With the NBA ironing out the details on the resumption of the 2020 NBA season in Orlando, there are a multitude of changes that will be made. I thought it would be best to sort through what has changed, and how those changes will affect the Bucks for better and for worse. With virtually no knowledge of how this unprecedented environment will affect individual players, this is all speculation. But nobody said speculation wasn’t a fun thing to do.
The NBA’s playoff format as we know it on June 16th is relatively similar to the normal format, with the exception of the play-in “tournament”. 22 teams will be returning, with 13 in the west and 9 in the east. The playoff format will be as follows–if the 9th Seed is within 4 games of the 8th seed, they will play to see who gets the 8th spot. If the 9th seed beats the 8th seed in the first game, they play another winner take all game. If the 8th seed wins the first game, they get the 8th spot. Ultimately, the playoffs will proceed as normal. The games will all be played in Orlando at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World. No fans will be in attendance and they are still working out the details on whether or not they will be pumping in crowd noise or 2k sound effects per Shams Charania.
In order to properly evaluate how the changes will affect the Bucks, we must take a look at the advantages that they had when the NBA suspended its play due to the Coronavirus in March. Then, evaluate if the advantages are still there or if they have been lost.
HOME COURT ADVANTAGE: In terms of advantages, the first one was pretty clear. The Bucks have the best record in the NBA at 53-12 and for all intents and purposes have the #1 seed in the East locked up. They are also 2 games ahead of the Lakers in the loss column for the #1 overall seed. Home court advantage would have arguably been the Bucks’ biggest advantage. Now, this has been thrown out the window. This could end up being very detrimental to the Bucks, as they have the 2nd best home record in the league at 28-3. But as good as they were at home, they were no slouch on the road either, as they were a league best 25-5 before dropping their last 4 on the road due to a rash of injuries. This is all to say that losing home court through the Eastern conference and potentially the finals is a huge advantage lost when changing to this format.
VERDICT: ADVANTAGE LOST
ACCUMULATED REST: The next advantage that they had entering the playoffs was the amount of rest that they were getting. They achieved this not by resting players entire games, but by being so dominant that they were often up double digits in the fourth quarter. This is essentially wiped out by the NBA’s 4 month hiatus. And while at first glance this seems like a loss of an advantage that the Bucks had worked so hard to create, upon further inspection it may not be so clear. Although their core players were playing less than other contenders, the Bucks seemed anything but rested when the NBA suspended play. In the middle of their worst stretch of the season, they were also battling injuries to Giannis and George Hill; two very important pieces to the Bucks’ playoff success. Couple this with the fact that Donte was essentially on the back half of his first full season and had the potential to hit the “rookie wall.” It seemed like the Bucks needed this break to regroup. Overall, I would consider the extended break to be a wash.
CONTINUITY: The benefit of playing basketball in a system with the same players for an extended period of time is a real asset to any professional basketball team. This is something that is undervalued when looking at championship contenders. When looking at teams that have won championships in recent memory, very few win a championship the first year playing together. From Kobe and Shaq, to Lebron and Wade, teams that are constructed with all-time superstars tend to struggle to win a title their first year together. This is an area where I think that the Bucks had an advantage coming into this year, with every other contending team having made significant changes to their core group of players. It is easy to gloss over the fact that last season when the Bucks won 60 games and came within 2 games of the NBA Finals, it was coach Bud’s first season installing his system in Milwaukee. This is why I believe they were going to win the title this year, and why I believe that the hiatus will make this advantage an even bigger one. The playoff run will be a sprint to the finish, even with the 8 warm up games. Teams being comfortable playing with each other in this extremely odd atmosphere will have the utmost advantage.
VERDICT: ADVANTAGE INCREASED
No one knows how the Orlando bubble is going to affect the teams individually. But when looking at the lack of home court, rest, and continuity, it is more intuitive than not to think that the best and most talented basketball teams will prevail. In that regard, if you think a healthy and rested Bucks team is the best basketball team on the planet, which I do, then you have to feel pretty good about their chances going into the playoffs. There are a million unforeseen variables at play here with how this all could play out, but for where things sit right now, I am cautiously optimistic. No matter who the Bucks play, I believe they will have the best player in the series, full rested and motivated, and I believe the rest of the league should be terrified of that prospect.
FINAL VERDICT: BUCKS IN 6