Few teams have ever accomplished what the Bucks have this season. They’ve gone from being one of the worst teams in the league last season to having a shot at winning the Finals this year. Giannis Antetokounmpo has everything to do with the team’s drastic improvement but it’s much more than his star power that has propelled the Bucks into being one of the league’s elite teams.
What it really comes down to is coaching. Mike Budenholzer has figured out how to get his group of guys to play the most efficient style of basketball possible. There are a few main areas that he’s worked on and a couple key players that Budenholzer has used to make the Bucks the great team that they now are.
Lopez has totally transformed his game this season. He’s been at the forefront of the move in the NBA to get centers out on the perimeter and shooting threes. Lopez is the best three-point shooter of any center this season. From every spot along the arc he’s over 30%, shooting as high as 46% from the left corner.
Back in 2015, Lopez was only shooting about one percent of his shots from behind the three-point line. This season he is shooting over 60 percent of his shots from three. And he isn’t just jacking them up. He’s making them.
Lopez deserves a huge amount of credit for making this transition in his game. Coach Mike Budenholzer is the mastermind behind the change in Lopez’s game though. Lopez’s newfound talent for the three-ball doesn’t just help the Bucks rack up points, it frees the middle up for Giannis.
Unlike Lopez, Giannis scores most of his points in the paint. If Lopez is on the perimeter, it means that the opposing team’s center is out there with him. So Giannis has a clearer path to the basket without the center protecting the rim.
This puts other teams in a predicament. Do they protect the rim from Giannis or leave Lopez with a mismatch on the perimeter? There isn’t an easy answer to that question, and Mike Budenholzer knows it.
A New Theory on Defense
It’s not just Lopez up there on the perimeter, but Mirotic is often out there as well. Having bigs play outside has another added benefit on the defensive side of the ball.
The Bucks have become one of the best transition-defense teams in the league, allowing only about 10 transition points per game. Fast break points are some of the easiest points to score because the defense isn’t set yet. So cutting down on fast break opportunities is huge.
So how does having bigs on the three-point-line help in transition defense? Well, centers and power forwards are the slowest guys on the team. But having them on the perimeter gives them a head start in getting back on defense. Another brilliant move by Budenholzer.
Give Giannis Some Credit
Giannis’s contribution to the team can’t be overstated. He makes a good case for MVP. With all his slashing to the rim, he opens up three-point shots for his teammates. So Budenholzer has green-lighted everyone to shoot threes. If Giannis can create space, and he almost always can, the Bucks can get an open three-point shot, that is, if Giannis doesn’t dunk the ball first.
Giannis can shoot from outside too but he doesn’t really need to. He’s the best in the NBA at scoring in the paint. When it comes down to it, Budenholzer has exploited the strengths of his players in a masterful way. He’s turned their team into one of the best in the league. Milwaukee finally has a championship caliber team. They could start rivaling the likes of Golden State and become the dominant team in the East.