Deer in headlights: Bucks determined to conquer the league

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Keith Allison | Wikimedia Commons

Kyle McKee

Their dominance makes Milwaukee, a virtual lock to be the top seed when the playoffs begin in mid-April. 

Milwaukee has been on a historic pace so far this season. In fact, they are on pace to win 70 games this season. 

This astronomical number has only been achieved by two teams in the regular season in the history of the Association: the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, and the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors with the “Splash Brothers,” Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. 

Those Bulls went on to win the championship, but the Warriors blew a 3-1 lead in the Finals, losing to the Cavaliers in seven. 

Although history is on the side of Milwaukee, the Bucks are not the favorite to win the NBA Finals. 

The Los Angeles Lakers are the favorites to take home the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June, led by their dynamic duo of Lebron James and Anthony Davis, according to oddshark.com. 

The Bucks have the second-best betting odds followed by the other LA team, the Clippers. 

However, the argument could be made that Milwaukee should be the favorite, or at least have the same odds as the Lakers, come the start of the playoffs mainly because they have been best team in the NBA by far in the first half of the season. 

On top of that, the Bucks have the reigning MVP in Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is the front-runner to win MVP again this year. 

Speaking of Giannis, “The Greek Freak” has won Eastern Conference Player of the Month every single month of the season so far. 

Although those awards are not especially talked about in and around the association, as they do not particularly matter to players or fans, the ridiculousness of his achievement cannot be understated. 

Giannis is putting up historic numbers on his way to winning his second consecutive MVP. The Greek Freak is averaging 30.0 points per game, 13.6 rebounds per game, 5.8 assists per game, while shooting 55% from the field. 

What is most remarkable about his output is that he is only playing 30 minutes a game. 

Antetokounmpo is literally averaging a point a minute on the floor, which is a ludicrous statistic. 

Additionally, Giannis is on pace to have the highest Player Efficiency Rating in NBA history. 

Midway through the campaign, Giannis’ PER is 32.3. Wilt Chamberlain holds the record of highest PER for a season at 32.8, set during the 1962-63 season. 

If Giannis continues his play, his 2019-20 season might go down as the greatest regular season of all time. 

“The Greek Freak” is the best player in the NBA in the fast break and in the paint. 

Like a bull in a china shop, Giannis makes his presence in the paint known, leading the league in paint points per game at 17.9. 

The man is unstoppable in the paint, comparable to a modern-day version of Shaquille O’ Neal. He has the uncanny ability to back anyone down and dunk on them. 

He is also smart enough to realize when he is doubled and to find the open man. On the fast break, Giannis is a freight train. 

He may not be the fastest player in the league, but he is so long, that he can get up the court as fast as anyone in the league. 

When he decides he wants to fast break and go the length of the floor, there is no stopping him. 

“The Greek God” is a more fitting nickname than the “Greek Freak.” In fact, that is when the Bucks are at their best. 

Giannis attracts so much attention in the fast break that his teammates can easily get open for a spot-up three. 

Hitting those open shots that Giannis creates in transition will be crucial for the Bucks in the postseason. 

Speaking of the other players on the Bucks, Milwaukee’s front office has done a tremendous job building this team around Giannis. 

Khris Middleton, one of the most underrated players in the league, is a legitimate all-star and the type of player that can score a bucket at any time during a game.

Middleton earned his second All-Star appearance this year, and has elevated his game to solidify his role as the Robin to Giannis’ Batman. 

Middleton is on pace to record career-highs in points and assists. Also, he currently has the highest effective field goal percentage, or eFG%, of his eight-year career with .589.   

The reason Middleton is so underrated is because he doesn’t need the ball in his hands all the time and he always gets overshadowed by the performance of Giannis. 

Middleton is a great spot-up shooter along with everyone on the Bucks roster, which forces the defense to stay true to their man. 

This gives Giannis a one-on-one match-up which can only spell disaster for opponents — and nobody can stop Giannis one-on-one. 

Along with Middleton, George Hill, Eric Bledsoe, Pat Connaughton, Kyle Korver, Brook Lopez and more have all improved from last season, and it built even more chemistry playing together.

Korver and Hill provide Milwaukee with three-point snipers and competent guard play. Hill, in particular, leads the league in three-point percentage. 

Bledsoe is the third-leading scorer on the Bucks, and is a reliable walking bucket whenever Giannis and Middleton are off their game.

Lopez gives the team veteran-savvy in the five position, and Connaughton is capable of high-flying and electrifying dunks, as seen in the 2020 Slam Dunk Contest in Chicago.  

Although Milwaukee is starting to see the fruits of the labor to create a talented team with chemistry, the biggest question for the Bucks for the playoffs lies in Antetokounmpo’s supporting cast. 

The jury is still out on whether they can keep up their performance come playoff time. 

Every superstar basketball player who has ever played, including Jordan, Lebron, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, can attest to the value of role players. They win the championships, not the superstars. 

For the Bucks, Giannis is going to show up and show out, regardless of who the Bucks play. 

However, can those key role players — Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo and George Hill — step up their games and produce like they have for the playoffs?

Last year, the Bucks went up two games, in a best of seven Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors. 

After going up two games, the Bucks proceeded to lose four games straight, and losing the series in 6. 

The Raptors went on to win the championship against a hobbled Warriors squad. 

The Bucks were tantalizingly close to the championship last year and so far this season, they are showing how they have improved from last year. 

Going to the Finals is the expectation for the Bucks, especially in an Eastern Conference that is top-heavy and diluted. 

However, if the Bucks make the finals, they will most likely play with house money, as the Western Conference is stacked.

The Clippers, Lakers and the Houston Rockets, just to name a few, are contenders for an NBA Finals berth. Failure is the best teacher, and Milwaukee is ready to ace that test.