Bucks should still be NBA title favorites after the trade deadline; Marvin Williams’ signing only helps
By Tyler Job
The Milwaukee Bucks are in even better shape after the trade deadline than before, and they did not even have to swap for anybody.
General manager Jon Horst reiterated before the NBA trade deadline he is satisfied with the team’s current core of players.
I am sure he, like all other GMs, made some calls around the league requesting any potential deals before the deadline. The Bucks were reportedly interested in players such as Robert Covington and Markieff Morris, and the latter was available before 2 p.m. Thursday. They had a first-round pick that Horst acquired from the Pacers in the Malcolm Brogdon sign-and-trade deal in free agency to possibly dish out.
While an additional bench shooter would have been helpful at the deadline, Horst ultimately did nothing.
But just because Horst did not trade for anyone did not mean he was going to sit back for long. The Charlotte Hornets bought out veteran forward Marvin Williams and reportedly plans to sign with the Bucks once he clears waivers. The 33-year-old was the number two overall pick with the Hawks in the 2005 NBA draft right behind Andrew Bogut. He has averaged a career 10.3 points per game and is a lifetime 36 percent 3-point shooter. Williams has spent the last five years with Charlotte but was being utilized in a bench role this season as the Hornets are in a full rebuild. Despite his limited role, Williams is averaging 6.7 points per game on about 38 percent shooting from downtown. He can also defend several positions.
Once Williams’ signing becomes official, Milwaukee will waive Dragan Bender in order to create an open roster spot for the veteran forward. Bender only averaged about 3.7 points per game and could not find a consistent role in Coach Budenholzer’s rotation.
Williams joining the Bucks only helps them because not only does he provide additional quality shooting and defense Milwaukee’s bench already has, he is also a great locker room presence. Williams is the perfect bench player Horst was looking for.
The Bucks continue to be the most complete team in the NBA, and a lot of that is thanks to Horst, Coach Bud, and the system. They own a league-best 45-7 record, 5.5 games ahead of the Western Conference-leading Lakers and 6.5 games ahead of the second-place Toronto Raptors in the East. They are on an unprecedented pace to win 70 games, a feat only two other teams in NBA history have accomplished: the 1995-96 Bulls and 2015-16 Warriors. Both of those teams reached the Finals, and the Warriors should have won the 2016 title if Draymond Green did not get suspended and Steph Curry was fully healthy.
Milwaukee keeps logging record numbers as well. The team currently has a 12.5 +/- point differential, which would be the highest ever for any team in NBA history if that number stays on course. The 1970-71 Bucks and 1971-72 Lakers both own the best-ever point differential at 12.3. The Lakers this year have the second-highest point differential, but it’s not even close to Milwaukee’s (7.1).
Not only is Milwaukee’s point differential special, but so is its offensive and defensive rating. The team’s 113.4 offensive and 101.5 defensive ratings equal an 11.8 net rating, yet another key stat the Bucks hold the top spot for. The Celtics have the second-best net rating, but theirs is 4.5 points behind Milwaukee’s. What is really interesting about the Bucks’ defense is that they own the top defensive rating, yet allow 14.1 3-pointers per game, the highest in the league. They allow 36.3 percent triples made, which is concerning. In the Bucks’ seven losses this year, they’ve allowed an average of 18 3-pointers made. Fortunately, Milwaukee has a plethora of the league’s top rim protectors in Brook Lopez, his brother Robin, and Giannis. The team gives up a league-best average of 38.3 points per game in the paint, and points in the paint continue to be one of the most valuable shots in basketball. Brook is one of the NBA’s top defenders inside of six feet, allowing just 43.1 percent of shots made. Did I already mention the Bucks are scoring an average of about 120 points per game, also the best in the NBA? Well, there you go.
Let’s not forget about Giannis, the reigning MVP. Yet, how can you forget about him? The Greek Freak is averaging 30 points per game in *under* 31 minutes played.
Then there’s Khris Middleton, who has developed into a special player. K-Midd is establishing a rare 50-40-90 campaign.
The rest of Milwaukee’s supporting cast can either shoot, play quality defense, or do a combination of both.
Understandably, a couple of teams in the Eastern Conference chasing the Bucks made some moves before the deadline. Miami acquired Andre Iguodala, Solomon Hill and Jae Crowder from Memphis in exchange for Justise Winslow, James Johnson and Dion Waiters. That certainly improves the Heat’s overall defense, but a lot of this trade revolves around the 36-year-old Iggy, who averaged a career-low 5.7 points per game last season. He stepped up in the playoffs like he usually does, and logged a 9.8 point per game average with Golden State last year. Miami, however, will continue to compete and Pat Riley has done a nice job building the roster.
The 76ers undoubtedly improved their bench by snatching Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III from the Warriors for three future second-round picks. Burks is registering 16 points per game on 37.5 shooting from downtown. Robinson is averaging 13 points per game and 40 percent behind the arc. Those are really nice numbers and both players will certainly bolster their bench and overall shooting, but Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are still having trouble playing with each other and the team overall lacks an offensive identity.
The Clippers, a potential Finals opponent for the Bucks, arguably grabbed the best player on the trade market in Marcus Morris from the Knicks. Morris, who is having the best year of his career, is averaging 19.6 points per game on 43.9 percent on 3-pointers. Doc Rivers plans to incorporate him into the starting lineup alongside Patrick Beverley, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Ivica Zubac. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, two exceptional players in their own right, will continue to come off the bench. The Clippers’ depth is almost unmatched, but Kawhi does not have as much defensive presence surrounding him in the frontcourt that he had with the Raptors last year. In the Conference Finals, Giannis had enough trouble getting around Kawhi, but even if he moved passed him, he still had to go through both Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol at the rim.
At the end of the day, are the aforementioned trades Miami, Philadelphia and the L.A. Clippers made going to be enough to stop a full Bucks team if they go head-to-head in the playoffs? Milwaukee has already battled these three teams in the regular season and mostly been successful. The Bucks swept the regular-seasons series with the Clips, one game in which they had a 40-point lead at one point. Milwaukee would have taken care of Miami if the team did not suffer a second-half meltdown in the home opener. The 76ers popped off from downtown on Christmas Day.
The Bucks were in great shape before the trade deadline, and they are in the same — probably even better — situation right now. Williams’ addition on the buyout market only helps their case. And perhaps Horst is not even finished making moves.
With a full squad, Milwaukee will keep on winning games like they have all season long and should still be one, if not the, title favorites.