Throughout its near 50-year history, the Milwaukee Bucks franchise has relied heavily on draft picks and mid-level veterans approaching the tail end of their contracts. Thus, Milwaukee often experiences a ton of roster turnover, leading to constant instability. However, this modern day era of Bucks is unique. The roster contains a plethora of young talent, via either the draft or the various trades management has completed. The cherry on top of it all was Jason Kidd’s power move, which ultimately ended in his celebrated arrival in Milwaukee. No head coach in history has flipped around his fortunes so quickly, going from the consensus worst coach in the league to a dark horse candidate for Coach of the Year.
Frontcourt: In wake of Larry Sanders’ contemplated retirement and alleged drug issues, former lottery pick John Henson has assumed the duties as paint anchor. A third-year center from UNC, Henson’s offensive is limited to mainly layups, dunks and put-backs. On the other hand, Henson is a fabulous rim protector averaging 1.7 blocks per game this season in just 16.7 minutes. Sanders’ extended absence throughout the past year or so has been a blessing in disguise as Henson continues to prove his worthiness of a contract extension. If Milwaukee somehow finds a deal to unload Sanders’ remaining four-year, $44 million contract, Henson is perfectly capable of replacing him.
With Jabari Parker declared out for the season with a torn ACL, Jason Kidd has opted to play Giannis Antetokounmpo at power forward. Since he was drafted 15th overall in 2013, Antetokounmpo has sprouted to nearly 7-feet tall, from his original measurement of 6-foot-8. Weighing in at a mere 217 pounds, the 20-year-old does not pose much of a physical presence, but his versatility and raw talent undeniably make up for any lost ground. Averaging 11.4 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, Antetokounmpo remains one of the league’s most intriguing young prospects and arguably the best product from an otherwise weak 2013 draft.
Jared Dudley’s career was defined as a member of the “Run N’ Gun” Phoenix Suns while playing alongside Steve Nash. He emerged as the ultra-role player, witnessing a dramatic statistical inflation because of Nash’s premier playmaking abilities. When Phoenix blew up the roster, the Los Angeles Clippers bought high on Dudley, shipping him to Milwaukee a year later for salary reasons. Although the swingman’s eight points and three rebounds per game are unimpressive, Dudley’s real contributions come from a chemistry standpoint. He’s played a key role in the Bucks developing a cohesive unit, translating into a much-improved record and likely playoff appearance.
Backcourt: Milwaukee’s backcourt is loaded with talent, stemming from the Brandon Jennings deal in 2013. The Detroit Pistons packaged lottery pick Brandon Knight and second-round pick Khris Middleton to acquire Jennings, a deal that turned out more lopsided than expected. Middleton has produced far beyond expectations in Milwaukee, averaging 11.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game as opposed to 6.1 points and 1.9 rebounds per game in Detroit. This is partly because Middleton seldom saw court time in Detroit. The shooting guard owns a barrage of offensive weapons, as his shots are evenly distributed from the paint to mid-range to three-point range. Where Middleton is most lethal, though, is in the paint, converting 55.9 percent of his shots within that area.
The case could have been made for a Brandon Knight All-Star appearance. His stat line of 17.7 points and 5.3 assists per game is almost identical to last season’s, but Knight has visibly improved as the catalyst and leader to Milwaukee’s offense. Often times, the Bucks’ offense instantly becomes stagnant when Knight sits because of the team’s lack of depth at the position. Knight is Milwaukee’s most consistent and dangerous offensive threat, adept at creating his own offense when necessary. Still in the early years of his career, Knight has plenty of room for improvement and must clean up his paltry 1.6 assist to turnover ratio if he plans on yielding the coveted maximum contract this summer.
Keys To Victory:
Force Milwaukee Off The Three-Point Line: Milwaukee is loaded with three-point marksmen from top to bottom. In fact, the Bucks shoot the fifth best three-point percentage as a team, converting an obscene 37.8 percent. Allowing Milwaukee to heat up from behind the arc will be a death sentence for the Lakers. Considering Los Angeles’ lack of wing defenders, the Bucks may be in for a field day.
Pressure The Ball-Handler: As efficient as the Bucks are, the offense only manages to pour in 98.4 points per game, ranking in the bottom third in that category – the primary reason being turnovers. With more experience this number should dip, but 16.1 turnovers per game will make it extremely difficult to win games no matter the personnel. Therefore, Los Angeles must be adamant in pressuring the ball-handler, forcing ill advised passes all night long.
Ed Davis’ Production: Davis’ stock crashed during the Lakers recent losing streak, forcing Byron Scott to bench the big man in favor of Robert Sacre. Being benched for Sacre will destroy any player’s psyche, but Davis must unleash his inner beast with Jordan Hill pronounced out for at least two weeks. Defense is essential. If Davis can focus on defense first, the easy opportunities on offense he was seeing early on will undoubtedly return.
Milwaukee Bucks (26-22) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (13-35)
5:00 PM PST February 4, 2015
BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI
TV: TWC SN / TWC D
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)
Bucks Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Brandon Knight
SG: Khris Middleton
SF: Jared Dudley
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: John Henson
Key Reserves: PG: Jerryd Bayless SG: O.J. Mayo PF: Kenyon Martin
Lakers Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Jordan Clarkson
SG: Wayne Ellington
SF: Ryan Kelly
PF: Tarik Black
C: Robert Sacre
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