NBA Title Contenders and their Concerns: Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks are on a 70-win pace because they have the best defender in the NBA and he also happens to be a devastating force under the basket, in the open court, and passing out of double teams. Giannis has even improved his range, now making about 31% of his threes, and more importantly taking them without hesitation, bumping his attempts up to 5 per game.

Giannis’ health is always the most important factor for Milwaukee. He’s been incredibly durable so far in his career and Coach Mike Budenholzer has wisely restricted minutes this year.

Giannis had a precautionary MRI on his knee on Saturday after landing awkwardly Friday night — assuming he’s okay, they’ll likely rest him and give up on the run at 70 wins.

How much can the Bucks depend on Khris Middleton to ease the pressure on Giannis in the playoffs?

Middleton destroyed the Celtics in the East Semis last year, but didn’t play his best in the East Finals against the defensive juggernaut known as last year’s Raptors. Without Kawhi and Danny Green, the Raptors defense has dominated in the regular season again. Can the guys replacing Kawhi and Green (O.G. Anunoby, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson) be as useful in the playoffs as they’ve been in the regular season?

Brook Lopez’ spacing

Lopez is shooting 29% from deep this year, after making roughly 35% over his previous three seasons. Milwaukee depends on spacing to make it work around Giannis. Against the best defenses, those open threes become critical. Middleton and George Hill have both been great from deep, but Lopez needs to heat up soon or teams will intentionally let him chuck those 28-footers in April and May.

Eric Bledsoe’s confidence

Bledsoe has had an up-and-down career but he’s settled into a nice complementary role in Milwaukee. His playoff difficulties have been notable lately. It’s one of the reasons Milwaukee has struggled against top competition over their past two playoff runs. This year, Budenholzer has two key options if Bledsoe struggles: Donta DiVincenzo and Wes Mathews. The only problem: DiVincenzo just turned 23 and he’s in his second season. He hasn’t been through the playoff grind before, and though he’s gaining confidence and plays with great energy, it remains to be seen how much Budenholzer will rely on him, especially if the goal is to keep Bledsoe’s confidence up. Assuming the Bucks have no trouble in the first round, it’ll be May before we see if Bledsoe gets pulled earlier in games in favor of the young buck (couldn’t help it) DiVincenzo or the grizzled veteran of hustle, Wes Mathews. I’ve always loved watching Mathews play defense. His playoff work on James Harden was key in the Blazers’ upset of Houston back in 2014.

Despite their 53–10 record, many NBA experts are hesitant to guarantee them a spot in the NBA Finals because they’ve yet to achieve their best in the playoffs. If the Bucks are healthy, it’s hard to imagine the Celtics or Raptors taking four out of seven from Milwaukee. On the other hand, if Giannis’ knee is a concern, the Celtics, Raptors and Sixers will all have brighter prospects in May.

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