The Milwaukee Bucks are one of the youngest teams in the NBA. However, they are growing up very fast.
There are a handful of teams across the NBA with plenty of young talent on their rosters. When considering the teams with the most talented youth, the Minnesota Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, and the Milwaukee Bucks are the four big names that come to mind for fans of the league. While none of these teams will be hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy this spring, they are all expected to play their way into contention within the next few years.
Each team has a group of young stars who have built and are still tailoring their games to adapt to the modern era’s style of basketball. Out of the four teams, the Bucks have the most players who fit today’s model of an NBA basketballer. A “modern era” player is capable of performing at a high level in multiple categories. The best example is LeBron James, as he has mastered the ability to pass, score, rebound, and defend. However, Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo has certainly been making his own case as the next multidimensional star player in the NBA.
We have all come to know The Greek Freak and all that comes with his incredible length, but players like Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton seem to get lost in the cracks. Middleton’s lack of attention is most likely due to the fact that he has been injured for the entire season. Middleton was expected to be one of the team’s top scoring options this season, before he got hurt. Parker has really been coming into his own in his third season as a pro. Now averaging 20.5 PPG with a PER of 20.4, both up about six points from last season, he has become quite the sidekick for Giannis.
Antetokounmpo and Parker’s strong seasons shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, considering that both players have such a large skill set. Drafted in back-to-back years (2013, 2014), these two have set the Bucks up for success for a very long time. While the Bucks are hovering right around .500 this season, they have been showing growth of late.
The development of Parker and Giannis has certainly had the largest impact on the Bucks in terms of the team’s success. Without the two young stars, the team could be in a very different position. Giannis and Parker have a combined score of 15 wins added. While we have to take this number with a grain of salt, the Bucks only have 16 wins total. Without the two young studs, this team could easily have the worst record in the league.
Parker and Giannis are only 21 and 22 years old, respectively. So the fact that they have had such an impressive step-up in production already, in a rather small period of time, is extremely exciting for Milwaukee. They are only going to get better as they continue to develop their games. That sounds like a tall task, considering that Giannis already leads the Bucks in EVERY major statistical category. Parker has also managed to increase both his scoring numbers and player efficiency rating this season. He’s now scoring over 20 PPG on 50% shooting, while averaging 1.3 three-pointers per game. He made nine threes all of last season.
Let’s take a look back at the Bucks’ most recent matchups against the reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers. Milwaukee came up on the losing end both times, but gave Cleveland quite the fight. As per usual in games where the Cavs have to fight for the W, LeBron James asserted his dominance. James tallied 34 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists in Cleveland’s 114-108 victory.
The Cavaliers are clearly the better team when comparing the two, but there is a major takeaway from this game. The Bucks are a very dangerous team. While we are still a couple weeks away from the midpoint of the season, let’s say the Bucks finish around .500 for the year. Typically, the seven/eight seed in the East finishes with a .500 record. The Cavs will most likely finish as the one or two seed in the East.
While anything can happen between now and April, a potential first-round matchup between Milwaukee and Cleveland could be very enticing. Part of the reason the Bucks are able to put up a fight against the Cavs is because of how they match up with them. Cleveland knows better than anyone that Matthew Dellavedova is one of the premier one-on-one defenders in the league, and so far, “Delly” has maintained that title when facing the Cavs.
In the three games that the Bucks and the Cavs have played this season, Delly has caused Kyrie Irving to shoot 46% from the floor. While this number may seem fairly normal, in the first two Bucks-Cavs games, Irving shot just 37%. While we have to consider the most recent performance by Irving where he simply dazzled against the Bucks, the other two games certainly make you wonder what would happen in the playoffs over the course of a seven-game series. Keeping Kyrie in check is not quite as important as a holding LeBron James down, as explained by their EQA’s. Currently, LeBron has a score of eight wins added, while Irving has added five wins to the Cavaliers’ season.
However, putting Irving in a poor position offensively can have a massive domino effect on the rest of this potential playoff matchup. It was no fluke that Irving took — and made — “The Shot” in last year’s NBA Finals Game 7; his offensive wizardry is an extremely important part of the Cavs’ game plan.
While LeBron can single-handedly carry a team if he wants, he also would face a tough opponent and competitor in Giannis. The Greek Freak has the fifth best defensive rating in the NBA, with a score of 98.4. To put that into perspective, Jimmy Butler (considered a strong defensive player) has a score of 104. The Greek Freak ranks in the top five in the NBA in both blocks and steals, and has the second-highest player efficiency rating, behind just Russell Westbrook.
Due to how heavily the Cavs lean on LeBron, he commits a fairly high number of turnovers (fourth most in the NBA). With Giannis’ ability to force turnovers and push the ball up the court in transition, the Bucks have the ability to capitalize on this.
Calling this potential series an upset alert may be a bit of a stretch, but due to the way the Bucks match up with the Cavs and the familiarity between the two teams, Milwaukee could certainly give Cleveland a run for their money.
It all relates back to Kyrie Irving’s success. Think back to the 2015 Finals when the Cavs did not have Irving, and you see the difference in results. 2016 served as a different story with Irving healthy, and the Cavs won the Finals. Now, having Kyrie in the lineup versus not having him at all also plays a factor, but if Delly and the Bucks can hold him to below 40% shooting, get your popcorn ready.
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