The Milwaukee Bucks Scored the Bargain of the Offseason if Playoff Hero Pat Connaughton’s Opening Night Performance Is Any Indication

The Milwaukee Bucks opened up their NBA title defense in impressive fashion Tuesday night against the Brooklyn Nets. Milwaukee came away with a resounding 127-104 victory, with Giannis Antetokounmpo looking as good as he’s ever been. The Bucks also got a big scoring boost from swingman Pat Connaughton, who showed why his $16 million contract extension might be the single best bargain deal of the offseason.

The Bucks re-signed Pat Connaughton for three years and $16 million after he shined in the playoffs

Pat Connaughton wasn’t much more than a reserve player for the Milwaukee Bucks during the 2020-21 season. That is, until the NBA Finals, when he became one of the most crucial wing players on the floor.

Connaughton was a net positive player for the Bucks in the regular season. He averaged 6.9 points and 4.8 rebounds in just under 23 minutes per night, finishing the campaign with a 0.6 value over replacement (VORP) mark. The former Notre Dame product gave Milwaukee guarding versatility and floor spacing off the bench.

But while Connaughton was an effective player during the regular season, his value reached new heights in the Finals.

Connaughton averaged 9.2 points and 5.8 rebounds against the Phoenix Suns, shooting 44.1% from deep on close to six attempts per contest. His 65.9% true shooting clip was the best on the Bucks.

Producing in big moments is critical, and Connaughton did that during the Finals. But it was more how he went about it. He showed assertiveness in taking and making big shots, making the Suns pay when defenders got sucked into the lane trying to prevent Antetokounmpo from getting to the basket. This was especially true in Game 4, when he scored eight points in the fourth quarter and hit a go-ahead triple with just over three minutes remaining.

The Bucks sought to preserve their championship integrity this offseason and prioritized re-signing Connaughton over Bryn Forbes. They did so for just three years and $16 million, which looked like a considerable bargain given wheat Connaughton gave them in the playoffs.

Judging by Opening Night, that contract could end up being the bargain of the offseason.

Connaughton excelled in Milwaukee’s Opening Night win over the Brooklyn Nets

Bucks fans had the privilege of watching their team raise a banner and receive the 2020-21 championship rings ahead of Milwaukee’s Opening Night tilt against the Brooklyn Nets. Those same fans also watched as Pat Connaughton showed why his $16 million contract looks like an absolute steal.

Antetokounmpo once again set the tone for the Bucks. The Greek Freak finished with 32 points, 14 rebounds, and seven assists, consistently asserting his will on and off the ball and looking to push the pace whenever Milwaukee got transition opportunities.

However, the Bucks needed scoring from other sources to withstand multiple Nets runs powered by Kevin Durant and Patty Mills. They’d get it from Connaughton. The 28-year-old scored 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 4-of-9 from beyond the arc.

Connaughton showed no hesitation in pulling the trigger from beyond the arc. He also made himself available as a cutter whenever Antetokounmpo and others were swarmed by the defense, leading to easy dunks and chances at the rim.

The Arlington, Massachusetts native’s abilities as a catch-and-shoot guy who is also an athletic specimen capable of helping on the glass, finishing at the rim, and guarding multiple positions make him a luxury for the Bucks. But it remains to be seen how head coach Mike Budenholzer will juggle his rotations.

Can the Bucks allot enough minutes to Connaughton?

Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton prepares to receive his championship ring
Pat Connaughton #24 of the Milwaukee Bucks is introduced during a ceremony before the game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Fiserv Forum on October 19, 2021, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin | Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Connaughton played nearly 30 minutes on Tuesday, so that would appear to suggest he could be due for a minutes increase this season, right? Well, not necessarily.

The Bucks guard got so much run because Jrue Holiday left the game with a heel injury. Not to mention, Donte DiVincenzo is still recovering from left ankle surgery. His eventual recovery makes things all the more complicated in the backcourt.

It’s also worth noting that Grayson Allen started at the 2-guard spot and just signed a two-year, $20 million extension. While Connaughton might get some run as an undersized 3-man, Jordan Nwora looked very capable as a reserve forward on Tuesday.

Connaughton showed why his skill set could again make him an invaluable piece to the puzzle as the Bucks try to repeat. Will he continue to get the minutes he deserves in proving that the $16 million deal is an absolute steal for a team that should once again contend for a title? That remains to be seen.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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