The Milwaukee Bucks are the lone undefeated team in the NBA yet have somehow managed to fly under the radar amidst all of the drama of this new season.
Milwaukee sports an 8-0 record despite the absence of their second leading scorer last year Khris Middleton who is recovering from an injured right wrist and key reserve Pat Connaughton.
As expected, two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo has led the charge for the Bucks and continues to improve at a rapid pace. Antetokounmpo is averaging an elite 33.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game–both of which are second in the league behind only Luka Doncic and Rudy Gobert, respectively–together with five assists, 1.1 steals, and 1.7 blocks.
The 27-year-old forward has addressed one of the few remaining major weaknesses in his game as he has shown a vastly improved outside shot. However, free throws remain his Achilles’ Heel.
In their most recent 115-102 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Antetokounmpo had a triple double (26 points, 14 rebounds, and 11 assists), but made only 10 of his 20 free throw attempts. If he can finally figure out how to consistently hit his free throws, then winning a third MVP award is more likely than not for the 2021 NBA champion.
Brook Lopez has been an important part of Milwaukee’s strong start too. Lopez is averaging 14.7 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals, and a league-leading three blocks per game.
After missing all but 13 regular season games last year, his big man partnership with Antetokounmpo has picked up from where it left off and they have formed the backbone of the league’s top defense. The Bucks lead the NBA in defensive rating (101.9) and rebounds per game (51.4) while they are second in blocks (7.3).
Bobby Portis has been a crucial part of their success as well. Though the return of Lopez sent him back to the bench, Portis has not missed a beat for Milwaukee. He is averaging 12.9 points, 7.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in only 24 minutes per game through their first seven outings this year. His contributions as their sixth man are invaluable and have allowed them to limit the minutes of Antetokounmpo and Lopez.
What makes the Bucks so potent is that their perimeter defense is just as fearsome. Jrue Holiday is still one of the best defensive players in the NBA at the age of 32 and is flanked by Grayson Allen, Jevon Carter, Wesley Matthews, and George Hill who are tough defenders in their own right.
Holiday has scored at least 25 points in Milwaukee’s last four games and is coming off an impressive performance against Minnesota where he led the team with 29 points along with eight rebounds, six assists, two steals, and zero turnovers. The one-time NBA All-Star is averaging 20.1 points, 5.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.6 steals, and 0.9 blocks per game this season and may be well on the way to his second appearance this February if he can continue playing at this level.
The Bucks are looking like the favorites to take the NBA title after their defense fell short last year. Their defense is top notch and they are doing all of this without the three-time NBA All-Star Middleton.
The 2021 NBA title run was clearly not a fluke and if Milwaukee can capitalize on this momentum to win their second championship in three years, they are in a prime position to put any remaining doubters to rest. Antetokounmpo and the rest of his team look like they are ready and it is up to the rest of the league if they are up for the challenge to stop these Bucks.