Bucks 2020 playoff preview: Greek Freak-ing out

The Milwaukee Bucks in the last few years have been entrenched as one of the Eastern Conference's elite teams.

After a couple of first round exits in the playoffs in 2017 and 2018, the Bucks finally broke through and reached the Conference Finals before bowing to Kawhi Leonard and the eventual champion Toronto Raptors.

This year, Leonard has taken his ring and Finals MVP award out west with the Los Angeles Clippers, meaning the road to the top of the East has never been wider for Milwaukee, which is currently firmly holding the first seed and the league's best record.

In the midst of an unprecedented and historic year for the NBA, will the Bucks finally reclaim the throne they lost nearly 50 years ago?

Current roster composition

Any discussion on the Bucks' current roster begins and ends with one man: the reigning league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

After a season deemed the best among the world's best players, the "Greek Freak" somehow improved further and solidified his case for back-to-back MVP wins with averages of 29.6 points, 13.7 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1 steal, and 1 block on a 55% clip.

To top it off, Antetokounmpo is averaging just 30.9 minutes per game, the least since his sophomore season, due to numerous blowout wins keeping him on the bench longer than expected.

A prime example for this per-minute craziness is his December 21, 2019 game against the Charlotte Hornets, where he registered a 22-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist triple-double in just 26 minutes on the floor.

Less than a month later on January 14 against the New York Knicks, Antetokounmpo then recorded a 37-point eruption on 12-of-17 shooting in just 21 minutes, meaning he sat out more than half the game as the Bucks cruised to a 128-102 rout.

Further putting those minutes in perspective, key reserve Dennis Schroder of the Oklahoma City Thunder is averaging 31 minutes a night, paving the way for the possibility that for the first time ever, a Sixth Man of the Year winner gets more minutes than a league MVP.

Of course, an MVP can only lead a team to the top with good teammates, and Antetokounmpo has plenty of those as well.

This year, Khris Middleton clinched his second-straight All-Star appearance with career-high averages of 21.1 points and 6.2 rebounds on 50% shooting and an elite 42% from three.

Veteran guard Eric Bledsoe has also been quietly consistent on both ends of the floor with norms of 15.4 points, 5.4 assists, and 4.6 rebounds on an efficient 48% clip.

Sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo has emerged as a quality sixth man and possible future starter with averages of 9.4 points, 4.9 rebounds, and a team-high 1.4 steals.

Adaptive big man Brook Lopez has retained his two-way value with norms of 11 points, 4.5 reboundsm and a team-best 2.4 blocks as his twin brother Robin backed him up.

With Antetokounmpo in the lead, the Bucks are a deep squad with top-notch chemistry capable of taking down any team that stands in their way in a seven-game series. However, when their leader gets checked, that's when the problems start.

Grade: 9/10

Rest-of-season outlook

Remaining games: Celtics, Rockets, Nets, Heat, Mavericks, Raptors, Wizards, Grizzlies

With the clinching of the top seed no longer mattering due to the neutral Disney World Orlando bubble venue, Milwaukee's final season record is simply not a concern anymore.

The big question now hanging over the Bucks' heads is how good can they adapt when their top dog gets leashed by opposing defenses.

Last year, the Greek Freak was humbled by Toronto's stifling clamps and averaged just 20.5 points and 4 turnovers on 44% shooting in his last 4 playoff games. Incidentally, Milwaukee lost all 4 of those games after being up 2-0 in the pivotal conference finals.

Prior to getting eliminated, the Bucks ran a six-game winning streak in between the Boston Celtics and the Raptors where Antetokounmpo normed 29 points on a 55% clip.

As good as he is, Middleton is just not as good as other second fiddles like Paul George, Russell Westbrook, and Anthony Davis (or LeBron James, depending on perspective).

Simply put, the Bucks are only at their best when their leader is at his. And when he goes down, they go down together.

Although this improved, scarier version of Antetokounmpo is less likely to suffer a bad game now, recent playoff history is still everyone's sole basis heading to this next post-season, and it has not been good for the Greek Freak.

Until he has proven otherwise, he is still just like James Harden, a regular season superstar with little playoff success to his name.

Unless the Bucks prepare really well for that worst-case scenario against other top-tier teams, history will only repeat itself. 

But then again, this year is a year of change.

Grade: 8/10

– Rappler.com