The Milwaukee Bucks sit just 1.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Here are five questions the Bucks need to answer as they look to make a late season run.
Can Khris Middleton regain his 2015-16 form?
Middleton has appeared in four games off the bench this season since returning from a serious hamstring injury. Now that forward Jabari Parker is out for the year, Milwaukee does not have the luxury of gradually working him back into the lineup. Middleton was the best two-way player on the team last season, and is the type of three-point shooter that can space the floor for Giannis Antetekounmpo and others. The Bucks currently rank 23rd in the NBA in three-point makes this season.
What can Thon Maker bring to the table?
The Bucks went for the home run pick in June, selecting the unknown Maker at number 10 overall. Since Parker went down, Maker has moved into the starting lineup, and the Bucks have gone 3-1. Maker isn’t playing a ton of minutes as a starter (under 18 minutes per game over the last four games), but he is still showing signs of life at 7.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 36 percent three-point shooting.
He won’t be the primary big man this year, but if Maker can keep hitting open threes, he will bring a youthful spark to this veteran Bucks squad.
Can Giannis carry them to the promised land?
Antetokounmpo has made the leap to stardom this season, and is a bona fide top-15 player in the NBA. He leads his team in all five major categories (points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks), the only player in the league to do so this year.
If Middleton is unable to reach 100 percent, can Giannis put the Bucks on his back and get them to at least the eight seed? When you have one of the very best players in the game, it is reasonable to expect a playoff berth. Even at age 22, Antetokounmpo should be feeling the pressure.
Will the free agent acquisitions step up?
The Bucks spent a combined $70 million on Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic this offseason. Delly was brought in to hit threes and defend opposing point guards, while Teletovic was supposed to bring a scoring punch to the Milwaukee bench. Instead, they have floundered. Dellavedova has been in and out of the starting lineup, and Teletovic’s three-point percentage is nearly five points lower than last season. The Bucks need to replace Parker’s 20 points per game, and that starts with the team’s two big offseason additions.
Has head coach Jason Kidd finally settled on a starting lineup?
Kidd has juggled the starting lineup all season long, handing out multiple starts to ten different players. But after injuries and trades, he seems he has settled on the five-man unit of Antetokounmpo, Dellavedova, Maker, Tony Snell, and Michael Beasley. This group has meshed well, going 3-0 in its recent stint. It also allows big man Greg Monroe to come off the bench and bully smaller second-teamers.
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