When the NBA playoffs begin, talent is often the deciding factor in the outcome of the series. That sounds silly, right? Every team that qualifies for the playoffs is obviously talented, but more often than not star power determines the winner.
One theory, which I believe to be true is that the team that has two (or more) of the three best players in the series comes out victorious roughly 90 percent of the time. Believing in that theory has led me to rank the players in groups from the bottom of each roster to the very best.
If these guys are seeing significant minutes, their team is in trouble
| D.J. Wilson | Milwaukee
| Thon Maker | MIL
| Jonathan Gibson | Boston
| Abdel Nader | BOS
| Guerschon Yabusele | BOS
These five make up the bottom of each roster. While Maker occasionally gets minutes, it’s probably not a good sign for Milwaukee if he’s on the court for more than 10 minutes in a game. The hope for Bucks fans is that he plays some garbage time minutes and that’s it.
Playable, but less is probably more
This group of players will all likely see the floor in meaningful minutes, but they aren’t players that should be depended on to win a game. An outburst from any of these guys would be unexpected, but certainly welcome.
Rotational players that will likely see their minutes cut
| Aron Baynes | BOS
| Sterling Brown | MIL
| Tyler Zeller | MIL
Those three will all see the floor, and have been part of the rotation for their respective teams during the regular season. During the playoffs rotations are typical cut down and key players are asked to play heavier minutes. Those minutes need to come from somewhere, and it’s likely that these three see their minutes cut due to that.
| Greg Monroe | BOS
| Marcus Smart (inj)* | BOS
| John Henson | MIL
| Tony Snell | MIL
| Terry Rozier III | BOS
| Malcolm Brogdon | MIL
| Marcus Morris | BOS
This list is filled with guys that play meaningful minutes, or even start for their respective teams. The better they play, the better chance of winning their team has. None of them are going to carry the load, or be asked to, but the more they do, the better.
*Smart is out due to injury but possibly may return for a potential Game 7 if necessary, which is why he is listed. If not due to injury he would likely find himself higher up on the list, too.
| Jaylen Brown | MIL
| Jabari Parker | MIL
| Jayson Tatum | BOS
| Eric Bledsoe | MIL
At times, these players will be asked to lead their teams. The team that wins the series is going to likely win this battle. Brown and Tatum are two younger guys, in their second and first years, respectively. Bledsoe and Parker have more experience, although Parker has never played in the playoffs and Bledsoe has never been in a key role in a playoff series.
Top three players
This is the category that bodes well for Milwaukee. If Boston had a fully-healthy roster this would be far from the case. But with the Celtics missing both Kyrie Irving and Gordon Heyward they only land one player in the top three.
The gap between Antetokounmpo and Horford for the first and second spot is relatively considerable as well. Antetokounmpo is one of the 10 best players in the NBA and Horford is probably somewhere between 25 and 30. With that being said Horford is criminally underrated as a player. He’s really good, but he’s not someone that a team can heavily lean on to win a playoff series, in my opinion.
Middleton has been inconsistent this season for Milwaukee. There’s no doubting that. But there have been times when he has been able to shine, scoring 30 or more points nine times, including two games of 40 or more this year.
The Bucks having two of the three best players in the series – and four of the top six – is crucial to them being picked by many as the winner of this matchup. If the Bucks are going to win, they’ll need Middleton to play as well as he did during the regular season, and Antetokounmpo to prove that he’s a top 10 player in the world.