Bucks

Which Bucks Need to Step Up the Most Against Miami?

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It’s been somewhat of a bumpy Bubble so far for Milwaukee.

The Bucks went 3-5 in the seeding games and dropped the first game to the Orlando Magic in the opening round of the playoffs. Although they are faced with the same circumstances (and excuses) as the rest of the teams in the Bubble, they are still held to a higher standard with the best record in the NBA.

The Bucks earned the NBA’s best regular-season record two years in a row, and its heavily due to the team’s well-balanced chemistry. It’s no surprise that players are going to struggle, and some may take more time to adapt to an unfamiliar setting like being trapped at Disneyland. It also takes time for a team to gel, and a four month hiatus will surely disrupt the process.

It does look like the Bucks are starting to find their groove, as they won four straight to complete the gentleman’s sweep of Orlando. Giannis Antetokounmpo has been playing at an MVP level since the season restart, and seems to be controlling his emotions a bit better since head butting Wizards forward Moritz Wagner. When he’s healthy and in control, there’s not much teams can do with Giannis besides doubling and triple-teaming him. When that does happen (all the time), players need to step up and become decisive threats of their own.

ERIC BLEDSOE

The Bledshow.

A dominant point guard should always be able to take control when needed. Eric Bledsoe has to prove this series that he’s worth the four-year, $70 million contract extension the Bucks gave him. Bledsoe’s decision making has always been a concern for fans, who have witnessed some memorable mistakes. Although nothing detrimental has ever contributed to any losses, it’s still an issue.

What the Bucks absolutely need from Bledsoe is his notorious defensive skills. His ability to sneak behind defenders for blocks and steals, while simultaneously envisioning the rest of the court, is where his athleticism and basketball IQ does him right. The 2018-19 NBA First-Team All-Defense PG is what Milwaukee expects from Bledsoe this post-season.

Another haunting concern, though, is the assumption that Bledsoe doesn’t show up (offensively) in the playoffs. Let’s compare:

  • Points per game (regular season/playoffs): 14.2/11.0
  • Assists per game: 4.8/3.7
  • FT%: 79/70%

Against the Magic, Bledsoe was pretty consistent, averaging 11.6 points and 6.6 assists per game. As an extremely talented and well-built PG, Eric Bledsoe should be using his strengths to his advantage. With his athleticism and speed, Bledsoe has the ability to penetrate and either score or kick the ball out to the perimeter. If teams fail to adapt to this, the Bucks will have no problem letting it fly from behind the arc. This would be a tremendous step for Bledsoe and his role on the team, where he is considered apart of the Bucks’ big three.

KHRIS MIDDLETON

(Cold Cash) Money Middleton.

The Bucks all-star guard is another “big three” fragment that needs to prove himself against the Heat. Khris Middleton, who just signed a five-year, $178 million contract extension, was a little inconsistent against Orlando, but he still managed 15.0 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game. His career-high 20.9 points per game this regular season will be highly coveted as the playoffs continue.

It’s obvious the Bucks are counting on Middleton, otherwise that $178 million would have been spent elsewhere. Making his second straight all-star game appearance, Middleton has proven himself to being one of the better players in the league. But the playoffs? That’s a whole new season.

Middleton has always been consistent in the playoffs, and his numbers are even slightly better than they are compared to his regular season numbers. Khris has averaged 16.3 PPG throughout his regular season career, and has upped it to 17.4 PPG in his postseason career. Similarly, his career assists (4.1 APG vs. 3.4 APG) also take a step up.

Khris’ inconsistent play against Orlando didn’t necessarily stem from any confidence issues. Historically, with the exception of a bad game here and there, Middleton has always been rather persistent. As a sidekick to one of the sport’s most dominant figures, Middleton NEEDS to make himself a lethal weapon for Giannis. And although Antetokounmpo may not be worried about Middleton’s slow start, that 1-2 punch is what the Bucks banked on this offseason, and the money was spent for these moments.

DONTE DIVINCENZO

The Big (Young) Ragu.

