The Milwaukee Bucks, by most accounts, were the rejuvenation story of the 2014-15 NBA season. We're talking about a team that managed to win 41 games only a year removed from a dreadful, thoroughly uninteresting 15-win season. Given the addition of a cocky young head coach, an appeasing young nucleus and new ownership with plans to revitalize pro hoops in the state of Wisconsin -- the Bucks are relevant again.
How many teams can win 41 games after only one season of bottoming out? Jason Kidd has laid the groundwork to one of the more disruptive defensive system's in the league whilst the team is still raw, which is no frugal task. And of course, Milwaukee's drafted two star-level talents in Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. This is only year one in what is sure to be a multi-year process, and the Bucks should be very proud of all they've accomplished thus far and the future is very bright.
However, most basketball minds are giving the Bucks little chance to actually make a series out of their playoff matchup against the Chicago Bulls. Because while Milwaukee is young and fun and has length for days, the Bulls are a far more polished team. At any rate, I'd still like to take a look at some of the things we may or may not see from Milwaukee in the series.
There's really no other area to begin when talking about the Milwaukee Bucks, as they are mean defensively. Legitimately one of the elite teams in the league there, as they were top ten in defensive efficiency wire-to-wire this season, finishing No. 2 overall. And all the more impressively, the Bucks kept improving on defense -- despite a hiccup in March -- over the course of the year.
What makes the Bucks so special is that they fear no one-on-one matchup. Milwaukee is able to switch basically anything given their extraordinary height and length. For example, although the Bucks caught some flack for trading away combo guard Brandon Knight, the addition of Michael Carter-Williams enables them to switch almost any guard-to-big action without the switch becoming completely problematic. Carter-Williams, along with backcourt mate Khris Middleton, combine to form one the bigger, longer backcourts in the NBA. No team possess the type of length the Bulls are going to see in this series against Milwaukee.
Furthermore, not only are the Bucks athletic and fearless on defense, but they're also ultra aggressive. Milwaukee swallows point guards trying to run high pick-and-roll -- the Bulls, out of respect, basically ditched any high pick-and-roll action when they played Milwaukee last on Apr. 1 -- and the Bucks thrive off making opposing offenses move at an uncomfortable pace. The best teams -- the Atlantas, the Clevelands, the Golden States and the San Antonios of the world -- can beat Milwaukee by playing that game, but the Bucks are willing to take that risk and play super aggressively because they believe their length can save their asses. And often times, it does.
A couple key areas to watch relative to Bulls-Bucks will be any post action involving Pau Gasol. Milwaukee threw double teams at Pau in their most recent matchup, which should come as no surprise considering Pau scored a career-high 46 points in a win over the Bucks back on Jan. 10. I expect the Bulls to feed Pau in the post plenty -- as they should, I might add -- but how Pau reacts to the added attention will prove to be huge. Milwaukee won't bring a double with any one designated guy, they'll send help depending on the floor balance. So Pau's ability to read-and-react will be essential.
Also, Joakim Noah's high-post passing is going to be another key area if the Bulls aren't running high pick-and-roll with Derrick Rose. Cutting backdoor along the baseline could prove to be an effective way to alleviate some of the pressure Milwaukee throws at them, which worked quite for the Bulls well from what I saw in the Apr. 1 game.
Another thing I noticed in that Apr. 1 game is that the Bulls, much to my dismay, had success throwing lobs. Here's a good example of Carter-Williams getting a little too greedy by trying to cheat his way over the top of screens, and then Mike Dunleavy recognizing this by hitting Jimmy Butler for the lob:
And lastly, the most exciting one-on-one matchup of the series: Antetokounmpo and Nikola Mirotic. The Bulls will be able to get away with playing Mirotic at the small forward spot so long as Antetokounmpo is also at that spot. We saw this happen plenty in the Apr. 1 game. If Giannis could shoot, this matchup would heavily favor him. However, since all Niko needs to concern himself with is Giannis' driving ability while defending him, the matchup isn't heavily slanted one way or the other. Nonetheless, I can't wait to watch two of the brightest young stars in the game get after it.
Hard to get a good read on this, honestly. The Bulls and Bucks haven't played one another where both Rose and Carter-Williams were healthy and active. I suppose, one could point back to the game in 2013 when Carter-Williams hung 26 points and 10 dimes on Rose while holding him to 4-14 shooting. However, Carter-Williams was playing for the Sixers at that point. So I fail to see how that's totally relevant here. Regardless, Carter-Williams surely won't be able to do this to Rose:
What Carter-Williams brings on defense will be somewhat offset if he's unable to score, but that's the entire problem for this Bucks team: I just don't know where they're going to get consistent points from. Or how, for that matter.
If the Bucks can't find a mismatch they like in the post, then they run this 'HORNS' set a lot:
What you're seeing is two big men in the high-post, elbow extended area. Through this setup, the Bucks have a number of options: they can cut the floor in half and run sideline pick-and-roll accompanied by screening action for a shooter on the weakside, they can isolate via entry pass to a player like Antetokounmpo if he has a quickness advantage on a big, and also they have a variety of quick-hitters at their disposal.
Basically, it's a good offense to run in theory when you've got Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. The Bucks, obviously, do not have that.
The Bulls aren't going to have to do anything extra creative on defense to contain Milwaukee running these sets. Stay disciplined, fight through screens. Concede select mid-range twos. And most importantly make sure to box-out, which will be a key subplot to watch in regards to the Bulls' backcourt as they are good rebounders but must help on back-taps.
Prediction: Bulls In Five
All told, as much as I love Milwaukee's defense, I can't see them making this a series. I mean, do they break 100 points in any of these games? The Bulls are just the more skilled, talented group. Like I said, Milwaukee will one day have their time to shine. But as presently constituted they're not ready to compete with Chicago.