The Milwaukee Bucks have yet to see their big trade deadline acquisition in Nikola Mirotic on the floor since his arrival, but they have experimented with a blueprint that can supercharge their jumbo frontcourt lineup.
The fun from this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend now stands in the rearview mirror and the Milwaukee Bucks will soon be hard at work picking up where they left off heading into the All-Star break.
25 games remain between now and the end of the regular season for a Bucks team currently in pole position to hold the number one seed in the East and homecourt across both conferences, should their postseason run extend all the way to the NBA Finals.
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Of course, there’s no shortage of foes sitting below the Bucks in the East vying to punch their own ticket to a trip to the Finals and the flurry of activity ahead of this year’s trade deadline from teams like the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors certainly raised the stakes for the arms race brewing within the group that are generally viewed as contenders.
The Bucks certainly recognized that and brought on a high profile reinforcement in their own right by dealing for sharpshooting forward Nikola Mirotic from the New Orleans Pelicans on deadline day.
In the midst of a career year shooting the ball (16.7 points per game, 59.1 true shooting percentage), Mirotic has been in street clothes for the three games he’s been with the Bucks since being acquired for precautionary reasons as he continues to deal with a lingering strain in his calf.
While we’ve waited to see his Bucks debut with bated breath, Mirotic has seen up close and personal the variety of roles he’ll be asked to serve during this coming stretch run and in the postseason. It’s perhaps the Bucks’ most recent victory coming over the Indiana Pacers that may be the most illuminating that speaks to the depth of viable lineup configurations that Mirotic’s presence can supercharge the Bucks even further.
Throughout the majority of the Bucks’ fourth quarter comeback, head coach Mike Budenholzer relied on his super sized frontcourt consisting of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez to turn the tide as other options didn’t prove to be that effective over the course of the contest.
Budenholzer’s use of that trio, along with the switching defensive scheme he deployed, flummoxed the Pacers to catalyze the Bucks and secure a 106-97 win, their 43rd victory of the season.
We’ve seen Coach Bud opt to have both Ilyasova and Lopez on the floor together in the minutes that Antetokounmpo is catching his breath on the bench, but it’s been rare to see all three together on the floor, which takes away the leading MVP candidate from his natural position at this point in his career.
With that said, the results of that frontline, much like the majority of the Bucks’ production this season, have been indisputable. In a very small sample size of 68 minutes, the troika of Antetokounmpo, Ilyasova and Lopez have outscored opponents +14.4 points per 100 possessions, per NBA.com/stats.
Questions certainly linger around the athletic limitations both Ilyasova and Lopez sport at this point in their career and they’ll certainly become a big point of discussion come playoff time when teams endlessly tinker and game plan for one another over the course of a series.
But in Mirotic, the Bucks have someone who can offer a little more mobility than their existing options to ease the defensive concerns without sacrificing size, at least compared to Ilyasova. That can be seen in the production Mirotic has put in on the glass, especially defensively, as he’s pulling down a career-high 8.5 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes so far this year.
And of course, Mirotic may have already stepped in to give Lopez a run for his money as the team’s biggest gunner from long distance without yet registering a single minute in a Bucks uniform.
The key to this whole discussion is that with the wealth of viable options the Bucks have in their arsenal, there may be no need for Budenholzer and co. to roll out a super sized lineup unless circumstances truly dictate it.
As they have throughout the regular season, the Bucks continue to place a premium on finding skilled shooters with size that combats the need to go small to find their most effective five-man unit and adding someone of Mirotic’s capabilities makes them all the more dangerous in that regard.