Although the 2020-21 regular season is nearing on its conclusion, the Milwaukee Bucks are still an unknown enigma to a certain extent.
They are certainly still firmly placed in conversation among the league’s top title contenders, but consistency has been a massive issue. After steamrolling through the regular season in each of the past two seasons and boasting the league’s best overall record, the team has taken a big step back this year by currently owning the seventh-best record in the association at 38-23.
Part of these issues have stemmed from the team’s massive roster turnover from the offseason, which caused some meshing issues early on. After all, the Bucks were 16-13 at one point early on in the year, but they have seemingly started to put the pieces together as the season has progressed.
Despite their record, this is undoubtedly the best-constructed roster on paper the Bucks have had over the past three seasons. The biggest question now is whether or not they can plow through the unbreakable wall that has been the playoffs.
They undoubtedly have the requisite pieces to win their first title in nearly five decades, but the franchise is not without its concerns. The Bucks do not have one sole piece that is at fault for their issues. When it comes to potential X-factors that could be the determining factor for how the rest of the season plays out, there are several that come to mind.
As they prepare for another title run, hopefully with a different result this time around, here are three X-factors that could shape the remainder of Milwaukee’s season.
Mike Budenholzer’s coaching will be a massive factor for the Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks have gone 152-62 in the regular season since Mike Budenholzer was named the team’s head coach before the 2018-19 season. His ability to be a great regular season coach has never been in question, as evidenced by his two Coach of the Year trophies in the case, the latter of which came in the first year of his Bucks stint.
Yet Budenholzer has not yet been able to translate that success into the postseason during each of the team’s last two trips. In 2019, the Bucks plowed through the playoffs until they held a 2-0 lead over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. Seemingly bound for the NBA Finals, first year head coach Nick Nurse outcoached Budenholzer as the Raptors reeled off four straight victories and sent the Bucks home packing.
The following playoff run, Budenholzer was once again outcoached by Erik Spoelstra during Milwaukee’s second round matchup against the Miami Heat. Miami took down Milwaukee in five games, and Budenholzer was under fire for some head scratching coaching decisions, mostly the distribution of minutes among his star players.
For reference, Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged just 30.8 minutes per contest across nine playoff games last season. Following a loss that saw them go down 0-3 in the series, Budenholzer was asked about the lack of extended minutes between Giannis and Khris Middleton and whether he regrets not giving them more time. Via ESPN’s Eric Woodyard:
“No, I think we, obviously, it’s 48 minutes. You gotta be good for the last 12. If anything, I think keeping us fresh and ready to go and compete and all those things,” Budenholzer said. “Khris was in a little bit of a foul trouble. It’s a high level. If you’re going as hard as these guys are in a playoff game, 35-36 [minutes], I think that’s pushing the ceiling.”
Those comments from Budenholzer justifiably infuriated many as the Bucks imploded for the second consecutive postseason. After the team soon lost the series, many were understandably calling for Budenholzer’s job, but the Bucks decided to stand pat and give him another shot.
Throughout 61 games this year, Budenholzer has shown a willingness to try new principles and schemes, which would have been frowned upon in the past. One of the most significant differences has been the team’s newfound willingness to switch defensively. Switching has never been Bundeholzer’s style, but the team has been doing it more frequently this season, particularly after acquiring P.J. Tucker before the trade deadline.
Ultimately, although Budenholzer has shown glimpses of being a better coach, it will not matter until he proves it in the postseason. If he can make the proper adjustments when necessary in a seven-game series, the Bucks stand a far better chance.