Milwaukee Bucks Roundtable: Confidence approaching All-Star break

MILWAUKEE, WI - JANUARY 14: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images).
MILWAUKEE, WI - JANUARY 14: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images). /
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MILWAUKEE, WI – JANUARY 16: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images).
MILWAUKEE, WI – JANUARY 16: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images). /

1. How would you compare your confidence in the Bucks as a championship contender now, versus how you felt last season, and during the preseason?

Dan Larsen (@Dan_Larsen34): I’m more confident in this team’s ability to win a title right now than I was at this point last season, or before this season began.

Everything you would have wanted to see out of the Bucks to believe in them as a title contender they’ve done. They’ve dismantled virtually every team they’ve faced, including many of the league’s elite such as the Clippers and Lakers. They’ve largely handled the difficult defensive schemes they struggled against last season by diversifying their approach and personnel on the offensive end. They’ve also continued to improve on their already elite defense, even when they’ve utilized more small ball line-ups. Throw in Giannis taking another step up in his game, with the historic numbers they’re putting up, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to envision this team falling short of at least an NBA Finals appearance.

There’s still some weaknesses they have that could cause them problems in particular match-ups, but I’m quite bullish about their chances right now.

Ryan Dean (@rybread120): I am much more confident in the Bucks’ abilities this season than I was last season. Don’t get me wrong, the Bucks had an incredible season last year and were also leading the NBA, but this Bucks team is different. This Bucks team has the ability to finish close games and put opponents away when they have an opportunity. I am sure that many people, including myself, felt that the Bucks were once again a team that was going to contend for a championship but I’m not sure if anyone could predict that in mid-January the Milwaukee Bucks would have a three-game lead on the rest of the NBA and be one of two teams that have fewer than 10 losses. The Bucks are blowing away expectations left and right all while flying under the radar, which seems like something Wisconsin teams handle well.

The two games that stick out in my mind the most this season that prove the caliber of the Bucks was the game against the Lakers in December and the most recent matchup against the Celtics. The two were pretty different but very telling. The game against the Lakers proved that the Bucks can complete and destroy top tier teams like the Lakers. On the other side, the game against the Celtics showed me that the Bucks can close games. The Bucks dominated late in the fourth quarter and were able to hold off the Celtics to move their record to 38-6. Overall, I am extremely impressed with the Bucks’ season so far and I really look forward to what the rest of the season has in store.

Joseph Corrao (@Joey_Corrao22): My confidence in this year’s Milwaukee Bucks is far greater than last year’s. Before last season, the Bucks had not won a playoff series since 2001, so I still had a little pre-determined skepticism. The team was simply very unproven going into the playoffs. I do think that the Raptors series leaves unanswered questions leading into this year’s playoffs. Can Giannis figure out “the wall” defense? Can Bledsoe and Middleton become consistent enough in the playoffs? This season has shown that Giannis has learned to combat that defense that has become so popular against him. Giannis has often done this by making an early swing pass in the half court, then using that for a pick and roll opportunity. I also believe Giannis becoming more of a three-point threat this season helps defeat the wall defense as well.

The Bucks have proved this season that they can play with the league’s elite tier of teams. I have one worry going into the playoffs this season, and it is how the Bucks match up with some of the other Eastern Conference powers. Going into the season it was quite obvious that the Sixers were building their team to be a Giannis stopper. Al Horford has shown he can defend Giannis quite well in previous playoff matchups. The Sixers are currently having a tough time meshing and staying healthy, so they have become less worrisome to me the deeper into the season we go. I also think the Boston Celtics would become a little scary if they were to snag a decent big (Drummond?) at the trade deadline. Both matchups against them this season have been a little weird to say the least. The Miami Heat are at the number two seed in the current standings, but I have very little fear the Bucks would have any issue in a seven game series with them.

The Bucks are easily the best team in the NBA at the moment. It appears that barring any major injury the Bucks will run away in the Eastern Conference standings and secure the No. 1 seed. The Bucks need to treat this season as a championship-or-bust season. They have to capitalize this season because you never know what the next year may bring. If that includes potentially trading away assets to make a splash at the trade deadline, the Bucks should want to do that. The Bucks need to maximize this championship contention window.

Brennan Olin (@brennan_olin): I am only slightly more confident in the Bucks’ chances to win a title this year than I was last year. I say only slightly because of how good the Bucks’ opportunity was last year. They hit the jackpot when Durant got injured last May. The unstoppable Warriors dynasty was vulnerable all of the sudden, and all the Bucks had to do was get by Toronto to take advantage of it. Unfortunately they couldn’t get it done.

This year, there is no Warriors. The league is wide open. Because of that, I’m now confident that the Bucks can win the championship regardless of whether a player on an opposing team gets hurt or not. By playoff time this year, they will have had another season in Bud’s system, a bunch of wins against the league’s top teams, and the experience of last year’s deep playoff run all under their belt. If that doesn’t give you confidence in their chances to win, then I don’t know what will.

I may have been a bit skeptical of their title chances to begin this season after the loss of Malcolm Brogdon, but the way the Bucks have kept it going without missing a beat has quelled those concerns. With that and all the things I mentioned earlier, I now believe they can beat anyone in a seven game series.

Jordan Treske (@JordanTreske): My confidence in the Bucks has certainly risen year over year and that’s based on reasons both in and outside of their control.

Having a key piece like Khris Middleton play to the level he has played recently, and for much of the year, has been encouraging to see and that was certainly more of a question mark last year, given his own adjustments to Mike Budenholzer’s system. Same goes for George Hill, whose league-leading 3-point percentage speaks for itself in how he’s rebounded from his shooting struggles when having to come to Milwaukee initially before his playoff awakening.

Along those same lines, the depth they’ve accrued in free agency with players like Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews (even through his ups and downs), and Robin Lopez have all fortified the roles within the Bucks’ starting lineup and rotation at large. As has second-year guard Donte DiVincenzo, who shines as an underlying X-factor and contributor the Bucks didn’t have in the mix last season.

Beyond that, seeing the Bucks soar way above their competition in the East has only given credence to the belief that they will come out of the East this time around following their quick collapse in the Conference Finals last year. Whether they can learn from the mistakes that plagued them during last season’s run may remain as a question mark as they compete for an NBA title, but as of now, I believe there’s no team in the East that is in the same realm as the Bucks.

Adam McGee (@AdamMcGee11): I think Brennan makes a great point about how the stars aligned for an easier Finals matchup for the winners of the East last year. That isn’t going to repeat itself. But the Bucks deserve to be the clear favorites given just how much they’ve kicked on from what was already an incredibly high bar they set last season. I’m also of the belief this team will have benefited from their experience of simply getting as far as the Conference Finals in last year’s playoffs.