Perhaps it’s because they’re not “flashy” with how they play. Perhaps it’s because their best player doesn’t pull-up (or stepback) and shoot 35-foot threes like some of the other elite players in the league. Perhaps it’s because there’s no drama with the team (aside from Robin Lopez and mascots).
Whatever the reason, the Milwaukee Bucks are the best team that nobody talks about.
The Bucks are 33-6 with the best record in the entire NBA. They have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the league’s reigning MVP, on their team. For the second straight year in a row, it looks like they might have a serious shot of not only making the NBA Finals, but winning it all, regardless of who they match up with.
Yet, nobody wants to talk about them.
I get it; Milwaukee’s not exactly a “big market.” But it’s been the kind of year where you don’t even realize the Bucks are 33-6. You see and hear all about teams like the Lakers, Clippers, Celtics, Heat, and Rockets, but not about the Bucks.
Let me be clear here: The 2019-2020 Milwaukee Bucks aren’t just good, and they didn’t happen to stumble upon the best record in the league — they’ve been flat-out dominant.
How dominant have the Bucks been this year? They went on an 18-game winning streak, humiliating good teams during the process and made the bad teams (Knicks, we’re looking at you) look even more miserable. On top of that, if you look up any team statistic, chances are you’ll find them in the top 10 for that category. They lead the league in defensive rating (102) and are 3rd in offensive rating (113.4), right behind Dallas’ historical offense and the only-three-point-shooting Rockets’ offense. You would think the Bucks are playing just as well as they have last year, but their net rating this year (11.4) actually surpasses their own net rating from last year (8.6); it should also be noted that by this time last year, the Bucks were 29-11.
Everything in the Bucks’ offense is centered around Giannis. The Bucks like to get out and run, leading the league in fastbreak points per game (18.7); of course, it’s easy when your best player is 6’11’’ with a wingspan of 7’3’’ and the ability to take five steps to travel across the entire court. Stop the Bucks in transition and it won’t matter — the Bucks’ half court offense is just as lethal, ranking second in the league in points per possession (1.017). “The Greek Freak” does most of his damage in the paint, which explains the fact that the Bucks rank third in the league in points in the paint per game (51).
Hypothetically speaking, let’s say you’re able to stop them in transition and keep them out of the paint. Well, the Bucks lead the league in both true shooting (58.5) and effective field goal percentage (55.5) and are fourth in the league in three-point makes per game (13.9). In addition, they rank third in the league in points per possession from spot-up shots (1.066) and rank third in field goal percentage from those same spot-up attempts (40.4%). That’s a pretty devastating combination when you have an all-time great shooter like Kyle Korver paired with other sharpshooters like Khris Middleton, Wesley Matthews, George Hill, and even Brook Lopez. Basically, the defense is put into an impossible situation: try to guard Giannis 1-on-1, in which case he’ll destroy you, or the alternative is to double-team or swarm Giannis when he drives, in which case he just kicks it out for an uncontested three-pointer. Watch what happens in this clip when Bledsoe drives and kicks:
Make no mistake about it — Giannis Antetokounmpo is what drives this team. But the 2019-2020 version of the Milwaukee Bucks are so devastating because of what they have around him, especially on the offensive end. The bench averages 41.5 points per game, good for eighth in the league, and is filled with capable ball handlers that can also shoot like George Hill and Donte DiVincenzo. The most crucial part of all that is the fact that Giannis can sit for long stretches of time and the offense will continue to roll right along because they have other players capable of running an efficient offense.
As if all that wasn’t enough, even when opposing teams can manage to shut down the Bucks’ tornado-like offense — they can’t score against the Bucks’ stifling defense. The best-rated defensive team in the league has the length and quickness to cover passing lanes, and also has high-IQ players on the defensive end that tighten up the screws for the Milwaukee Bucks. Giannis Antetokounmpo is again the focal point of the defense, often playing as a roamer to help on missed coverages, jumping the passing lanes, or swatting away shots near the basket; but the Bucks are an elite defensive team because of the “others” who make it work. We’re talking about Khris Middleton, Wesley Matthews, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, and even someone like George Hill and Donte DiVincenzo that know their roles on the defensive side of the ball and make it work almost to perfection around Giannis.
If you’ve been watching the Bucks this year, you know they just don’t give up easy baskets — opponents are shooting only 41.3% against the Bucks’ defense this season, which leads the league. Miss any shots against the Bucks, and you won’t get another opportunity; the Bucks are the best defensive rebounding team in the league per game (41.5), which means they also lead the league in opponent 2nd chance points per game (10.9).
Okay, well if you’re an opposing team, what kind of gameplan do you carry into a match with the Bucks then? Assuming you want to get the highest percentage looks, hypothetically you try targeting points in the paint or attacking the basket as much as you can by pulling Giannis away from the hoop. Welp, good luck: the Bucks also lead the league in opponent points in the paint per game (37.3), and part of that has to do with the fact that they’re ranked third in the league in blocks per game (6.4). I mean, just look how helpless Lou Williams is in the clip below:
Lou Will rejects the screen from Patrick Patterson (look who’s guarding Patterson and it’s not all that surprising), and is then met with a furious engulfment by Wesley Matthews, Brook Lopez, and Eric Bledsoe (his original defender). Swing the pass a bit earlier to the corner (where Landry Shamet waits), and Middleton slides over (or steals the pass first). Even if Shamet manages to receive the pass and swings it to Pat Beverley, Middleton is close enough to cover the both of them; if not, Giannis would most likely be between Beverley and Montrezl Harrell by that point. With his long strides and wingspan, Giannis can easily contest a jumper from Beverley or make him pass it to a diving Harrell from the top of the key, in which case you still have Matthews and Brook Lopez waiting in the paint for him.
As a result, Lou Will commits the cardinal sin of picking up his dribble and holds onto the ball. At this point, he’s pretty much left for dead. His closest teammate, Patterson, is closed off because of Giannis, and as soon as Harrell dives, Lopez juts out from the triple team to shade Lou Will closer to Bledsoe/Giannis — cutting off any passing lane he may have had to Harrell. At the same time, Matthews inches closer to Lou Will and shades him towards Lopez/Bledsoe, cutting off a pivot back to the baseline to prevent a bailout pass to Shamet. The end result? A turnover.
There’s just no other solution for the rest of the NBA. From the offensive side of the ball to the defensive end, the 2019-2020 Milwaukee Bucks have absolutely steamrolled through their competition, led by a generational talent in Giannis Antetokounmpo. The best team in the NBA regular season last year has been even better this year; while they might be the best team that nobody talks about, there’s one thing they’ve definitively put their stamp on.
The Milwaukee Bucks are the best team that everyone should be talking about.