Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo dunks against the Toronto Raptors during the first half of the opening game of an NBA basketball playoff series, in Toronto on Saturday, April 15, 2017. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)

Scared of the Bucks yet?

 

The Bucks have length. Lots of length. An absurd amount of length. In their preferred starting lineup every player on the court has a wingspan of 6’10” or longer. Their poster boy, Giannis Antetokounmpo, might be the world’s first 7 foot tall point guard (on a side note: Can we, as basketball fans, agree to go back to using “The Alphabet” as one of Giannis nicknames? It’s not as menacing as “The Greek Freak” but it is light and fun in an era when most nicknames are just letters and numbers. I’ll step off of my soapbox now). They drafted Thon Maker, who (regardless of concerns about his age) is another true 7 footer who boasts a better than league average three point stroke. Khris Middleton shoots like a 2 guard with length comparable to a power forward, and has blossomed into a legitimate 3 and D weapon. Not only are they long, but they have the athleticism to make their length dangerous.

Coach Jason Kidd uses the collective wingspan of his team to it’s full advantage on defense. They have no fear in switching every screen when Giannis and Thon Maker are acting as the two bigs. The pair use their unique combination of long arms and quick feet to gobble up opposing ball handlers in the pick and roll, while Milwaukee’s guards have the size to battle with bigger screeners after the switch. Both Antetokounmpo and Maker have a knack for flying out of the blue to block shots in the lane, averaging over 3 blocks per 36 minutes between the two of them. The Bucks collapse into the paint to turn it into a maze of mangrove-esque limbs, all the while knowing their same length allows them to close out on shooters in the blink of an eye.

It’s hard to imagine Kidd hasn’t toyed with the idea of going super small and using the Greek Freak at center for short periods of time. A lineup of Dellavedova/Brogdon/Snell/Middleton/Antetokounmpo doesn’t give up too much size on the glass, and few teams have bruisers who could really punish Giannis in the post. The Bucks could throw their variation of Golden State’s vaunted “Death Lineup” on the court to play a stifling high pressure defense and take advantage of slower opponents. Giannis is already a nightmare for opposing defenses, and downsizing only provides more mismatches for him to exploit. Delly is a solid shooter from distance who plays hard-nosed, gritty defense that few players can match. Putting him on the floor next to Giannis takes the creative responsibilities out of his hands and gives him a chance to simply spot up and drain triples – a role he had great success with in Cleveland. The Giannis and shooters lineup is essentially the Cavs’ philosophy for Lebron, and (spoiler alert) it’s the closest thing to unguardable there is in the league.

The scariest part about this Milwaukee team? They’re still young. Combo forward Jabari Parker is set to return next year after showcasing a much improved all around game before suffering a knee injury that forced him to sit for the remainder of the season. His return adds another weapon to the Bucks arsenal of position-defying hoopers. While he’s not the best perimeter defender, Jabari has shown an aptitude for battling in the paint. Before his injury, Kidd had him guarding opposing centers while Giannis chased quicker players around the perimeter. He could easily slip into Snell’s spot in the aforementioned Death Lineup replica, letting Middleton slide up into his more natural wing role. If he can return at 100% Parker adds a sneakily athletic isolation scorer who could ideally take some of the load off of Giannis’ shoulders.

As of now, the Bucks are posing a serious problem for a Toronto Raptor team who many predicted to give the Cavs a run for their money. While they may not be able to compete with Lebron and his band of merry men this year, many pegged this Bucks team to miss out on the playoffs completely. They’re essentially playing with house money. Every game they play in gives their youthful roster valuable playoff experience, and that could make them very dangerous down the road.

 

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