Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are once again one of the best teams in the NBA. Like last year, they aren’t just beating opponents. They are pummeling them. That speaks about the team’s commitment to offense, but lost in the shuffle of everything is a defense that is stifling teams around the league and could be the key to the team’s title contention.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks’ picked up where they left off
After losing Malcolm Brogdon in the offseason, the Bucks looked to add some depth to make up for his absence. From adding Robin Lopez to play alongside his brother Brook to bringing in sharpshooting veteran Kyle Korver, the team didn’t want to live and die by Giannis Antetokounmpo alone. With an emerging Donte DiVincenzo showing his place in the NBA and Wes Matthews helping do the little things with the starting unit, the team has been as good as advertised.
The team has second-best offense in the NBA, scoring 119 points per game. With Antetokounmpo continuing his growth at nearly every level of the game, the team is riding his coattails effectively while having the fastest pace in the game. With so many offensive options, the team is hard to stop, but what truly makes the team special might be happening on the other side of the basketball court.
The Bucks’ defense could be championship-worthy
Having a top-tier offense in the fast-paced NBA is a huge deal, but without a defense to anchor it, there could be some problems. The Bucks know that, and as coach Mike Budenholzer and his staff adjusted their gameplan to this season, they made sure to find a way to defend in a way that fits their personnel and sets the team apart from the rest.
The team holds the best defensive rating in the NBA through 38 games and shows no sign of relenting on that end of the court. So what’s the secret to Milwaukee’s success?
How do Giannis and the Bucks do it?
Mike Prada of SBNation analyzed what makes the Bucks’ defense elite in the NBA. While teams like the Golden State Warriors focused their defense on shutting down the 3-point arc so teams couldn’t match their sharpshooting, the Bucks are looking at a more internal approach to defense. At the time of his article, the Bucks were allowing the fewest points per 100 possessions since the 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are not ignoring their defense on the outside, but they are paying close attention to their rim defense. Even though the NBA is aiming to shoot more and more 3-pointers, the shot at the basket is still the easiest. The Bucks are taking that to heart and shutting down shots at the rim. That has resulted in the lowest opponent percentage at the rim and the lowest conversion rate.
Three-pointers are up across the NBA, but by shutting down the paint, the Bucks are requiring teams to have a good-shooting night if they want to beat them and rendering their interior offense useless. From the Lopez brothers to Antetokounmpo, anyone foolish enough to take it inside will be met with rim protectors who could very well swat it back at them.
For Giannis himself, that highlights one of the understated strengths of his game, too.
Giannis Antetokounmpo on defense
Giannis Antetokounmpo has always been a unicorn at his size. He towers over other players with the size of a center, but he has the playmaking ability of a point guard. He has played every position throughout his NBA career, and the impact that has on the Bucks’ offense has not gone understated. His work on defense, however, has.
Because of his combination of speed and size, Antetokounmpo, he can guard a guy on the perimeter, follow him to the basket, and swipe it out of his hands if one of the Lopez brothers doesn’t do it first. He is fast, skilled, and relentless on the defensive side of the court. With all of his accolades, the defensive honors he has received have fallen to the wayside.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are onto something special. While the battle of Los Angeles is dominating headlines, what’s going on in Milwaukee is special in its own right. With an offense that’s hard to defend and a defense that’s hard to get by, don’t be surprised if Antetokounmpo and company are making waves in June.