The Eastern Conference Finals begins Wednesday night in Milwaukee with the Bucks hosting the fast-rising Atlanta Hawks. The Bucks advanced to the finals after earning a game-seven road win over the Brooklyn Nets in the conference semifinals. The Hawks – a team that won just 20 games last season – earned a game-seven road win over the top seeded Philadelphia 76ers to advance.
With a trip to the NBA finals on the line, here’s a few things I’ll be watching for throughout the series.
Against the Nets, Mike Budenholzer used a starting lineup of Giannis, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Brook Lopez and PJ Tucker. Will he stick with it? It’s possible Budenholzer could opt for a smaller lineup featuring Pat Connaughton or Bryn Forbes, but my guess is he will stick with Tucker whose versatility as a defender is his most appealing attribute. The difference between the Hawks and Nets is that Atlanta doesn’t have an obvious we-must-start-Tucker-type of player like Kevin Durant.
BEWARE THE FLOATER
Hawks guard Trae Young is a creative, dynamic player who is consistently able to dribble-drive past his defender and get into the lane. Young’s signature shot: The floater. Take a look at this shot chart from the lone regular season game Young played against the Bucks. A whopping 13 of Young’s 17 field goal attempts were floaters near or in the lane. Also, note that Young was just 3-17 from the field in a double-digit loss.
The Bucks drop defense calls for Lopez to sink into the lane versus meeting a basket-attacking player at the free throw line or above. In other words, the floater is a shot the Bucks defense is OK giving up. No player in the playoffs has taken, and made more floaters than Young. It’s not even close. Before Young gets close to Lopez, Jrue Holiday will need to do his best to stay on Young’s shoulder and not foul. No team in the league is better at avoiding fouls than the Bucks.
Yes, we all remember the day the Bucks had a deal in place to acquire Bogdonovich from the Sacramento Kings in a sign-and-trade. Ultimately, the NBA stepped in and ruled the Bucks violated league tampering rules. Not only did Bogdonovich sign a multi-year deal with the Hawks, but the Bucks were docked a 2022 second round draft pick.
Bogdonovich shined during the regular season averaging 16.4 points per game while shooting just under 44% from three. However, a knee issue slowed his roll in the conference semifinals. In the first four games against the 76ers, Bogdonovich scored 21, 14, 19 and 22 points. In games 5-7, Bogdonovich scored 6, 7 and 4 points on a combined 8-28 shooting.
Who does Young guard? It would be a nightmare for the Hawks if they put him on Holiday. Young will likely guard whoever the Bucks 5th starter is…that could mean Tucker.
Does Bobby Portis return to the rotation? I think he will, but minutes will shrink the longer the series goes. Against the Nets, Bud had no interest in using a big to back-up Lopez after game four. Big with Lopez, or small with Connaughton…that was about it.