The Milwaukee Bucks’ center duo will be key in a deep playoff run

Jul 17, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 17, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

After a couple of losses for the Milwaukee Bucks (including one that was pretty disappointing on national TV), it would be easy to look at the flaws and negatives from those games. I’m not here to do any of that! It’s still the regular season and there are positives to be taken away from these games too.

I’m still focused on how the defense looks in these games but from an individual player perspective, I’ve been fascinated by the center rotation and how head coach Mike Budenholzer has used Brook Lopez and Bobby Portis down the stretch as well as how he uses them in the final few games of the season.

Brook Lopez has been surprisingly effective and Bobby Portis has regained his scoring touch for the Milwaukee Bucks

I’m still in awe at how mobile and effective Lopez has been coming off of back surgery. I said at the time of the announcement that if we took Serge Ibaka’s back surgery as precedent, then there would be a bit of an adjustment period for when he initially returns.

Lopez has started in all but two games since returning and has played over 20 minutes in all of those games. On the broadcast of the game against the Dallas Mavericks, they said that Lopez’s minutes restriction is gone, and can play over 30 minutes if needed.

That matches the eye test for how well he’s played in his return. He’s scored in double figures in six of his last seven games and has hit multiple 3s in four of them.

Portis had struggled just before moving back to the bench in favor of Lopez and that carried into when he was back off the bench. Apparently, all he needed was a start with everyone else out to regain that scoring touch.

Before the game against the LA Clippers, Portis averaged only 7.0 points on a 38 percent effective field goal rate. He really struggled from 3 (18.5 percent on three attempts per game) but just overall couldn’t find his scoring rhythm.

Although he missed all four of his 3s against the Clippers, he went 12-of-16 inside and got whatever he wanted. He was dominant inside the arc and that must have given him some renewed confidence for the next game as he went 3-of-6 from deep yesterday, the first game with multiple 3s since March 9th! Nearly a month!

The last few games have been interesting to me, though, in how Budenholzer has deployed his two primary bigs.

Against the Philadelphia 76ers, Lopez played a season-high 29 minutes as they matched him up against Joel Embiid as much as possible. Portis was relegated to 13 or so minutes, his lowest minutes total all season.

Skip to the next game against the Brooklyn Nets and Portis played over 30 minutes to Lopez’s 21. It was clear that they wanted a more mobile big and be able to switch or hedge as much as possible in that game.

An interesting thing to note is that Portis was benched in the series against the Nets last year, but this time around was Budenholzer’s choice to close the game.

We saw a more even minutes distribution against the Dallas Mavericks with Portis leading at 23 minutes to Lopez’s 22. But Portis was still relied on down the stretch until the Bucks went with a Giannis-at-center lineup.

They have also limited the number of lineups where Portis is the only big on the floor. Since Lopez went back into the starting lineup, Milwaukee has only played Portis as the lone big for 26 total minutes (excluding the game where everyone sat, of course).

I’m also curious in seeing if they go to the three-man combination of Lopez, Portis, and Antetokounmpo more often. They’ve only seen very limited time together from last season to last year’s playoffs, and only a handful of minutes this year but it’s something that has worked when they’ve been put together. It’s something to keep an eye on.

That type of versatility will be key in the playoffs now that Portis has the trust of the coaches to be out there to close games against really good teams.

The questions about the Bucks’ center situation have been rampant throughout the season but now that Lopez is back and looking spry, this appears to be a position of strength and those two will be hugely important when the games matter most.

Next. The pros and cons of the Milwaukee Bucks starting Wesley Matthews. dark

It’s safe to say that Portis will not be benched in the playoffs this year for the Milwaukee Bucks.