The Milwaukee Bucks won their first NBA Championship in 50 years when they beat the Phoenix Suns in last year’s Finals. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday returned for 2021-22 as the Bucks’ core, but a mass of other news stories have overshadowed Milwaukee’s quest for a repeat.
But beneath the James Harden-Ben Simmons soap opera, the disaster that is (was) the Los Angeles Lakers, Joel Embiid‘s MVP desperation, and a slew of other NBA tales lies a simple undeniable fact: the defending champions have gotten better.
The Bucks are deeper, better, and poised to make franchise history again with back-to-back NBA Championships.
The Milwaukee Bucks have proven to be one of the NBA’s best once again
After a complete team win over the Chicago Bulls on April 5, the Bucks remain tied near the top of the Eastern Conference standings at 49-30.
The Miami Heat are 2.5 games clear and look to be a lock to win the East, but spots 2-4 are anyone’s guess.
The Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, and Bucks have identical records as they jockey for playoff seeding heading into the final three regular-season games.
Despite key players missing double-digit games throughout the year, Milwaukee is tied for the fifth-best record in the NBA.
The Bucks are a top-five team in the league in scoring, rebounding, three-point percentage, and are seventh in total plus-minus.
Giannis is once again in a battle for a third MVP trophy.
Milwaukee is again one of the NBA’s best teams by all metrics.
The Bucks are better and deeper than during last year’s title run
Milwaukee proved good enough to win an NBA title last year. But the Bucks have an improved, more consistent, and deeper roster this season than they did in 2021.
Brook Lopez, Brynn Forbes, Pat Connaughton, Middleton, Bobby Portis, and Donte DiVincenzo led Milwaukee in games played in the regular season in 2020-21.
The Bucks had seven players average more than 20 minutes per game, not counting mid-season acquisition PJ Tucker, who played a significant role down the stretch.
Only two of those players — Antetokounmpo and Middleton — averaged more than 20 points per game.
Fast forward to 2021-22, and Grayson Allen and Jordan Nwora joined that key rotation alongside Milwaukee’s three stars.
Giannis and Khris are again the only two Bucks to average more than 20 points, but Holiday is averaging 18.5 to go along with 4.5 rebounds and 6.9 assists on a career-high 41.6% shooting from three.
Antetokounmpo has also taken his game to another level, believe it or not, becoming more efficient and effective from more areas of the floor. He may not win his third MVP, but he’s gotten better as a player.
But it’s the postseason that matters most for a championship-or-bust team like Milwaukee. And the Bucks are more prepared with a deeper rotation than they were forced to roll with in 2021.
The team had what essentially boiled down to a six-man rotation by the end of the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Brooklyn Nets: Giannis, Middleton, Holiday, Lopez, Tucker, and Connaughton.
During the six-game NBA Finals series against the Suns, only the starting lineup of K-Midd, Antetokounmpo, Holiday, Tucker, and Connaughton played more than 30 minutes per night.
Lopez has finally returned from injury after missing three-quarters of this season. Portis has been the league’s best value, averaging nearly 15 points and more than nine rebounds per game in his place.
Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Jrue have played their central role, but Grayson Allen has been a massive upgrade over DiVincenzo, and Connaughton has been crucial when he’s been on the floor.
Veteran Wesley Matthews has now entered Milwaukee’s starting lineup as its primary defensive stopper but is a significantly better shooter than Tucker was when he played that role last year.
That’s not counting Nwora, Serge Ibaka, George Hill, or Jevon Carter, all of whom have played crucial roles at different times for head coach Mike Budenholzer.
Giannis and company are preparing for a run at consecutive championships
Antetokounmpo was the catalyst for last year’s title. His 50-point, 14-rebound, five-block Game 6 closed out the Bucks’ first championship since 1971 and earned him Finals MVP.
But a combination of Portis (having a career year), Antetokounmpo, Lopez, and possibly Serge Ibaka solidifies the frontcourt. Allen, Connaughton, Nwora, and Middleton hold down the wings.
Holiday, George Hill, and Jevon Carter can all play crucial minutes at point guard.
The defending NBA Champions are deeper and better, and their core has another year of experience under its belt.
Phoenix may be the league’s best team by record. But breaking (though it shouldn’t be) news: The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the NBA’s most complete rosters and are prepared to win back-to-back titles.
All statistics courtesy of NBA.com.