The 2020 NBA Playoffs are upon us, and the Bucks are looking to avenge their 2019 Eastern Conference Finals loss with a championship in 2020. Which players are the most important in helping them do so? I decided to rank every Bucks player based on their importance for the upcoming playoffs. They’ve been separated into tiers, where players in the same tier could be swapped and I would have no problem with it. Let’s get started.
Tier 1: If They Play Their Best, the Bucks Probably Aren’t Losing
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
It’s no secret the Bucks run through Giannis, and they will go as far as he takes them. He is (about to be) the back-to-back league MVP, and he completely changes the way teams play against the Bucks. Giannis is almost always going to get his numbers, but I think his importance in the playoffs will come from whether or not he can maintain his efficiency against the better defensive teams. He will need to make smarter decisions out of double/triple teams than he did in the final four games of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, when he shot just 43.5% from the floor (well below his average), and turned the ball over four times per game. Giannis also shot only 47% on free throws in those four losses, and he has been streaky from the line throughout this year. Hopefully he doesn’t go on any major cold spells in the playoffs.
I think the entire league knows that in order to beat the Bucks, you must slow down the MVP. If Giannis can just maintain close to his regular efficiency and make better decisions than he did last year, the Bucks will be tough to beat. As teams build the wall against him, I won’t be looking for him to force up shots and try to score 35 points per game, but rather for him to read defenses and get better looks for the offense.
2. Khris Middleton
It might surprise you that anyone is in the same tier as Giannis, but I believe Khris Middleton is possibly the Bucks’ most important player for the playoffs. Teams are going to do whatever they can to stop Giannis from getting into the paint like the Raptors did last year, and his shot attempts and scoring numbers will likely go down. As a result, his number 2 will need to step up and deliver as he has been all season. The way I see it, if one of either Khris or Giannis plays their best, the other one would need to be borderline awful in order for the Bucks to lose a series. If Giannis is playing like Giannis, Khris will need to go cold for the Bucks to lose four times out of seven; If Middleton is on fire, Giannis will need to be inefficient and making a lot of bad decisions for the Bucks to lose four times out of seven.
I highly doubt Giannis struggles very much, so if Khris Middleton can play basically the way he has played all season, the Bucks are likely winning it all. Khris essentially disappeared for three of the final four games against Toronto last year, with games shooting 3-16, 2-9, and 5-13. He might have a couple cold nights this year, but hopefully they are few and far between. It’s worth noting that the Bucks were 16-3 when Middleton shot 60% or better this season, and 7-8 when he shot under 40%. Assuming Giannis is at least good, Middleton will likely be the difference maker in whether or not the Bucks can win a championship.
Tier 2: Very Important
3. Eric Bledsoe
It’s no secret that Bledsoe has struggled in the playoffs recently. He averaged just 11.6 points per game on 35.7% FG and 20.8% from three in the final two series of last year’s playoffs. He also made just 5 out of 29 threes in the Eastern Conference Finals. Bledsoe does not need to be anything particularly special on offense, he just needs to be decent. His decision making, shot selection, and ability to at least occasionally knock down catch-and-shoot threes are far more important than him trying to put up 20 points per game.
Defensively, Bledsoe still provides a lot, and he will be very important on that end for the Bucks as he attempts to keep guards from torching us from deep. I trust him on that end, but offensively I’m hoping he won’t force anything and will be more efficient.
4. Wesley Matthews
Matthews’ defense is going to be absolutely huge in the postseason. He will have the task of chasing around shooters like Evan Fournier, Duncan Robinson, Fred VanVleet, and Tyler Herro, as well as defending stars like LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard. He hasn’t been spectacular on offense this year, and although that isn’t likely to change, he doesn’t have to be. If he can make a good amount of threes that Giannis creates or get hot in a game or two, that would be great, but it is not crucial. His main focus is going to be defense and locking up some key players that the Bucks might face on their path to a championship.
5. Brook Lopez
Brook has been arguably the best rim protector in the NBA this season and has been pretty much a perfect fit for the Bucks since he joined the team in 2018. He struggled from three this season up until the hiatus (29.6%), but really started to heat up in the bubble, averaging 20.4 points on 43.9% from deep. If he continues to shoot like he has recently, it will provide a big boost for Milwaukee. However, even when he has struggled from deep this season, he hasn’t killed the Bucks offensively.
The first reason for this is because defenders still need to respect that part of his game and come out on him, which opens up space for Giannis. The other reason is because of what he has been able to do in the post. After rarely going in the post offensively last year, he is being used there more often this season when he has smaller players on him. This has resulted in him averaging 1.08 points per post possession, which ranks in the 88th percentile in the NBA. When Brook’s shot is off, he is still not useless offensively, and when his shot is on, he’s lethal. That, combined with his incredible defense, makes him one of the most important players on this Bucks team.
Tier 3: Sleeper X-Factors
6. George Hill
For the first half of the year, it looked like George Hill would almost certainly be top 5 on this list. In his first 41 games, Hill was shooting 54.5% from the floor and 53.3% from three with an over 3:1 assist-turnover ratio. Then, in the final 18 games, he shot 44.6% from the floor and only 29.6% from three, and it looks like he has started to regress back to the mean with his shooting. Still, he finished in the 97th percentile in three-point percentage and the 95th percentile in catch-and-shoot three-point percentage. I still view him as a very reliable shooter on a game-to-game basis.
