The Milwaukee Bucks have a fascinating four-man center rotation

Mar 8, 2022; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 8, 2022; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports /

Arguably the biggest predicament for the Milwaukee Bucks this season has been navigating through their issues at the center position.

It started when Brook Lopez was sidelined due to back soreness following Milwaukee’s opening night win over the Brooklyn Nets. What started off as soreness suddenly led to a procedure back in December, which left the Bucks without their starting center for the foreseeable future just as the season was beginning. Thankfully, there was optimism from the beginning that Lopez would be back in the lineup at some point this season, but his absence left the team with plenty of holes to fill momentarily.

The most prominent question was who would take his place in the starting lineup, a problem that Bobby Portis resolved quickly by stepping up and playing the best basketball of his career to date. Yet, Giannis Antetokounmpo has also taken on more responsibility playing the position, logging a career-high 42 percent of his minutes at center this season, according to Basketball-Reference. Lastly, the Bucks added another center for good measure by trading for Serge Ibaka hours before the NBA Trade Deadline, a move that helped mightly throughout Lopez’s rehabilitation process.

With these four all back on the court for the Milwaukee Bucks, things have gotten interesting for the champs lately, as they have given coach Mike Budenholzer incredible versatility to work with.

The versatility and impact of the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-man center rotation

First and foremost, Portis deserves his flowers for doing such a tremendous job filling in for Lopez as a starter for a good chunk of the season. Switching between playing power forward and center throughout his career, Portis has fully embraced his role as a full-time center, playing 97 percent of his minutes at the position this season, by far a career-high. This season, Portis has averaged new career bests in minutes, points, field goals, 3-point makes, rebounds, and blocks per contest.

The center’s 3-point shooting has been his ally, as he has the fourth-most makes on the team this season with 122, shooting an impressive 40.5 percent from deep. This shooting has made him the perfect pairing with Antetokounmpo, giving the Greek Freak more space to work with offensively while having a reliable kick-out threat like Portis waiting out on the perimeter. When the Bucks are in need of a basket, Portis is oftentimes out on the floor at the center position. His strong play as a Buck this season has been outright outstanding.

While Portis has improved as a defender with the larger opportunity this season at center, he still has flaws on that side of the basketball, which is where someone Ibaka has helped. A three-time All-Defensive honoree and two-time Block Champion, Ibaka has found his footing with the Bucks defensively since the All-Star break, as he has surrendered just 142 points in the paint to his opponents, tied for the 12th-fewest in the league among players that have played at least 10 games in this span, per Ibaka has done a valiant job protecting the hoop for Milwaukee, giving them a robust defender to utilize at the center position. He has not been a slouch on the offensive side of things either as he is shooting 37.5 percent from three over his last 10 games, but his calling card remains defense.

The Antetokounmpo at center lineups have also been frequent this season, with the Greek Freak playing significant time at the position. This equation has proven to be a winning formula for the Bucks as it puts arguably the best two-way player in the league on the court surrounded by five shooters, giving him impeccable space to go to work offensively. It also gives the Bucks versatility on the defensive end as Budenholzer can pair him with an endless combination of defenders. The Milwaukee Bucks play some of their best basketball when Antetokounmpo plays center, and it remains a key secret weapon for them to utilize.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle at center is Lopez, who needs little to no introduction. The big man proved how important he was to this team throughout their title run this season, and though Portis has been excellent in his absence, the team has still missed Lopez. Defensively, Lopez has a reputation for being the anchor of Milwaukee’s defense, sealing off the paint and daring opposing teams to try him at the hoop. While it comes in a small sample size of just three games due to his surgery, Lopez has been impactful on the defensive end as he is holding opponents to 10-of-32 (31.3 percent) field goal shooting this season. Along with his tough defense, Lopez also provides more versatility offensively as he can space the floor from the perimeter or barrel his way to the hoop and score inside.

As it stands, the Bucks have four solid options to use at the center position. With Lopez now back in the fold, Budeholzer will likely keep Portis in the starting five for now and switch between Ibaka and Lopez as the latter regains his footing following the surgery. It will be interesting to see how it is handled managing the minutes for these four, given what each brings to the table for the Bucks. Antetokounmpo is capable of playing with all three, while Budenholzer has also used the duo of Ibaka and Portis at times, which has shown some flashes of potential. Only time will tell how the recovery process continues unfolding for Lopez, but the Bucks are certainly glad to have him back in the mix down the stretch of this season.

Ultimately, having too much talent at the position is not a bad thing, as our Bradshaw Furlong noted before the season that the center position could make or break Milwaukee’s chances of making another title run this year, and they now have four viable options.

Ranking 5 potential first round opponents for the Milwaukee Bucks. dark. Next

With all four players now back on the floor for the Milwaukee Bucks, the question now is how Budenholzer will continue to utilize them nightly.