NBA Playoffs 2020: 5 reasons the Milwaukee Bucks can win it all

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images /
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3. Something to prove

Let’s be honest for a second (as if I’ve somehow been lying up to this point).

Giannis, in his seventh NBA season, is shooting only 30.6 from behind the arc. His percentages from his first and fifth years are better, but they are better mostly due to a lack of volume. He is shooting from a distance with a higher frequency than he ever has. But, considering the alternative, this is still the shot the defense would prefer him to take. The alternative, after all, is a movie-sized Jaws taking a bite out of the backboard and closing down the beaches. Teams know this, and in the playoffs, a time will come where a defense packs it in and watches him from a distance, circling with not much to do.

At this point, Giannis will have to prove he can shoot or someone else will have to make a play for Milwaukee. Such a predicament is also nothing new for Milwaukee or their opponents. This predicament equals the dimensions of a basketball court. The likeliest options to resolve it (aside from Giannis himself) are Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe.

So far in his career, Bledsoe does not appear to be as good in the playoffs as he has been in regular-season games. His scoring and efficiency have all dipped when the games have meant more. The sample size is not exactly minuscule either; he has played in seven playoff series to date. The Bucks don’t need Bledsoe to lead the way, but he can’t vanish in key stretches. Malcolm Brogdon is in Indiana. George Hill is the appearance of a knife, but he is, at this point in time, somewhat dulled around the edges. The other commodities are somewhat unknown and that includes Khris Middleton.

Middleton is an All-Star, but to a degree, he still feels like a player largely drafting off the player in front of him. This is not his fault. This is often how it goes with the second- or third-best player on a contending team. Middleton has played in six playoff series thus far in his career. His averages in each playoff run (or first-round loss) when compared with his regular-season numbers largely suggest that he found the going tougher in the postseason. The one exception to this rule was the team’s 2018 playoff series against the Boston Celtics. In that series, with Giannis averaging 25.7 points per game, Middleton averaged 24.7. Compare that with the 13.7 he averaged against the Toronto Raptors in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals (despite a 30-point effort in Game 4), and a certain question does arise about Middleton in the playoffs.

For the Bucks to win a championship, either Bledsoe or Middleton has to play at another level than last year’s playoffs. Perhaps both do. To believe the team will win is to believe at least one of them will play as well or better than he did during the regular season. Otherwise, Giannis in Milwaukee will start to approximate LeBron’s first stint in Cleveland a bit too closely. The rumors will swirl, and the departures will be sudden.

Here’s to betting Middleton (or Bledsoe) will figure it out. Here’s to betting on continuity in and out of quarantine. These Bucks have stuck together for a while now.