Seven Big Questions For Milwaukee Bucks Stretch Run
The Milwaukee Bucks are at the top of an ever-tightening Eastern Conference playoff race. At 51-20 and with only 11 games remaining, they lead the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers by 2.5 games.
Although they would love to earn the top seed in the East, their primary focus is on getting better every day and heading into the postseason as the best version of themselves. Here are seven big questions that will determine how effective they’re functioning down the stretch.
Can they take care of the rock?
One of the most significant weaknesses of the Bucks’ offense has been their inability to protect the rock, as they rank 18th in turnover percentage according to Cleaning the Glass.
The turnovers come in all shapes and sizes, as they spread it equally among bad passes, lost balls out of bounds, and other types of dead-ball turnovers (If there’s a silver lining, they commit the 10th-fewest live-ball turnovers per 100 possessions). They also rank second in the NBA in travels per 100 possessions. The biggest offenders are Joe Ingles, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday—three of their primary ball-handlers.
Milwaukee has been trending in the right direction since the end of January, ranking sixth in turnover percentage since January 29th. They need to continue building positive habits with the ball in their hands. Their halfcourt defense is extremely difficult to score against, and giving opponents easy opportunities in the open court would be counterproductive.
Will their offense continue trending in the right direction?
Speaking of their offense, it has been a down year for Mike Budenholzer’s club. They ranked third, sixth, seventh, and fifth during his first four years, but have fallen all the way to 15th this season, according to Cleaning the Glass.
The good news is that, like the turnovers, this is also trending upward. Since January 16th, Milwaukee has the fifth-best offensive rating in the NBA, also posting the highest effective field goal percentage in that span.
Adding a healthy Middleton will continue to do wonders for their offense. He and Ingles give Milwaukee four guys (Giannis Antetokounmpo and Holiday are the other two) who can facilitate their offense whenever necessary. Add shooters like Brook Lopez, Grayson Allen, Jevon Carter and Bobby Portis around them and it’s a wrap. These next 11 games will be extremely important for chemistry building.
How will the wing rotation play out?
When the season started, Milwaukee needed more quality wing playersWith the season coming to an end, they have a glutton.
There will be about 96 minutes of wing play available for Budenholzer to divide between the 2 and the 3.Middleton will get about 38 of those when the postseason begins, while Ingles and Crowder will see at least 20 minutes a piece (and could play up to 30, depending on matchups).
That leaves, at most, 18 minutes for Pat Connaughton, Allen, Crowder, or Ingles. One or two of those wings will be extremely disappointed come playoff time.
Will Pat Connaughton break out of his slump?
Connaughton could be one of those wings. He’s struggled shooting the rock this season, knocking down only 33.6 percent of his threes and posting his lowest effective field goal percentage since his rookie year. His shooting percentages have dropped almost across the board and could turn him into an offensive liability in the postseason.
He still brings average defense and can defend multiple positions. That allowed him to stay on the court in past postseason runs. His rebounding is better than ever. Will that be enough to earn consistent playing time over Ingles, Crowder and/or Allen?
Will the Bucks ever get healthy?
We keep saying, “wait until the Bucks get healthy.” But will that time ever come? Milwaukee only has 11 games remaining this season and we are still waiting for them to be at full strength.
They’re as close as they’ve been all season with Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Holiday in the lineup, however, Antetokounmpo’s wrist could be a lingering concern. They’re also missing role players such as Jae Crowder, Goran Dragic and Wes Matthews. There are three weeks left for the Bucks to get right.
Milwaukee has several players in discussion for major individual awards—Antetokounmpo in MVP and Lopez in Defensive Player of the Year. Their teammates publicly lobby for each other to deserve the awards, and they certainly are, but who cares?
The Bucks aren’t focused on winning individual awards at this point in the season. Sure, it would be a nice footnote on their way to their second NBA Championship in three years, but it would be just that: A footnote. This team is in place to accomplish one task and one task only: Win the NBA Finals.
Can they hold onto first place in the East?
Milwaukee’s lead was dangling over the weekend when they were only 1.5 games ahead of Boston and 2.5 ahead of Philadelphia at one point. However, the Celtics fell to the Utah Jazz on Saturday night, while the 76ers pulled into a tie with them by defeating the Indiana Pacers. The Bucks’ win over the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night pushed their lead back to 2.5 games.
The Bucks still have a few tough games remaining (at Nuggets on March 25th, vs Celtics on March 30th, vs 76ers on April 2nd, and vs Grizzlies on April 7th), but should have enough winnable games to stay on top of the East. They must still play the Spurs, Jazz, Pistons, Pacers, Wizards, Bulls, and Raptors.