With the Brooklyn Nets moving on to the Eastern Conference semifinals, they'll be facing a tall task against the tall gentlemen of the Milwaukee Bucks. With such a fascinating series on the horizon, I wanted to reach out to someone who knows Milwaukee incredibly well. Kyle Carr of Brew Hoop was kind enough to answer a bunch of questions I had. Here's our conversation:
Brian Fleurantin: So much of NBA discussion (TV, Twitter, etc.) is focused on the transactional side of the game like trades and free agency. With that in mind, it felt as if the Bucks didn’t get the level of attention a contender like them should after Giannis signed his extension prior to the season. What do you make of that and do you think the smaller national profile helped the team this season?
Kyle Carr: After two seasons of falling short of making the playoffs, which included a terrible bubble experience, the Bucks fell into the this team is just a regular season team viewpoint. Giannis signing his extension then took out a lot of reason to talk about Milwaukee. I think it did help the team to an extent as they did go through trying new adjustments and schemes which might have been tougher to execute if there was more talk around it.
BF: Speaking of Giannis, his two games against the Nets in Milwaukee really stood out for how he was able to confidently knock down his shots after the Nets kept daring him to shoot from three. Do you think that’s something that will carry over to this series and how do you see him matching up with Kevin Durant?
KC: I think it’s ideal for Milwaukee for Giannis to take those shots either early in the shot clock or if he doesn’t have to. If Giannis is feeling it early or gets into a rhythm, then go ahead and do so, but what makes Giannis more dangerous is when he has the ball in the high post and can take someone off the dribble to get to the rim or make a pass to someone in the dunker spot or in the corner. I am really fascinated about Giannis and Durant matching up, KD has looked like the player he was before his injury and that means it’s a matter of taking your lumps and hope you can slow down his teammates. I expect both to be able to try and match what the other is doing in different ways but this will be Giannis toughest matchup he has faced.
BF: The Jrue Holiday acquisition and upgrade over Eric Bledsoe seems to have unlocked another gear for the Bucks on offense and defense. How important has his addition been to the club this year and what assignment do you see him getting against Brooklyn?
KC: Jrue Holiday has been a significant upgrade over Eric Bledsoe simply for the fact that the Bucks’ floor is so much higher than it was before while also raising their ceiling. Bledsoe was always fine for Milwaukee in the regular season but when it got to the post season, he always seemed to have a disaster of a playoff series. Jrue provides a steadiness Milwaukee needs and his ability to defend the other team’s best perimeter player takes that load off of Khris Middleton and still lets Giannis thrive as a help defender. I think it would be best for Jrue to guard Harden but he also will be tasked with guarding Kyrie and potentially even Durant if Giannis and Tucker are not on the floor.
BF: I’ve been pretty down on Mike Budenholzer, but from the outside looking in, it looks like he’s been a lot more adaptable and willing to experiment with his defenses, etc. What, if anything, do you think has been different in his approach this season as compared to previous years?
KC: You would not be the only one to be down on Budenholzer as most Bucks fans felt that way going into this season. My hope going into this season was the Budenholzer would at least try different things, even if they didn’t work, at least knowing he would be flexible would be promising. While he still will run with the zone drop scheme to start games, the biggest experiment/adjustment has been switching on defense when the situation calls for it and with the addition of Jrue and PJ Tucker, it does allow it to work. On offense, he was running a five out system which was great when he first got there as it allowed Milwaukee to become a more modern offense than when Jason Kidd was there, but now they’ve added a “dunker” spot which has one player around the hoop. This can be filled with any player and then they can either attempt a shot or pass out of it to give themselves a better look and forces defense to make quick rotations. All this gives Milwaukee more options than shoot or three or let Giannis charge into the lane and hope for the best.
BF: It looks like Khris Middleton has continued to grow and now looks to be Milwaukee’s shot maker and creator with the game on the line. How do you see him being able to match up with the Nets in this series?
KC: Brooklyn doesn’t have anyone that is as poor a defender and will be targeted the way Duncan Robinson was targeted last round. If Milwaukee wants to have a chance not only in this series, but also for a championship, Khris has to be aggressive both in making his shots but also taking the shots. I do think he will get his buckets but depending on if he is guarding Harden or shadowing Joe Harris will give me an idea on how much energy he will have as the game gets closer to the end.
BF: Who do you think will take up the slack off the bench now that Donte DiVincenzo is out?
KC: In Game 4 against Miami, Pat Connaughton was the player that got the start for Donte. I expect that to continue even thought ere are a lot of Bucks fans that want Bryn Forbes to start which I’ll explain later. I think Pat has the athleticism that he could potentially keep up with Kyrie and that can allow Jrue to guard Harden or Khris to guard Harris. It will be tough to replace what Donte can do off the ball but with Connaughton and Forbes, you at least have the shooting to fill that void.
BF: Is there a player non-regular observers of the Bucks should keep a close eye on in this series?
KC: If you weren’t paying attention to Bryn Forbes before, you absolutely need to now. Forbes outscored Jimmy Butler last round scoring 60 points and in 20 minutes per game, he was averaging 48.5% from three on 8 threes a game. The thing is, this wasn’t some sort of outlier performance that you can maybe hope doesn’t happen, Forbes can shoot and he will get to the spots he need to and is especially dangerous when Giannis is on the court. He just has that ability to come off the bench and suddenly hit four threes in a quarter which in an even series like this one, will be needed.
BF: Is there anything else Nets fans should know about the Bucks?
KC: Brooklyn fans know about Brook Lopez and what he can do, then he became this 7’0 shooter and now has slowly been more like the Brooklyn Brook in that he is getting his baskets down low and frequently. Because of how the Nets can exploit a zone drop scheme, I don’t know how effective Lopez will be or how much he will play but his skills on offense might give DeAndre Jordan some trouble.
BF: What’s your prediction for this series?
KC: These are two even teams and I believe whoever wins this series will win the Eastern Conference Finals. Both teams have the offensive firepower that is going to force the other to keep up and the Nets’ Big 3 is probably the most dangerous and difficult trio to try and defend. Milwaukee can match it with Jrue/Khris/Giannis but it’s going to come down to which role players are going to be able to either contribute with their shooting or make enough defensive plays to give the edge. I would be shocked if this series doesn’t go six or seven games and It really is tough to make a prediction and stick with it. It’s a combination of the homer in me, the view that Milwaukee’s adjustments will pay dividends, and this team mentally seems stronger than in the past but I will say Bucks in 7 but every game is going to be close start to finish.
Many thanks to Kyle for joining us! You can find him on Twitter here.