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  • Nathan Rogers

Why the Bucks Can Take the NBA by Surprise and Upset the Nets

By: Nathan Rogers

The 2020-2021 NBA Playoff second round is now upon us. The eight best teams in the league face off against their respective opponent and battle it out for an appearance in the conference finals. The second round premiers with Game 1 of the Sixers vs. Hawks matchup on ABC on June 6, Sunday night.

However, the other Eastern Conference matchup calls for more attention. It's an interesting matchup because both teams have seen a massive transformation from years past. In 2018, the Brooklyn Nets finished 12th in the east, the 4th-worst record in the conference. In 2018, the Bucks finished 7th in the east and faced a first round exit in the playoffs. This season, the Nets finished 2nd in the east, the Bucks finishing right behind in 3rd, and they both play each other for the first time since 2003. Both franchises look better than ever and the NBA awaits results of Game 1 tonight, June 5th at 4pm on TNT.

The Bucks have made the playoffs every season the past 5 years, yet have only made the second round twice in that span. They have often been referred to as a team only capable of success in the regular season. Especially this year with the Nets creating a super team with the likes of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden, it's easy to write off the Bucks on an initial assessment. But as one analyzes the stats, gameplay, and roster, it illustrates a different story this year.

The Bucks have a very balanced roster. Giannis — an MVP candidate — has scoring, defending, and facilitating skills only comparable to the top 10 players in the league. Kris Middleton and Jrue Holiday provide around twenty points a game, Brook Lopez — a Stanford Cardinal product — cleans the glass and carries the Bucks' rebounding stats. Among other unlisted aspects of the team, the bench has been more than efficient all year. In the regular season, the Bucks' bench scored around 36 points per game, gave up the 4th-fewest fouls per game, and shot 46% from the field. In the playoffs, more importantly, the Bucks' bench played the 5th-most minutes, averaged 40 points (3rd best), shot 47% (best in the league), made the most threes, hauled in the most total rebounds (offensive and defensive), and had the greatest plus/minus. This roster is capable of going all the way to the NBA finals.

Aside from the roster, the team at large has produced very impressive stats, ones that often trump those of their opponent, the Nets.

In the regular season, the Bucks scored more points per game (120), made more field goals (44.7), made more threes (14.4), grabbed more total rebounds per game (48.1), committed less fouls per game (17.3), and earned more possessions per game (104) than the Nets. The Bucks and the Nets both had the same strength of schedule (.497), which is even more telling as their competition was closely similar. From Basketball References, a metric called the Simple Rating System, or abbreviated to the SRS, which takes into account average point differential and strength of schedule, gave the Bucks a score of 5.57 (4th best in the league) and the Nets a score of 4.24 (7th best in the league).

Other than the boring traditional stats that don't always paint the correct picture, I looked into the advanced stats.

Although the Bucks have had trouble with the ball regarding turnovers this season — leading the league in turnover percentage this postseason — they also force the 4th-most turnovers, have had a top-ten defense in the regular season, the best defensively rated roster in the playoffs, and they allow the 5th-lowest amount of second chance points, along with the least amount of points in the paint.

Because the Nets are so overloaded on the offensive side, their defense is not great. The Nets, in the regular season, were bottom ten in defensive rating, defensive rebounding percentage, steals, and second chance points allowed.

The famous "defense wins championships" becomes more apparent as one sifts through the stat sheets.

Along with rebounding, bench production and defense, there's something not talked about a lot about the Bucks: floor spacing efficiency.

The Bucks have a very fluid offense. In this year's playoffs, they lead the NBA in points of cut movements and score 75% of the time, the best in the league, when they have cutters on offense. Along with cutting, the Bucks also can hit their shots off of pick and rolls. They lead the league this postseason in effective field goal percentage (75%) off pick and rolls.

This isn't to say the Nets don't also run offense off screens, in fact Brooklyn is second in the league in points created off screens (6.6). But, considering they have 3 of the league's most prized talents, they love, I mean love, to run isolations. During the regular season, the Nets were in the 96 percentile of isolations ran, and almost ran that type of offense a league-best 10% of the time. In the playoffs, the Nets have run isolations 25% of the time, lead the league in scoring off isolations, and are shooting 50% from the field in that department. Although their isolations may work, the static nature of their offense might prove disadvantageous in the pace of their possessions.

The Bucks seem to have a more balanced and not top-heavy roster that can rebound, pass, space the floor, and shoot efficiently. On the other hand, the Nets can do all of these things, just at a lower level. Nets have experienced some health issues and unproven chemistry so it'll be interesting to see if the better team, statistically, can punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals.

I think it'll be the most exciting series in the second round and can't wait for the results!

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