Even though Donte DiVincenzo didn’t play as much against Orlando compared to the regular season, these minutes are crucial for Donte’s future with Milwaukee. It’s a needed experience for the second-year guard, who missed last postseason due to injury. Head coach Mike Budenholzer has shown his confidence in Donte by starting him in 24 games this season. Those spot starts covered Bledsoe, Middleton and Wesley Matthews.

So, in the horrendous scenario one of those starters become injured in the playoffs, it’s important for DiVincenzo to be prepared. The fact that DiVincenzo was a key piece for Villanova winning an NCAA National Championship should not be forgotten by Bucks fans. Hopefully, Donte hasn’t lost that mentality that titled him champion and the 2018 NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

His numbers, including minutes per game, decreased significantly against Orlando.

Donte DiVincenzo 2019-20 Regular Season

  • 9.2 PPG
  • 45% FG
  • 73% FT
  • 2.3 APG
  • 1.4 TOV
  • 23 MPG

Donte DiVincenzo 2019-20 Playoffs

  • 5.6 PPG
  • 40% FG
  • 60% FT
  • 1.0 APG
  • 1.0 TOV (proportionally bad)
  • 13.4 MPG

It’s important to note he is only 23 and this was his first playoff series. Patience is not only a must-have, It’s very, very necessary– for DiVincenzo and Bucks fans.

THE VETS

If anybody was wondering, the Bucks are not the youngest team in the league anymore. In fact, they have the third-oldest roster with an average age of 28.73. If the average person on your team is 28 years old, then you’re more than likely to have some leadership on your roster.

The majority of veteran leaders for the Bucks are three-point arsonists as well. George Hill shot an NBA-best 46% from three this season. Wesley Matthews has matched that number so far this postseason despite only shooting 36% from behind the arc during the regular season. Kyle Korver, who is currently 4th on the NBA’s all time three-point leaders list with 2,450 makes, is another reliable option. Brook Lopez has increased his three-point percentage by 5% in the playoffs (36%) this season. Also, Brook finished the first round shooting 54% from the field, up from 43% during the regular season.

So when Giannis drives to the basket and is swarmed by defenders, he has to be able to depend on his veteran teammates. With teams mainly focusing on Giannis, it won’t be too difficult for Milwaukee to create separation from their defenders. And If the Bucks are going to continue giving up open three’s on the defensive end, then it’s crucial that they knock them down as well.

COACH BUDENHOLZER

Coaches win championships too!

It’s not up to Mike Budenholzer to actually put the ball in the basket, but as the captain of the ship, you’re the most responsible for when it sinks. Its up to Coach Bud to keep the motor running, and sometimes, it’s him that needs to start it.

After the Bucks had a lackluster performance in game one, they took control after that. Milwaukee’s display of intensity was a night-and-day difference. With Miami having no trouble with Indiana, it will be imperative for the Bucks to start on the right foot. Miami hasn’t been intimidated by Milwaukee all season (well, except for earlier this month maybe), and the Bucks certainly don’t want to fall behind in a series against them.

Coach Bud also needs to address the team’s turnover tendencies and low free-throw percentages. These are massive game-changers that may have cost the Bucks some wins this season. The Bucks led the postseason field with 16.6 first-round turnovers per game, and hold the second-worst free-throw percentage (71.6%).

Giannis Needs to Be Giannis

The Greek Freak wants to feast!

The reigning — and most likely current MVP — has not missed a beat since returning. Giannis averaged 30.6 points, 16.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists across 31.8 MPG against the Magic. All of those numbers are higher than they were during the regular season, so obviously he’s stepping up, right? Of course he is.

Undeniably, Giannis is the leader of this team, and to be the leader the Bucks truly need, he has to control his emotions. Teams will make a valid effort at making Giannis’ blood boil, hoping to land him in foul trouble or possibly even ejected. Giannis has proven to be a leader all season, both on and off the court. Antetokounmpo, as well as other teammates, have always shown their support for the community, especially during the current social justice movement.

Now, as the fight for justice continues, the fight for a championship begins.

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About Mike Konicek

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