The simple realities of life and limits of time make it difficult to intensely follow one basketball team throughout a full season, let alone multiple basketball teams. Most Raptors fans are sure aware of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s highlight-reel exploits and Khris Middleton’s low-key excellence on the wing.
But it’s in the minutia that the Bucks may be more of a mystery to those looking ahead to the first round of the playoffs. To help peel some more layers of the Bucks onion, we’ve enlisted the help of BrewHoop.com’s Adam Paris for a pre-playoffs Q & A.
What's the general feeling among Bucks fans about being matched up with Toronto in Round 1? Are the Raptors a team Bucks fans were hoping to avoid?
Short answer, yes. Toronto's burned Milwaukee badly these past two seasons, going 7-1 and generally winning by a significant margin. I think most Bucks fans would've preferred a matchup against the Celtics or Wizards. Avoiding Cleveland is always welcome, but the Bucks' track record against the Raptors is dubious at best.
Giannis Antetokounmpo's growth into a superstar has been a well-documented story this season, but for those who haven't seen him outside of games against the Raptors, can you detail just how much and in what ways he's improved this year?
Giannis' rapid rise was one I didn't foresee, not this quickly at least. His year-over-year improvement continues to progress at a steady clip, and his six-point jump in points per game hasn't sapped any of his efficiency. His PER and true shooting are at a career high, all despite shooting below average from most places outside the immediate vicinity of the basket. He's become a superstar, and that's something Milwaukee hasn't had in some time.
Two subtle things have improved for Giannis this year: his patience beneath the hoop and his defensive prowess. For many of his early years, Giannis would bowl into defenders while driving to the basket or get knocked off his spot while trying to go for a layup underneath the rim. While he still caroms into defenders, the amount of patience he's shown shoving off defenders, getting them out of position with subtle pump-fakes and stepping through for a slam dunk has been remarkable. Additionally, he's been Milwaukee's best rim protector this year, allowing just 46.2% shooting at the rim against 5.1 shots per game.
If you were an opposing coaching staff scheming to defend Giannis, how would you approach the task?
Giannis' obvious deficiency continues to be his lack of a consistent jump shot. His three-point attempts curtailed a bit as the season went along, and he looked hesitant to launch even from midrange coming down the stretch. Keeping him on the perimeter, either by hedging hard out of any pick-and-rolls or playing softly off in man-to-man and daring him to shoot jumpers would be my approach. The latter is a tricky proposition considering if you give him too much space he'll build up steam and get to the rim. If that's the case, crashing on his drives and forcing him to kick out and make the Bucks' shooters hit shots is the best case scenario for Toronto.
What have you made of Khris Middleton's play since his earlier-than-expected return from his hamstring injury? What has he excelled at? Where has he been a lesser version of his past self?
Middleton's return, and subsequent quality performances soon after, may have actually raised expectations too high initially coming off his injury. I presumed he would be hobbled, but his Per-36 numbers are still largely in line with what he achieved last year. He's run into a bumpy road of late, missing some of the midrange jumpers that were falling for him early in the year, but his 3-point shooting is still at a premier level. He's shooting a career-best 43.3%, although Bucks' fans continue to lament the fact he's shooting just 3.6 3-pointers per game this year.
In terms of struggles, while Middleton is averaging 1.7 steals per game, his transition game looks a step slow coming off those pickpockets. He's never been much of a dunker, but he only has one since his return. For a guy that once yammed on Jimmy Butler, contested layups shouldn't appear so laborious. Clearly still working his way back, some issues finishing at the hoop are a worthwhile trade off to have him on the court.
How confident are you that players beyond Giannis and Middleton in the rotation will be able to provide steady contributions? Any role players Raptors fans should be wary of?
There's nobody who will strike fear into the heart of Raptors' fans. Michael Beasley will probably worm his way into Kidd's rotations and have himself at least one game, and Mirza Teletovic will probably get hot for another. Otherwise, the consistency (and mediocrity in the case of Delly) of Milwaukee's role players outside of Tony Snell, Malcolm Brogdon and Greg Monroe has been a recurring theme all season. Snell and Brogdon have both shot well from deep, and Brogdon's shown a nifty pick-and-roll chemistry with Monroe all season. Jason Terry's playoff experience will probably count for something, and I'm sure fans will be curious to see how Thon Maker responds to his first playoff action.
Prediction for the series?
I'm going with Raptors in five. I haven't liked how Milwaukee's matched up with Toronto in any of their previous contests, and I don't think they have the perimeter defenders to curtail the Raptor's dynamic backcourt. Giannis is probably good for one game, but I don't have enough faith in this team's depth to deliver another win and get Milwaukee at least three home games.
For a great Bucks-focused perspective during the series, make sure to follow Adam on twitter (@adamrparis). And make sure to check out BrewHoop.com for all of their coverage of the series. I’ll be part of a reciprocated Q & A over there today.