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.
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