The Milwaukee Bucks have already clinched a 2020 playoff berth.
Posting the league’s best record at 49-8, the team has 25 games remaining before the start of post-season play.
Here are 25 facets of their game to pay attention to as they inch closer and closer to their first playoff series.
In no particular order…
25. Now that it’s officially official, and the Bucks will play post-season basketball for the fourth straight year, how many more regular season games will Giannis Antetokounmpo play? He’s averaging just under 31 minutes per game, but that will certainly increase in April, May and possibly June. Coach Mike Budenholzer knows that it’ll always be a fight to sit the MVP, so will he?
24. How will Milwaukee continue to seamlessly work newly acquired veteran Marvin Williams into the mix? Historically, buyout players haven’t made a huge impact on championship teams but the team feels that Williams impact can be felt beyond the box score.
23. Donte DiVincenzo is averaging 22 minutes and nearly 10 points per game this season. He wasn’t available in the playoffs last year. How will the sophomore guard continue to mature as a contributing NBA player?
22. He’s back from a hamstring injury. Potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate George Hill is an extension of Budenholzer when he’s on the floor running the second unit. Although the minutes may shrink slightly, they need the impact of his leadership and efficient scoring.
21. This topic is gaining more steam as of late, but the evolution and addition of a turnaround jumper to Antetokounmpo’s game.
20. Ersan Ilyasova is technically Giannis’ backup. The team doesn’t ask him to be Antetokounmpo when he’s on the floor, but they need him to be in a healthy rhythm when the season winds down. He could give them effective playoff minutes, and maybe even draw a charge or two.
19. Another ‘beyond-the-box-score’ player, Wesley Matthews was signed to defend and be a leader. We’ll see how Budenholzer uses him down the stretch, because when the team faces All-NBA type talent, they need his defensive prowess to be fresh.
18. Giannis started the season shooting 55 percent from the free throw line in October, and 59 in November. In December he increased to 64 percent and in February he’s up to 66 percent from the charity stripe. See a trend here? He doesn’t need to shoot 90 percent from the line, but the more he can stay north of 65 percent, the team should feel really good about their chances.
17. Similar to No.21, as Antetokounmpo continues to develop an inside jump shot, his ability to hit a three will loom huge for Milwaukee as well. He’s not Kyle Korver, obviously, but if he can be a minimal threat, and make defenders think about closing out on him, it causes a problem for the opposition’s entire defensive scheme.
16. Speaking of Kyle Korver, he also needs to get in a consistent rhythm before the playoffs begin. His instant offense, and skillset in the half-court offense will pay dividends.
15. Don’t stop the wrestling matches. Keeps the team loose.
14. Do you like your Robin Lopez to sip tea or hit a left handed hook? Either way, his ability to contribute on both ends of the floor, especially when brother Brook is out, is beneficial.
13. The Bucks don’t really have any players who can only play offense or only play defense, do they? Is anyone on their roster an extreme liability on either end of the floor? That’s a good sign.
12. Keep an eye on the competition. The Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors are playing really well as of late, and gaining confidence. Both teams have recent playoff history with the Bucks as well.
11. On the flip side, the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat are experiencing injury issues. That doesn’t mean they won’t be a threat, but these two teams, as well as the Indiana Pacers, are getting bit by the injury bug at the worst possible time.
10. Khris Middleton is on the brink of joining the 40-50-90 club. That means he finishes the season hitting 40 percent of his three point attempts, 50 percent from the floor and 90 percent from the line. This is an exclusive and elusive club and would be a major accomplishment for the two-time all-star.
9. Will Antetokounmpo repeat as league MVP? He’d trade two MVP trophies for a championship trophy, no doubt, but it will be interesting to see how strong he finishes the season and how the votes shake out.
8. Don’t let teams hang around. It was an issue for the team early, then they fixed their late game intensity levels. This issue is creeping back up for the Bucks as of late, especially when they give up monster performances to star opponents. Once you build a lead, you have to keep it. Especially when the other team is far inferior.
7. Brook Lopez has 7 technical fouls this season. Will he hit double-digits? Curious if there are Vegas odds on how many techs Lopez finishes with this season.
6. 70 wins would be one heck of an accomplishment. The players will tell you that they’re only focused on the end goal of a championship. However, who wouldn’t want to say that they won 70 out of 82 regular season games.
5. He doesn’t care if he hits them, he needs to continue to shoot them and gain confidence. Talking about Antetokounmpo from beyond the three point line. Let it fly. Yes, this is a repeat. But, it’s important for him to continually develop the confidence, and the success, to hit threes during a live game.
4. When Eric Bledsoe gets hot from three, the team plays on a whole other level as well. Watch for the team to get him involved from beyond-the-arc early in games, which will then open up the rest of the half-court offense for their point guard to operate. Looking ahead, the team will look for Bledsoe to play superior defense in the post-season too, especially if they square off against elite guards Kyle Lowry or Kemba Walker.
3. Budenholzer is going to decide how many players he rotates in during a playoff series. How guys play in the final 25 games, as well as matchup advantages, is going to play a big part on how far he looks down the bench come April.
2. Shoot to get hot. Shoot to stay hot. Mentioned this with Ilyasova, and Korver, and Hill among others. Horst has done a phenomenal job surrounding Giannis with shooters. When Giannis sees a double team, or triple team, or teams take away his ability to drive, these shooters, from Pat Connaughton to Matthews to DiVincenzo, have to knock down open looks and keep defenders on their feet. It’s all about the rhythm.
1. STAY HEALTHY! Here’s looking at you, Giannis.