Holiday seemed like a forgotten addition.
Recently, he has found his groove and has shown mainstream fans exactly why the team was willing to invest so much. That’s in regard to both the trade assets they moved for him and the hefty contract extension the pair agreed upon.
But if Holiday keeps up his recent level of play, it could all be well worth it sooner rather than later. The defensive impact from the former Pelicans’ guard is never in question.
Since the NBA’s All-Star break, the menacing guard has averaged 21.4 points per contest while adding in 6.1 assists and 4.9 rebounds. Really though, the increased offensive production has much to do with an increase in efficiency.
During those 13 games, Holiday has connected on 54.8 percent of his field goals and 45.6 percent of his three-point attempts. It’s no coincidence the Bucks are 10-3 in the games he has played in since the break – a tread that will no doubt continue.
In the end, the Bucks have three players able to drop 20 points a night when the playoffs roll around – something they could not expect last year. That lightens the load on both Antetokounmpo and Middleton, but also the role players behind Holiday.
It will also inevitably create better looks for players such as Portis, Lopez, DiVincenzo, Forbes and Pat Connaughton.
The facts regarding the Bucks are simple: They’re a significantly better team on both ends of the court than they were last year. So, really, the Nets are hot and the Lakers are defending champions, but no one should be counting Milwaukee out.
Jazz offering Mike Conley $75 million over next three years
According to veteran NBA reporter Marc Stein, the Utah Jazz are preparing to offer point guard Mike Conley a three-year, $75 million contract to remain with the team. Of course, the exact amount is a ballpark figure. Stein stated, “Utah has made retaining Mike Conley its top priority, league sources say, and is preparing a three-year offer said to be in the $75 million range.” The 14-year NBA veteran is a significant piece to the Jazz’s championship window, playing alongside superstar teammates, such as center Rudy Gobert and guard Donovan Mitchell. He helped the Jazz finish their regular season with the league’s best record of 52-20 (.722).
Utah went on to defeat the Memphis Grizzlies in five games in the first round of the playoffs. Though, the team lost four games to two in the conference semifinals against the Los Angeles Clippers. In the 2020-21 NBA season, Conley averaged 16.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, and six assists per game in 51 games started. Then, in the postseason, he averaged 15.3 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 7.7 assists per game. The 33-year-old also shot 44.4 percent from the field in the regular season. Last season, the 2007 fourth overall pick earned his first NBA All-Star selection.
The Jazz will be pressing hard to re-sign Mike Conley, league sources say, and are preparing an offer estimated in the three-year, $75 million range.
More coming soon in my This Week In Basketball column you can get directly by signing up here: https://t.co/A6ycVm5PUQ
— Marc Stein (@TheSteinLine) July 30, 2021
On July 6, 2019, the Grizzlies traded Conley to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Jae Crowder, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick. Furthermore, the Jazz can still trade Bojan Bogdanovic and Joe Ingles this offseason, if they wanted to improve their current salary cap situation. Referencing Spotrac’s 2021-22 cap holds, Mike Conley’s cap figure is $39,344,900. Cap holds are for pending free agents. Conley earned $34,504,132 last season.
The team’s current luxury tax space is $11,173,027. In addition to the aforementioned cap figures, Mitchell and Gobert have a combined cap figure worth 51.34 percent of the team’s total salary cap. These two players’ contracts alone are consuming a huge chunk of the team’s cap. Plus, on November 23, 2020, Mitchell signed a contract extension with Utah. He is set to earn $28,103,550 next season. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. He will earn $35,344,828 next season and $38,172,414 in the 2022-23 season.
However, if the team were to still trade Bogdanovic and possibly Ingles as well, this would clear up an additional 25.68 percent of the team’s salary cap. Bogdanovic’s future guaranteed cash amount total is $19,343,000. They are contributing role players who play together well with the team’s big three, but re-signing the most valuable players is the team’s main objective this offseason. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik might contemplate trading role players who are not worth their asking price. Competitive teams in both conferences have to trim the fat at some point.
Jazz agree to trade Derrick Favors, first-round pick to Thunder
First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are trading power forward/center Derrick Favors and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. The goal here was to help reduce their tax bill. While the six-foot-eight Georgia native does not possess any notable NBA awards or honors on his basketball résumé, in the 2020-21 NBA season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 63.8 percent. The 11-year NBA veteran also recorded a free throw shooting percentage of 73.8 percent last season.
The 2020-21 Thunder finished 27-50 (.306), ranking 14th overall in the Western Conference. They could use another first-round pick. Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, this trade will put Utah $13 million below the luxury tax. On November 24, 2020, Favors signed a three-year, $29.2 million contract with the Jazz. Favors is set to earn $9,720,900 next season. This is the second time in his career he has left the Jazz.
He played with them from the 2010-11 season to the 2018-19 season, before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 7, 2019 for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick. For the 2022-23 season, he has a player option of $10,183,800. The Jazz plan to also re-sign Mike Conley, so this was somewhat of a drastic move to help clear up cap space. On July 6, 2019, Conley was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Jazz, in exchange for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick.
The trade puts Utah $13M below the luxury tax. Will likely still be a tax team if Mike Conley Jr. is brought back but at a lesser financial penalty. https://t.co/9dB6xPLUK8
— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) July 30, 2021
Moreover, scoring-wise, the 33-year-old point guard has not lived up to his performances from his last few seasons on the Grizzlies, but the Jazz need all the help they can get. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik will make it a top priority to re-sign Conley here soon. Conley earned $34,504,132 in the 2020-21 season.
According to Spotrac, Conley has a cap figure of $39,344,900. Center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell have a combined percentage of 47.61 percent of Utah’s total salary cap. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the team. He will earn $35,344,828 next season.
Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal
The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.
On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite the outlandish predictions and mindless speculation from fans over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out great for both teams. Having said that, one person’s prediction is as good as anyone’s. The Lakers needed an accurate shooter. Westbrook might not be the missing piece.
Additionally, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”
I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you! #thedistrict
— Russell Westbrook (@russwest44) July 30, 2021
In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.
Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.
He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.
Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).
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