3 Milwaukee Bucks who must step up in the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

The Milwaukee Bucks are reportedly preparing to be without Giannis Antetokounmpo for the start of their first round playoff series with the Indiana Pacers that begins on Sunday. This is big news given that the Bucks didn't make it out of the first round last season when Giannis was dealing with a back injury after a hard fall against the Miami Heat.

Now, in 2024, the Bucks will potentially have to start their series with a team that had their number (albeit much earlier in the season) without their best player. Even though the Bucks went 1-4 against the Indiana Pacers this season, Giannis still feasted on a Pacers' defense that had no answer for him.

In those five games, he averaged 42.2 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. Now, the Milwaukee Bucks will have to replace that dominance for a game or two. Who needs to answer the call?

Damian Lillard

The first answer is fairly obvious and it's Damian Lillard. The Milwaukee Bucks traded Jrue Holiday in part due to a lack of offensive production in the last two playoff series losses to the Miami Heat in 2023 and the Boston Celtics in 2022. Damian Lillard is supposed to be that fix, and it's easy to see why GM Jon Horst believes that to be the case.

Damian Lillard has a pretty strong track record for playoff performances. In his career in the playoffs, he averages 25.7 points, 4.5 rebounds, 6.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game. In his playoff career, Lillard has shot 41.2 percent from the field and 36.7 percent behind the 3-point line.

Damian Lillard's last playoff experience with the Portland Trail Blazers came in the 2020-21 post-season, the year the Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA Championship. That year, Dame shot 46.3 percent on field goals and 44.9 percent behind the 3-point line.

Lillard averaged 34.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 10.2 assists in the six-game opening round loss to the Denver Nuggets. If the Bucks get that version of Damian Lillard, they can definitely hold serve against the Pacers without Giannis.

Khris Middleton

Another fairly obvious player who will need to step up in the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo is Khris Middleton. Fortunately, being the second option isn't a new role for Khris Middleton, as he's been the second option to Giannis for years.

Last year, in the Milwaukee Bucks' first round exit against the Miami Heat, he was arguably the Bucks' best player. Middleton averaged a team high 23.8 points, added 6.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists on 46.5 percent field goal shooting, 40.6 percent 3-point shooting and 86.7 percent free throw shooting.

Despite the Bucks stumbling towards the end of the season, Middleton did play pretty efficient basketball over his final five games of the regular season. Over the final five games he played, he shot 29-for-53 from the field (54.7 percent), 7-for-17 from the 3-point line (41.2 percent) and 8-for-10 (80 percent) from the free throw line.

If the Bucks have the second option version of Khris Middleton versus the Pacers, they'll be fine.

Bobby Portis

The forward who will likely see the largest role increase in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence is Bobby Portis. According to StatMuse, Bobby Portis averaged 20.8 points and 10.1 rebounds in nine games where Giannis did not play. Bobby Portis was in double figures in eight of the nine and scored 24 points or more in four of the games, including 30 and 31 against the Magic and Suns.

Bobby Portis has been one of the biggest, if not the biggest, beneficiaries of Doc Rivers taking over as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 15.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and one steal per game since January 29, when Rivers coached his first game for the Bucks.

In that time, Portis shot 50.9 percent from the field, 43.9 percent from the 3-point line and 81.3 percent from the free throw line. Since Rivers took over, Bobby Portis has been a 50-40-80 player and has established himself as the frontrunner for the Sixth Man of the Year award.

Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton and Bobby Portis will be the three players with the biggest roles without Giannis Antetokounmpo on the floor, with Malik Beasley and Brook Lopez being critical to the Bucks success and others like Jae Crowder, Pat Connaughton and maybe even Andre Jackson Jr. being a factor in the series should Giannis miss more than just a game or two versus the Pacers.