Hill is another guy who could be an X-factor for Milwaukee if he goes back to his shooting from earlier in the year to go along with his defense, playmaking ability, and playoff experience. That experience certainly came in handy in last year’s playoffs, as he was one of the few Bucks players to shoot well over the last two series (55.6% FG and 44.7% 3PT). I can definitely see a world where Hill returns to form and plays a major part in the Bucks winning a title.
7. Donte DiVincenzo
Donte may have been a tier higher before the restart, but his struggles lately have me a bit worried. He could potentially be the biggest X-Factor on this team and be a huge difference maker, but if he struggles in the playoffs it wouldn’t surprise me to see him basically taken out of the rotation. Donte was playing well throughout the season, but really looked bad for most of the bubble games. He shot just 4/21 from three before making 3/5 in the final game of the year, and he has averaged as many turnovers as assists. He is still a defensive disruptor and good perimeter defender, but if he remains this bad on offense, he could certainly be replaced in the rotation. I’m hoping this was just a mini slump and he’ll go back to the Donte he was before the hiatus. If that’s the case he certainly has the potential to be the X-Factor for this team off the bench.
Tier 4: You Know What You’re Getting
8. Marvin Williams
Marvin was acquired in February to hopefully be a good defender who can be the new backup to Giannis and give the Bucks some more options in the playoffs. I see Marvin as a guy who will consistently get 15-20 minutes, play some solid defense, and shoot just a few times on offense. He seems to be a very quiet, underrated difference maker, and if he can hit some more threes it would be a good added bonus to go with his defense. He’s shooting just 30.8% from three since joining the Bucks after shooting 37.6% before. I expect him to be closer to 35% in the playoffs, and maybe giving him some minutes with Giannis will help that number. The Bucks brought him in to be a solid backup and it’s very likely he will be just that.
9. Robin Lopez
Robin has been one of the best rim protectors in the league this season and a solid contributor off the bench. Like Marvin, he is mainly there to fill in while a starter is on the bench, providing some great defense and serviceable offense for about 15 minutes. Robin ranks in the 99th percentile in the league in adjusted rim points saved per 36 minutes, and has been a great replacement anchor for his brother on defense. Offensively, it’s worth noting that he is in the 93rd percentile in three point shot quality, meaning he gets a lot of clean, open looks from deep. Let’s hope we can get some tea sips to go along with great defense and rebounding from Robin off the bench.
10. Kyle Korver
Korver hasn’t really seemed “lights out” much this season, yet he still finished at 41.8% from deep for the season. This just goes to show how we have come to expect that type of shooting from him. Korver isn’t going to play a ton of minutes in the playoffs, but he’s a guy you can give some spot minutes to get him some threes. You can almost always rely on him to make a solid percentage of them, which is why I have him in this tier. He also has 135 games worth of playoff experience that could come in handy on a playoff run. If he heats up in a game, it could potentially make the difference on that night.
Tier 5: The Fill-In-If-Someone-Sucks Guys
11. Pat Connaughton
Pat’s role will mainly depend on how Donte is playing. Connaughton started to play well in the bubble, shooting 47.2% from the floor and 40.7% from three in his first five games. When on the court, his impact will mainly be based on how whether or not he is hitting his threes. I don’t see Pat keeping up this shooting pace in the playoffs and am expecting Donte to return back to form along with Hill, which is why I have Connaughton down in this tier. However, if Donte keeps struggling and Pat is hitting shots and providing a spark, don’t be surprised if Pat begins to take a lot of those minutes.
12. Ersan Ilyasova
Ersan is another guy whose role basically depends on how someone else is playing. In his case, that person is Marvin Williams. If Marvin is playing fine in his minutes behind Giannis, I don’t see the need to have Ersan out there much. After all, it seems Marvin was signed to essentially take Ersan’s spot after Ersan struggled for much of the year. I’m expecting Marvin to be just fine in his role, so I don’t expect Ersan to be playing a lot.
Tier 6: Irrelevant
13. Sterling Brown
Sterling has been disappointing this season and likely won’t get any meaningful minutes. The only way I see him getting time is from injury to players above him on the depth chart. As long as guys like Wes, Middleton, Donte, Pat, and Korver are healthy, I don’t see the need for Sterling to be playing.
14. DJ Wilson
DJ is another guy who would need an injury to a couple guys in order to see minutes. He has shown some potential defensively at times, but has not been able to consistently play well or get minutes. Let’s just say that a world where the Bucks are playing DJ Wilson in meaningful playoff minutes is a world I do not want to live in.
Tier 7: Just Here to Have Fun
15. Frank Mason
It was fun to see Frank Mason get playing time in a few bubble games, and he played well. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.0 assists on 56.3% from the floor in 21.8 minutes. Let’s hope the Bucks are up big in garbage time so we can see him some more.
16. Thanasis Antetokounmpo
I can see it now: Thanasis throws down a monster dunk in the final minute of game 4 of The Finals as the Bucks are up 30 and about to win the title.