Milwaukee Bucks
(Harry How/Getty Images)

As the NBA is gearing up to return in the Orlando bubble, the Milwaukee Bucks are currently among the odds-on favorites to take home the 2020 NBA title. They are firmly planted at first place in the Eastern Conference at 53-12. Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing at an MVP level for yet another season, currently averaging 29.6 pts/13.7 boards/5.8 assists. A lot of basketball fans expect him to lead his team to the Finals and potentially win it all. Spoiler alert: I don’t. And here are some reasons why.

Milwaukee Bucks & the Usage Rate Precedent

Right away, I want to make it clear that all my reasons have to do with the Milwaukee Bucks. I’m not going to say something like, “The Clippers are better; therefore the Bucks won’t win.” Nope, I’m going at this one directly. So you might be wondering why this section is titled Usage Rate. For those who don’t know, usage rate is a statistic attached to a player that gives the percentage of their team’s plays that the player is involved in. LeBron James currently has a 31.6% usage rate, meaning that is the percentage of the Lakers’ plays that he ‘uses.’ Got it? Cool.

Currently, Giannis Antetokounmpo is leading the league in usage rate at 37.4%. You might be thinking that it makes a lot of sense for the Bucks to feed the reigning MVP as much as possible. But here’s a fun fact for you: since usage rate data became available in the 1970s, there have been only five instances where the league leader in usage rate won the NBA Finals. Oh, and all five of those were Michael Jordan. It’s not like the list of annual usage rate leaders are a bunch of scrubs, either. We’re talking Durant, Wade, LeBron, Kobe, Shaq, and other all-time greats. What’s crazy is none of the players I just listed won a championship in the same year they were the usage rate leader. Only Jordan has done it.

The larger point I’m making here is that the Milwaukee Bucks offense is too Giannis-centric. This was an issue that came up in the playoffs last season. Once the Raptors started focusing on Giannis – clogging the paint and denying him easy buckets or driving lanes – the series swung in the Raptors’ favor. They won in six. The Greek Freak still put up really solid numbers in the series, but opponents knew going in that he was the primary focus of the offense and adjusted accordingly.

It isn’t a good sign that it’s that easy to key in on Giannis. Other superstar players like LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard, who are undoubtedly the focal points of their respective offenses, tally insane playoff numbers no matter how the other team gameplans for them. The Bucks have a problem in that Giannis is the highest usage rate on their team, but good playoff teams know how to limit him offensively. If I’m coaching a team that’s facing Giannis, I’m stacking the paint and giving him all the threes he wants. You can’t do that with LeBron, Durant, Harden, or Kawhi. The simplicity of limiting* Giannis is dangerous for the Bucks when combined with his high usage rate.

*Again, limiting is relative. Limiting Giannis is holding him to like 25 points.

Mike Budenholzer

Maybe the usage rate argument didn’t convince you. Anyone can go cherry-pick stats to make whatever argument they want. I understand that, which is why I tried to provide historical context and show why the stat is evidence of a larger issue. So here’s another reason. Mike Budenholzer is a really good regular season coach, but he’s just a decent playoff coach. He currently ranks fifth among active coaches in regular season winning percentage, and his teams have won the Eastern Conference regular season twice. However, his current playoff winning percentage is .500. There’s not really a whole lot to this one. I just don’t really see Mike Budenholzer as a coach who can elevate his team from good in the regular season to good in the playoffs.

The Milwaukee Bucks Lack a Second Star

Khris Middleton is really good. He was an All-Star last season. But I don’t think he can be the number two guy on a championship-level team. I’m not convinced he can take over a game like Klay Thompson or Kyrie Irving can when the number one option is struggling. Scoring the obligatory 15 points isn’t going to get it done. An effective number two guy has to be able to drop 30 points at a moment’s notice.

I would classify Khris Middleton as an elite role player, not a second star. Maybe “elite role player” is a contradiction in terms, but you get the point. In the NBA, you almost always need a second star to win a championship. This team has been orchestrated and built around Giannis Antetokounmpo. They have a lot of nice pieces. But once the opponent forces the ball out of his hands, who do you go to? Middleton? Eric Bledsoe? Brook Lopez? At the end of the day, the composition of this Bucks team doesn’t feel like a championship-caliber roster.

Why I Could Be Wrong

I’m not above admitting that this could pan out to be one of the worst takes I’ve ever had. To be fair, the Milwaukee Bucks are dominating the NBA at a historic rate. They currently hold the fifth-highest point differential in league history at 11.29. Yeah, their average game is an 11-point win. The only four teams in NBA history that had a higher point differential than this year’s Bucks all won the championship. It’s entirely possible that Milwaukee continues their dominance in Orlando, but I don’t think they’re built for the playoffs. The combination of unbalanced usage rate, unspectacular coaching, and lack of a second star will catch up with them eventually.


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