The Milwaukee Bucks will get a chance to prove if they are legitimately good when they take on the San Antonio Spurs on Monday.
Jan 4, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) drives for the basket against San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills (8) in the second quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
The Milwaukee Bucks have a true test coming up. The San Antonio Spurs are good every single year, which apparently includes seasons without Tim Duncan manning the middle in San Antonio.
The Spurs aren’t talked about as much as other Western Conference powerhouses like the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, but they are still 16-4 through their first 20 games. The Spurs probably prefer having eyes on those other teams anyway.
Milwaukee’s eyes will be on San Antonio on Monday night when the Spurs are in town. San Antonio is 11-0 on the road this season, so if the Bucks win they’ll be the first home team to take down the Spurs all year.
As good as San Antonio has looked, the Spurs aren’t unbeatable. Any team can win on any given night. We’ll go through the major keys for both teams to come away with a victory on Monday, plus look at a Spur to watch and make some predictions.
Dec 1, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon (13) advances the ball during the first quarter against the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Keep in mind that Kawhi Leonard will likely draw Giannis, meaning the Greek Freak will be trying to get around the NBA’s premier one-on-one defender to drive into a paint patrolled by a smorgasbord of big men taking up space.
To open up room for Giannis, the Bucks will need their shooters to be shooting when they take on the Spurs. Guys like Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, Tony Snell, Malcolm Brogdon and Jason Terry can change this entire game by making some threes to force San Antonio’s defense to move out to the arc.
The problem is that the Spurs allow the seventh-least attempted threes per games to their opponents. Transition opportunities will be huge, but Milwaukee needs to find success in the halfcourt offense as well.
The one good thing is that outside of Dedmon, none of those big men are especially adept defenders. Still, just having them out there will congest the painted area a little bit, making it tough for Giannis to get through.
Nov 30, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) looks to pass as Dallas Mavericks center Andrew Bogut (6) defends during the first quarter at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
Major Key For San Antonio: Keep It Slow
The Spurs have the fourth-slowest pace in the NBA thus far this season. San Antonio is old and slow, even without Tim Duncan, thanks to the offseason acquisitions of Pau Gasol and David Lee. The Spurs can go young and bouncy with Dedmon in there, but speed is not their forte.
The Bucks, despite having Giannis moving at freakish speed so often, actually only have a middle-of-the-road pace. Still, Milwaukee will try to get out and run. If the Spurs prevent those fast break buckets their chances of winning go way up.
This Spurs team actually does not have a great defensive rating, but their points per game number looks good because of their pace. Unsurprisingly, replacing Duncan with Gasol has led to the Spurs being more of an offensively-orientated team.
This team has an odd makeup right now. It’s strange to see any Spurs team without Duncan, but somehow they just keep on winning. They’ll move up to 17 wins easily if Giannis can’t get through the wall of big men and if the game stays slow.
Nov 25, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) brings the ball up court during the second half of the San Antonio Spurs 109-103 win over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Player To Watch: Kawhi Leonard
Unlike many NBA stars, Kawhi Leonard is an important player to watch on both ends. His offense will be important for San Antonio–he leads the Spurs in scoring with 24.3 points per game.
Kawhi’s defense is crucial too, considering he’ll likely be lined up against Giannis on Monday. The interesting thing to watch will be how real the decline in his defensive metrics is this year.
While reaching a career high in offensive box plus/minus and having his third-best offensive rating ever, Kawhi is currently at his worst defensive box plus/minus and worst defensive rating marks ever.
As the Spurs go, so does Kawhi. Last season San Antonio allowed 99 points per 100 possessions. Through 20 games this year the Spurs are giving up 105.4 points per 100 possessions. The loss of Duncan, even the 40-year-old version, is as big as many around the NBA expected it to be.
That could be good for the Bucks. Milwaukee’s defense has been effective lately, and if Giannis can get going things have been taking take of themselves. Kawhi’s defense on him might be the single most important facet of this game.
Dec 2, 2015; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Manu Ginobili (20) shoots the ball as Milwaukee Bucks power forward John Henson (R) defends during the first half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports
The Milwaukee Bucks are young and they’ve yet to completely click as a team. However, it feels like the Bucks could be on the edge of finally becoming a good team, instead of the mediocre casserole with some good moments sprinkled throughout that Bucks fans are so used to.
It could be another false alarm set off by wins over the Brooklyn Nets, but with the way Giannis is playing who knows how good this team could be. We’ll have a much better idea after this week, which contains games against a few good teams.
This Spurs game is a huge test. Milwaukee has a shot to show the NBA just how good the team can be by taking on one of the Association’s premier franchises. Hopefully the good Bucks show up on Monday night.
Predictions and Leaderboard:
Adam McGee: Bucks by 6 — 12-6, 202 point differential