Is the Milwaukee Bucks playoff roster this season better than last season?

Jul 8, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)
Jul 8, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) /

Throughout the entirety of this very topsy turvy regular season for the Milwaukee Bucks, the main thing that I’ve stressed is that everything is about the playoffs. Sure, they looked less than enthused for a late-January game against the Sacramento Kings, but it doesn’t matter as long as they’re healthy and ready for the playoffs.

When you’re in full-on contention mode as the Bucks are right now (and have been for a few years), everything you do, from acquisitions to rotations to rest to schemes, is all about optimizing for the playoffs. Well, we’re 15 games out from the playoffs and things are what they are in regards to their roster, so how optimized is this roster for the playoffs compared to last year’s championship-winning squad?

The Milwaukee Bucks playoff roster may not be better, but it’s different

Before the season, two things were said by two people with very different levels of importance. First, was me! I said that the Bucks’ roster coming into the season was the deepest it had been in a long time.

I believed that Semi Ojeleye was going to be a lower-cost version of what P.J. Tucker was last season. That sure as heck didn’t happen! I thought Rodney Hood could give them something from a scoring perspective. Also, did not happen. I assumed Donte DiVincenzo would look better than he did coming back from injury and I didn’t anticipate Brook Lopez playing one game all season so far.

A lot has gone wrong since the preseason, but no season ever goes according to plan and I’m too optimistic for my own good.

Anyway, the second was Jon Horst! (I’ll let you be the judge of who’s more important)

He spoke with The Athletic’s Eric Nehm (subscription required) about the state of the Bucks’ roster as they headed into the season. While he, too, believed they were better than last year (duh, he kind of has to say that), he also said that they were “going to have to win in a different way this year than we won last year.”

That’s where I’m at with the roster as we inch closer and closer to the postseason. I don’t know if the roster is definitively better but it’s a different roster construction that will have to find its way in the playoffs.

The main core of the roster is the same. If your stance is “the big three are the most important part of the team, they’re all that matters,” then the roster is basically the same for you!

The next big key player is Lopez and that’s where the questions start. The Bucks do, theoretically, have Lopez on the roster so that should mean it’s unchanged. But we still have no idea what he’ll look like when he’s back!

If Lopez isn’t back to close to what he was last season during the playoffs, the Bucks’ championship hopes decrease. Serge Ibaka has been solid since coming over at the trade deadline, but he can’t do what Lopez does as a defender.

I have concerns about how much he’ll play or what need the Bucks will have for him if Lopez is back to something close to himself. He gives them another rim protector that can play with Giannis Antetokounmpo to let him continue to be that free safety on defense, but do you really want him taking minutes from Lopez? It’s different!

Two of their key role players are the same in Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton. Portis is still shooting the cover off the ball and has improved defensively. They’ve found ways to make him at center work, though that aggressive style won’t last in the playoffs (and it hasn’t this season), hence the need for Lopez. Connaughton was playing well before his injury, showing his shooting last year wasn’t a fluke and he can still defend multiple positions.

This is where things get different.

Tucker was replaced in the starting lineup by Grayson Allen and those two could not be more different. Allen is more of an upgrade to the “Bryn Forbes/Kyle Korver role” as a shooter but can do other things and is a far better defender than those two.

After the Ojeleye experiment didn’t work, the Bucks haven’t really found someone to fill that P.J. Tucker role that was so crucial for them in their Giannis-at-center lineups, but also as a big wing defender. I had hopes that DeAndre’ Bembry could do some of those things for them, but he hasn’t gotten the minutes that I thought he would, especially with Connaughton out.

We’ll see if their gamble on upgrading that shooter role over the big wing defender role pays off in the playoffs.

One area of concern with last year’s roster was their lack of secondary ball-handling and having a backup point guard behind Jrue Holiday. That was even more of a concern when Donte DiVincenzo went down and they were left with Jeff Teague.

No disrespect to Teague, but I have much more confidence in what the Bucks have in that role at the moment. Sure, George Hill hasn’t played in a while with neck soreness, but he was also playing a ton of minutes before that so getting him some rest is ideal. You can have your own opinion on Hill’s play this season, but he’s flat out better than Teague. Also, Jevon Carter has been awesome! If Hill’s healthy, I don’t expect him to get a ton of playoff minutes, but it’s better to have him as a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option than what was there last year.

While not much has changed at the top or with some key role players, there are some big differences with the Milwaukee Bucks’ depth that could prove to have a big impact on their chances to repeat.

dark. Next. 3 notable Milwaukee Bucks storylines to follow down the stretch

Even though there are only 15 games left, it feels like we haven’t seen the Bucks are their best this season and there’s still another gear or form left that they’re waiting to show in the playoffs.