Spectacular Play From Giannis And Great Coaching Strategy Have Guided The Bucks In A Positive Direction

Updated: February 18, 2019
Giannis Pic

It’s absolutely fascinating to see the Milwaukee Bucks make the type of leap that they’ve made. Although their offseason might have been seen as an uneventful one, you could make a case that the addition of coach Mike Budenholzer has been equivalent to an acquisition of a star player. Budenholzer, after escaping the Hawks job that was filled with uncertainty and unknown, has completely revamped the Bucks, on both ends of the court.

Last season, their offensive approach was more archaic than modern—opting to shoot mid-range jumpers quite frequently (#13 in mid-range jumpers with 17.3 per game), rather than attempting shots from beyond the arc (#25 in three pointers attempted, 22nd in percentage).

“Coach Bud wants us to shoot more 3’s. A lot more 3’s” – Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon before the start of the 2018-2019 campaign on what the newly acquired coach would bring to the table.

This year, the first under coach Bud, his team is attempting the second fewest mid-range shots with only 7.6 per game. The three-point frequency has skyrocketed, to say the least. Milwaukee attempts the second most three pointers per game (37.6), even if the team is only hitting 35.3% on those shots.

The floor spacing has allowed the superstar of the team, Giannis Antetokounmpo, to have his best season yet, and he is in serious consideration to take home the MVP trophy. Antetokounmpo is driving to the rim 1.8 more times per game and receiving 1.2 more paint touches than in the previous season. When the Greek freak gets into the paint, the defense starts scrambling, and with shooters on the perimeter, ready to let it fly after receiving a pass, Giannis has a variety of choices as to which teammate he should swing the ball to. That’s part of the reason why Antetokounmpo is averaging a career high in assists with 5.8 (as well as a career best in turnovers with 3.4). Budenholzer has encouraged Giannis to be more of a playmaker with all of that floor spacing around him, and so far, it has definitely worked.

One player that has helped all of this become reality, though, is the Splash Mountain that is Brook Lopez. A free agent signing that went under the radar has turned into a massive bargain, and it’s possible to make a legitimate argument that the 7-footer has been Milwaukee’s most important player not named Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Brook’s floor stretching element as a 5 man has forced opposing centers to step out of their comfort zones and stand near him on the perimeter, rather than patrolling the paint. And it’s not like Brook is only limited to spot up, catch and shoot opportunities, we have seen Lopez release step back three-pointers, which adds another element to his three-point shooting aspect. With no center acting as an interior defensive anchor, which is almost always the main line of defense and a needed rim protector. That has allowed Giannis to feast inside, scoring at such rates in the paint that fans haven’t witnessed for quite some time.

The Bucks have been dominant in the regular season and may hold onto that #1 seed until the start of the postseason. While Milwaukee has been terrific, there are serious concerns regarding how the offense will look.

In the playoffs, coach Budenholzer will run into some issues with having to play Brook Lopez big minutes. With opposing teams actually planning for a series, that may make Lopez a glaring gap to attack. Although he has been a big reason why the Bucks have been one of the better defensive squads in the association thanks to Milwaukee’s scheme that forces opposing players to attack Lopez at the rim, his lack of mobility is without a doubt going to cause some issues. What happens when the Bucks face a pick and roll heavy system, or a team that can just simply abuse Lopez’s lack of mobility? It’s hard to envision Brook hedging or even switching, that would expose some of his deficiencies and weaknesses on defense. Although those should be worrying possibilities for the Bucks come playoff time, it seems that the front office already knew that this would happen. That’s why the move to acquire Nikola Mirotic was made.

With the addition of Mirotic, Budenholzer will be able to utilize the Giannis at center lineups much more frequently and with increased effectiveness. Lopez’s floor spacing has been instrumental in Milwaukee’s success offensively and has also completely unlocked the freak that is Giannis Antetokounmpo, but putting Mirotic next to Antetokounmpo won’t be that big of a downgrade, if at all on the offensive side of the floor. Mirotic, himself, is a certified—although inconsistent—bomber, capable of shooting the basketball from 30+ feet, which poses yet another dilemma for the opposing teams trying to guard him. We witnessed how much another superstar player like Anthony Davis,  benefited from having Nikola playing next to him. While Mirotic won’t have the same impact on Giannis due to different roster constructions, the 6’10 power forward will most definitely help him out.

Defensively, Nikola gets a lot of bad rep for not being a great defender. That, however, is not really true. Fans love to stick the bad defender label on European guys that aren’t that athletic. In some cases, that may be true, in Nikola’s – it’s not. Mirotic showed that he can hold his own and stay on the court in last year’s playoffs when the Pelicans dismantled the Blazers in 4 games and put up a respectable fight against Golden State before getting eliminated in 5 outings. Mirotic is a gritty and physical defender that understands off-ball tactics pretty well. His man-to-man defense is a bit lackluster, but it’s hard to ask a lot out of him considering his physical tools in those situations.

There are some injury concerns with Mirotic. After being relatively healthy for the majority of his career, the injury bug isn’t willing to abandon him. Mirotic has already missed twenty-four contests with various injuries, currently out with a right calf strain. The Bucks don’t need for Mirotic to be healthy now, but they will need for him to be available in the postseason.

There is some risk involved in making this move. Milwaukee has no use out of those 4 future second round picks they traded away in the deal to receive Mirotic due to them being in a win now mode, but those assets could’ve been used to orchestrate another deal. If Nikola continues to stay on the sidelines with an injury or massively underperforms, that trade will probably be a loss for the Bucks. He’s an expiring contract and will be a free agent in this year’s offseason, Niko could just simply walk away.

Although there is that risk component, compared to the reward, it’s minimal. Mirotic will not only add shooting to the Bucks roster, but the Bucks are also getting a skilled player who will be a valuable contributor in the postseason as well. This wasn’t a drastic move comparable to the Tobias Harris or Marc Gasol trades, in terms of an all-star caliber player joining an elite eastern conference team/rival, but it damn sure helps the Bucks. There is little to no risk involved with this move, something that can’t be said for Philadelphia and Toronto’s moves.

The rich get richer, and the Milwaukee Bucks are going to benefit greatly from this move. While this doesn’t automatically push them over the hump and make them clear favorites to get out of the Eastern Conference with a ticket to the NBA Finals, it strengthens their odds to do so. With Giannis’ free agency looming over the Bucks franchise, these are exactly the types of moves needed to make your superstar feel content about the direction that the team is headed.



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