The NBA is a league run by narratives. As basketball fans, we’re in it for the game itself. But what makes the league so exciting and enticing to watch are the compelling stories that we follow. Stories of teams and players on the rise, teams and players on the brink of demise. MVP comparisons, player matchups or even bitter team rivalries. No matter what the narrative, it is what makes the NBA the league we all love. It is one of the many reasons why we love this game.
Throughout the season, perhaps there has been no other bigger narrative than the Battle of LA between the Lakers and the Clippers. After all, they were the ones that made the biggest noise during last year’s offseason. LeBron James finally got his wish of pairing up with Anthony Davis in purple and gold while Kawhi Leonard and Paul George teamed up with the Clippers to form a defensive juggernaut.
Rightfully, it has captured the narrative centerpiece of the NBA this year. After all, LA is the city of glitz and glamour, with some claiming that the two teams are the sure-fire favorites to win it all when one of them comes out of the west.
But while all the attention was placed on the battle in the West, there is a powerhouse squad out East that has been dominating the season ever since it tipped off last year and has been one of the more interesting stories this season that people have simply glossed over: The Milwaukee Bucks.
Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks were a double-overtime away in Game 3 of the East Finals from going to the NBA Finals. Had they won that game, they would have most likely won the series and it is not crazy to think that they would have been the eventual champions given the circumstances that came about in the Finals.
Of course, things went differently. And here we are over a year removed from that, the Bucks, led by reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, is once again sitting atop of the league standings heading into the bubble restart in Orlando, Florida and are poised to erase their last year’s playoffs meltdown by dominating the league.
However, questions still remain on one of the NBA’s compelling teams with compelling narratives this season heading into the bubble.
HOW GOOD ARE THE BUCKS REALLY?
Prior to the suspension of the season, the Milwaukee Bucks were actually on pace to break the 70-win mark. They have been dominating their opponents through their defense wherein they ranked first in defensive rating (101.6) and opponent points allowed in the paint (38.8). Mainly, this is a product of defensive personnel that this Bucks team has.
Giannis is leading the league in defensive win shares and has been the leading candidate for the Defensive Player of the Year while Brook Lopez is having a spectacular season averaging 2.4 blocks per game which is second in the league. These two behemoths are Milwaukee’s focal point in defense who anchors the paint effectively using their length and rim-protecting abilities. Their perimeter defense is also top-notch with guys like Donte DiVincenzo, Wesley Matthews, Eric Bledsoe, and Khris Middleton.
Here’s an amazing stat to show just how dominant this Bucks team have been on defense this season: Of the players this season that average fifteen minutes or more per game, the top six players that lead the league in individual defensive rating are all the Bucks players mentioned.
The Bucks are also first in points per game (118.6) and rebounds per game (51.7), sixth in offensive rating (112.3) and first in net rating (10.7). To top it off, they have a point per game differential of +11.29. To put this in perspective, here are the top five highest point differential in NBA history:
|1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers||+12.28|
|1970-1971 Milwaukee Bucks||+12.26|
|1995-1996 Chicago Bulls||+12.24|
|2016-2017 Golden State Warriors||+11.63|
|2019-2020 Milwaukee Bucks||+11.29|
This goes to show that the Bucks, they’re not just good. They’re really, really good. In fact, they are having one of the best seasons in NBA history.
ARE THEY CAPABLE OF WINNING AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1971?
To be able to catapult their way into a title, two things must happen for them:
- Giannis and fellow All-Star Khris Middleton must be at their absolute best come postseason because once the games slow down, this is where championship players rise to the occasion. And there is no better time for Giannis and Middleton to prove their worth than now.
- They must believe with their defense because as cliché at it may sound, defense wins championships.
After bagging his first of what we expect to be many MVP awards last season, Giannis is once again on track to win the league’s top individual award for the second consecutive year which he absolutely should.
He is averaging 29.6 points per game (3rd in the league) on almost 55% FG shooting, 13.7 rebounds per game (also 3rd in the league), and his Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 31.63 is tied for fifth place all-time. He is leading his team in points, rebounds, assists, and in every advanced player statistics there is.
Middleton, on the other hand, is also having an incredible season. His points per game average have jumped to 21.8 from 18.3 last season together with 6.2 rebounds per game and 4.1 assists per game. He is also on pace to reach the 50-40-90 shooting clip which only a handful of players were able to do.
And as mentioned earlier, this Milwaukee’s team defense has been an absolute juggernaut this season. Not only are their team built with defensive personnel that complement well with their two stars, but their defensive philosophy of not allowing points in the rim while employing rearview contests on jump shots off the dribble are exemplary tools for a championship defense.
Frankly, no matter what team you root for to win it all this season, there is no denying that the Milwaukee Bucks should be the absolute favorites to win the title.
And given the brand of basketball they are playing right now, especially with the way Giannis and Middleton have been throughout the season, asking if they are capable enough to win the title should honestly not be entertained.
IF THEY DO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP, WOULD IT BE AN ASTERISK TITLE FOR THE BUCKS?
Look, as much as we want to create a narrative that because of the unique setup of the NBA bubble with teams having an “easier path” to the championship, this will be an asterisk season especially for the eventual champions, it’s not.
At the end of the day, the NBA is one of the most competitive sports league in the world. With or without fan attendance, the intensity of the playoffs can never be matched. Even if teams will play fewer games before the playoffs, they will still have to go through four best-of-seven playoffs series against the best of the best in order to win the championship.
So if LeBron James, at 35 years old who has been leading the league in assists, led his Lakers to a title or if Kawhi Leonard, fresh from his championship run with the Raptors last year, once again hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy with the Clippers in front of an empty crowd, does the value of their championship diminish?
I don’t think so. And the same goes with the Milwaukee Bucks. Even if the league is now facing unique circumstances because of the unique situation we are in right now, it does not eliminate the fact that the Bucks have dominated their opponents before the season was suspended. It does not eliminate the fact that Giannis is having one of the best individual performances in NBA history. And it would surely not erase the fact that the Bucks are NBA champions, should they win it all, simply because they are the best team this season.