As a predominantly superstar-driven league, the NBA often pits their Herculean MVP against a worthy challenger in their annual Finals. Out of the sixty-one players with the MVP in their trophy case, only Steve Nash and Derrick Rose haven’t sniffed the Finals in their career. However, after this season, the Bucks’ MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo will be set to join that list. And despite an overtly dominant year, the Bucks really couldn’t get the job done.
Comparable to a sentient freight train with a seven-foot wingspan, it seemed inevitable Antetokounmpo, alongside an analytic darling of a roster of course, would simply will his way to the Finals, especially in a traditionally inferior Eastern Conference. And it nearly came to fruition, with the Raptors needing to overcome a 2-0 deficit to defeat the Bucks. A collapse this ugly will almost be guaranteed to repeat itself without some degree of reconstruction. A few glaring problems will still plague the Bucks without correction, but the Bucks are undoubtedly close to the promised land.
Firstly, as devastating as Antetokounmpo can be, he can often time be dangerously one-dimensional. Honestly, the entirety of the Bucks offense can be unraveled if the opposition simply locks down the low-post. And unfortunately, the Bucks had to deal with, quite probably, the single player who can handle Antetokounmpo. Against a defense as suffocating as a transcendent Kawhi Leonard, even a player to the caliber of Antetokounmpo needs second options.
The Bucks intended for the acquisition of Eric Bledsoe to remedy this. Factor in former Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon and it feels like a solid infrastructure accompanies Antetokounmpo. Yet, as exposed in this series, their inconsistencies doomed the Bucks. In the four consecutive games the Bucks dropped, Bledsoe couldn’t have been more of a detriment, shooting 29.1% from the field. Brogdon shot only slightly better, hovering around 41%. Between them, the Bucks only received 24 points per game. The Raptors, on the other hand, enjoyed the blessings of a resurgent Fred VanVleet.
In order to pull off victory in the Conference Finals, where pure talent levels equalize, teams need a no-show, a total nobody, to catch fire at the right moment. Your Jeff Greens, your Matthew Dellavedovas, your VanVleets. The Bucks designed for Brogdon or Bledsoe to take on that role, but it simply never transpired.
Unfortunately, they will have no choice but to resign Brogdon but that doesn’t prevent them from adding his replacement. If the Bucks can add a spark plug, someone like a Lou Williams or a Kyrie Irving, they would be almost unstoppable. Considering a historic upcoming free agent class, the Bucks easily could snoop out a B-lister to handle this role.
Secondly, Antetokounmpo needs to develop a pull-up jumper. Is it an irritating nitpick? Of course, but the separation between a superstar in the Finals and a plain superstar can be as small as a pull-up jumper. As of right now, Antetokounmpo won’t be a player who can take forty shots in a game because of his lack of jump shot. Especially from long range, Antetokounmpo’s embryonic three ball prevents him from scoring in hot bunches.
And in adding a dynamic long-range jumper, it will directly open up lanes to the basket for him. And as a player capable of bouldering through double and triple teams already prepared for the drive, imagine the demolition if teams needed to worry about his jumper. He would, quite literally, become unstoppable.
The East next season, as was this season, will be wide open once again, carrying four to five teams capable of a Finals berth. The Bucks, obviously flaunting a top three player in the league, have an unmatchable advantage right out of the gate, but they must capitalize on it fully. Once adding a couple of key free agents, or maybe attacking the draft, and a little refining to their franchise player, the Bucks will be capable of outright running away with the East.