Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

BALDARI | Ironically, the Bucks are the NBA’s most underrated team

With the All-Star break rapidly approaching, the time has come to separate the contenders from the pretenders. While the storylines have focused on the Brooklyn Nets, Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers, the league’s strongest title challenger might also be its most underrated team — the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The chatter surrounding the Nets, Warriors, and Lakers is understandable, yet overstated. 

The Nets do have the best big three in basketball in Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving, but the team has been plagued by injuries to Durant and Harden and chemistry issues stemming from Irving’s part-time playing status, which has prompted reports that Harden wants to leave this summer in free agency. 

The Warriors own the league’s best defense and have only improved since Klay Thompson’s return from injury, but Steph Curry’s historic shooting slump and defensive fulcrum Draymond Green’s back injury should give Warriors fans pause. 

As for the Lakers, even though it would be silly to write off a LeBron James-led team in the Playoffs, the team has looked like a dumpster fire for large parts of the season, as many of their big-name stars, notably Russell Westbrook, have failed to make a positive impact. 

It may come as shocking that the defending champions are being neglected, but it makes sense. Some fans often prefer a new champion every year for the sake of excitement and novelty. More importantly, winning any championship consecutively is one of the most difficult feats in all of sports. Plus, the Bucks started off their season 6-8, giving their detractors an opportunity to dismiss them as credible challengers. Still, the Bucks have all the ingredients to defend their title. 

In a league where roster turnover can change a team’s title chances overnight, the Bucks’ continuity is favorable. Milwaukee returns four of its five starters from the championship team that beat the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 Finals. 

Their sole replacement, Grayson Allen, is actually an upgrade over P.J. Tucker. Although Tucker was a sturdy, multi-positional defender, he offered virtually nothing on the offensive end for the Bucks. Allen, on the other hand, is a serviceable offensive player, averaging 11.8 points per game on an elite 39.2% shooting from 3-point range. His deserved reputation as a dirty player is a legitimate concern, but if he contains his temper, Allen could be a valuable shooter for the Bucks down the stretch in tight games. 

Even without starting center Brook Lopez, who has missed all but one game this season due to a back injury, the Bucks have maintained their groove, slotting Bobby Portis into the starting center role, where he has had a career year as a scorer, averaging 14.9 points per game.

Of course, role players like Allen and Lopez can’t get it done alone. To win an NBA title, you need a superstar, and the Bucks’ homegrown hero, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is playing some of his best basketball. The “Greek Freak’s” box score numbers alone — 28.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 6.0 assists per game on 56.4% field goal shooting — rival the averages that earned him two consecutive MVPs in 2019 and 2020. 

While he stuffs the stat sheet, the advanced stats — third in the league in player efficiency rating and second in win shares — provide another perspective to Antetokounmpo’s dominance. Needless to say, he is at the peak of his powers.

On offense, Antetokounmpo’s ferocious drives to the basket drag defenders into the paint, giving Milwaukee’s shooters space to catch and shoot. Antetokounmpo’s drive-and-kick mastery means the Bucks take 3-pointers more often — and more accurately — than almost any team in the league; the Bucks are fourth in the league in points from 3-pointers per game. 

On the other side of the ball, the Bucks have the 9th-best defensive rating. Though their defensive numbers are middling, Antetokounmpo’s hulking presence in the paint as a help defender combined with Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday’s pesky perimeter on-ball defense should strike terror in opposing offenses, especially in the playoffs, when teams tend to lock in on defense more than they did in the regular season. 

Milwaukee is fourth in the Eastern Conference as of Feb. 2 but just one and a half games back from the first seed. As the Bucks continue their quiet climb to the top, other top contenders are starting to reveal signs of fragility. 

Even the teams currently sitting atop both conferences — the Suns and Miami Heat — were handily beaten by the Bucks in the 2021 playoffs and should fear another matchup with the reigning champs.

Bucks fans waited 50 years in between the team’s first and second championships, but they might only need to wait a few more months for another one.Christian Baldari is a sophomore in the College. Beware the Hype appears online and in print every other week.

Leave a Comment
Donate to The Hoya

Your donation will support the student journalists of Georgetown University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to The Hoya

Comments (0)

All The Hoya Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *