Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) warms up before game one of the first round of the 2018 NBA Playoffs against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.
- The pick: Over 47.5
- Confidence: 5 out of 10
The case for the over: In short: the only thing really wrong with this team last season was coaching, and the Bucks got a great regular-season coach. Mike Budenholzer will get this team to defend, which was its biggest issue last season.
From 2014 when Budenholzer was hired until last season when the Hawks out and out tanked, Atlanta had a top-15 defense every single season — and often a top-five defense.
Milwaukee has the best player in the Eastern Conference in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and every year when we think he’s reached a plateau, he pushes just a little bit further.
Antetokounmpo has increased his averages in points, rebounds and field-goal percentage every season. As he starts to enter his prime, that alone can be enough for huge gains.
Malcolm Brogdon getting back healthy after missing of last season due to injury will make a difference, especially with the bench units. The Bucks upgraded their frontcourt with Brook Lopez and Ilyasova this summer, bigs who can help defend and space the floor from the perimeter.
This premise hinges on the idea there’s a great team hidden inside one that underperformed due to coaching last season, first with Jason Kidd and then with Joe Prunty, who was trying to cobble together the job as an interim.
Note: I think Prunty managed the job adequately in a tough situation, even if he wasn’t some sort of revelation.
The case for the under: What will the Bucks be great at? Giannis is an all-around talent who ranked in the top five in points, 11th in rebounds, and ninth in blocks last season.
The Bucks were seventh in offense, which is obviously really good … but it’s also not elite. They ranked in the bottom 10 on defense.
Can Budenholzer overhaul the way this team plays in just one season? The talent is there, but the team got caught in a very Wizards-like trap of acting like it had already accomplished something.
That kind of attitude concerns me.
On elite teams, it’s swagger; on underperforming teams it’s annoying hubris.
That’s not a reason to take the under, but it does speak to a chemistry and collective attitude that concerns me.
Man, do I wish this was just a little bit lower. Just a touch, and I’d have it way higher on my confidence meter.
There’s no doubting that Milwaukee has the talent and the superstar to fill the gap atop the East with LeBron’s departure.
Jumping on the Bucks’ bandwagon as a surprise contender is fun (as are their 20-1 odds to win the Eastern Conference). But the number puts it out of my comfort zone given how many warts this team had last season.