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Bucks-Pistons Series Betting Preview: Bet on a Milwaukee Sweep

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Photo credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Blake Griffin and Giannis Antetokounmpo

  • The 1-seed Milwaukee Bucks and 8-seed Detroit Pistons will match up in the first round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
  • Bryan Mears dives into the biggest matchup factor of the series and why he thinks there's value on the Bucks to sweep.

No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons

Odds: Bucks -10,000 | Pistons +2000
Key Matchup: Blake Griffin vs. Bucks Defense

I wrote extensively about the Bucks defense a month or so ago because it’s so intriguing. In the era of Moreyball — teams taking more 3-pointers — the Bucks are just straight up letting teams shoot them at will. They’re making a distinctive choice: They’re giving up 3-pointers (first column below) at the expense of defending the rim (second column):

It’s obviously worked, as the Bucks are second in defensive efficiency and opponent effective field goal percentage this season.

So what gives? Why are their numbers so good if they’re allowing such highly valuable shots like 3s?

The difference is in the types of 3-pointers. They are not giving up 3-pointers to everyone equally. In fact, on the year they’re in the bottom 10 in 3-pointers allowed to point guards but easily first in 3s allowed to power forwards and centers. Given that point guards are generally much better shooters than big men, that’s clearly a trade-off they’re willing to make.

Blake Griffin has averaged 7.0 three-point attempts per game this season, an impressive number given his game coming into the NBA. In the four games against the Bucks, however, he averaged nine per game. He’s not a big necessarily, but in the two games Stanley Johnson — now with the Pelicans — played against the Bucks, he took 15 three-pointers.

Watching the film, Giannis Antetokounmpo was largely on Griffin, and he … didn’t exactly close out as hard as he could:

Even when he was there, he was fine standing back a foot or so and letting Griffin fire away if he so desired:

Watch Sterling Brown cheat so hard off Johnson here. He’s closer to the ball-handler in the corner than he is to Johnson, a career 29.3% three-point shooter. That is by design of this Bucks system: Defend the paint; let bad shooters and bigs shoot.

And that’ll be the case in this series as well. In the four games this season, the Pistons hit 33.1% of their 3s overall and 29.9% of their non-corner 3s. They got the rim 2% less than they did against other teams, and they weren’t efficient their given the Bucks’ scheme and spacing, shooting just 53.3% on those opportunities.

More broadly, the Pistons lost all four games against the Bucks this season, posting a miserable -17.9 Net Rating along the way. Only the Wolves in their two games were worse against the Bucks. The Pistons scored an atrocious 100.3 points per 100 possessions and allowed 118.2 on the other end.

It’s hard to imagine the Pistons hanging around here, other than just getting abnormally hot from the 3-point line from guys like Griffin and their role players. In a playoff setting, I certainly wouldn’t bet on that happening.

It’s hard to figure out where the public is at on the Bucks. On one hand, people seem to be wary of them due to their history in the playoffs. On the other hand, they’re just +600 to win the title, so at least sportsbooks and bettors are respecting them.

My quick take: All of their advanced analytics suggest they’re a historically good team, and enough has changed (especially with coaching that that should be the weighted prior — not their playoff struggles with a younger squad coached by Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty.

Now to the betting value. Obviously, there’s no point in betting them to win the series at -10,000 odds. Rather, the better value is to get the shorter odds on them sweeping the Pistons — around +150 to +180 depending on the book. I don’t think this one will get back to Milwaukee for Game 5.

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