There are a lot of NBA teams that are looking like Eastern Conference Champions. The Toronto Raptors, thanks to Kwahi Leonard and a strong offense and defense, have been dominating the Atlantic Division which has 3 other potential playoff teams. The Philadelphia 76ers are not far behind, as they have arguably the most talented starting 5, with all of them scoring more than 16 points per game. The Boston Celtics have been struggling, but it's not right to count them out considering the success they had in last year's playoffs: getting within one win of the NBA Finals (despite not having Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward). As for your NBA champion, the Golden State Warriors are still a threat with one of the best starting fives in NBA history. The Oklahoma City Thunder have been dominating since the end of January thanks to the best all around duo in the NBA which is Paul George and Russell Westbrook. It's never safe to count out the Los Angeles Lakers who, despite slumping, still have the greatest player ever in LeBron James and a young core that can turn it up when they want to. But there's one team who truly could be Eastern Conference (and possibly NBA) Champions and that is the Milwaukee Bucks.
Throughout this season the Bucks have dominated. They have a well balanced group of players and coaches. Their player stats and team stats are everything you want to see out of a winning team. They've had lots of wins over the course of this season that have made them invincible. In fact, they locked up a playoff berth yesterday despite 20 games still remaining on their schedule.
But it's more than that. Their players have progressed wildly while others despite maybe not being as good as they were before in their careers have been hole pluggers to this team. Giannis Antetokounmpo (pictured above) has been having a career season. His current averages per game are 26 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block, and 1 steal. He's currently number 1 in win shares, win shares per 48 minutes, defensive win shares, and defensive rating. His overall play has been amazing. In December, he said, "All I know is how to work. Working hard gives me confidence, so when I feel like I'm not working hard, it takes away from my confidence. Working hard is not just about getting better, but it gives you a lot of confidence. When you go out there and compete, it's knowing you've done the work that gives you the confidence." This has also been the case for wingman Kris Middleton. Middleton was always recognized as a solid player. Last year, he averaged 20 points. It was this year however, when despite his scoring average only dropping by 3, he has been more efficient. His reward was his first career all-star appearance. Point guard Eric Bledsoe has averaging 15 points and 5 assists a game, good enough for him to earn a 4 year 70 million contract extension. Veteran big man Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic have emerged as floor stretchers who can shoot threes and create passing lanes for Giannis and co. Malcom Brogden has been rebounding from a disappointing sophomore season and is having arguably a better season than two years ago where he won Rookie of the Year. This core group of players along with other solid role players have been healthy and well balanced throughout the entire season.
Their team stats show how well balanced they are. They're averaging 117 points on offense which is good enough for 3rd in the NBA and 108 points allowed which is 9th in the NBA. They're averaging 26 assists which is good enough for 6th in the NBA. So I think you already have the idea. This team is the most balanced team in the NBA.
Coach Mike Budenholzer has been responsible for all the team accomplishments. His reward was being one of the two head coaches of the all star game. His first year with the Bucks has been the same story as his first season with the Atlanta Hawks back in 2014-2015 where they won 60 games and made the Eastern Conference Finals. Management wasn't able to keep their core players and it eventually led to his downfall in Atlanta. Fortunately with the Bucks, with the extension of Bledsoe, the players who they have to resign are Middleton, Lopez, Mirotic, Brogden, and Trevon Duval. Most of those players will probably resign based on the fact that they have been thriving in their roles with the team, so there shouldn't be much concern in that category which should set up Budenholzer to be the Bucks' coach in the years to come.
They've had a number of statement wins from October to basically now. It started against the Philadelphia 76ers at home. The last time these two teams played each other the 76ers won by 35 points. The next game was a different story, as the Bucks won by 15. Two weeks later, they beat the Warriors on the road. In December they beat the Celtics in Boston for the first time in 6 matchups (including last year's playoff series where they lost in seven games and all of their losses were in Boston). In January, they beat the Houston Rockets in Houston, but the real statement win that month was against the Raptors in Toronto. No player on the Bucks scored more than 19 points and they held Kwahi Leonard to 7/20 shooting with 16 points. A week later, their offense racked up a ridiculous season high 148 points against the Washington Wizards at home who have been inconsistent this season, but are still a potential first round playoff opponent. Just to prove that beating Boston wasn't a fluke, they won again two weeks later. That brings us to about now where, the Bucks, not the Warriors, Raptors, 76ers, Thunder, Rockets, Celtics, or Lakers, became the first team in the NBA to clinch a playoff berth which was in L.A. against the Lakers in the first of what should be the first of many matchups between Giannis and LeBron (they played earlier, but LeBron couldn't play due to an injury). All of these wins are games where they might've not won last year, but this year's team is different in many ways compared to last year's team, which won 44 games and finished 7th in the East.
It'll be interesting to see how the Bucks will fare in this year's NBA Playoffs.
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