Milwaukee Bucks land P.J. Tucker: Can they get over the hump?

Milwaukee Bucks Mike Budenholzer and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Milwaukee Bucks Mike Budenholzer and Giannis Antetokounmpo (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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Milwaukee Bucks
Milwaukee Bucks Jrue Holiday (Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports) /

What’s new for the Milwaukee Bucks?

No more plug-and-play system players. That’s what the Milwaukee Bucks targeted in previous offseasons. Role players that could defend and shoot in Milwaukee’s system. The issue was not necessarily those players, but the system that would fail in the playoffs. The Bucks needed players that could take matters into their own hands when the system is failing. And players that could encourage Giannis and Khris Middleton to do the same.

Those two, the leaders of the team, have the same positive trait. They are extremely coachable. They do what the coach needs when the coach needs. In a sport where ego can destroy even the best teams (shoutout the 03-04 Lakers), this is an awesome thing to have in your top two players on a contender. But it comes at a fault, too.

It also means they will not fully contradict the coach, or work outside the system when it is not working. And sometimes you need that. Think of LeBron James changing David Blatt’s out-of-timeout play before draining a game-winning buzzer-beater. Sometimes the coach needs to be overruled, and the Bucks have gotten some guys that can help.

In the offseason, the Bucks traded a horde of draft picks and their two point guards for Jrue Holiday. The guy that deserves some credit in turning Dame from an All-Star to a superstar. Arguments can be made that he is the best perimeter defender in the East, if not the league. And he is a pitbull on offense as well. Hits his threes, takes pull-ups out of nowhere, and just punishes smaller guards in the paint.

He is the Bucks’ third-best player on off nights and one of the top two when he is feeling himself. What he also brings, though, is another voice on defense. Maybe Budenholzer decided before the season that it was FINALLY time for a change in the system. But I can not imagine that Holiday had nothing to do with it.

He is spearheading the Bucks’ efforts to figure out how to switch effectively. There have been some uuuuuuuuugly nights in them figuring it out. But the whole point is that they want to tinker with it to have a final product for the playoffs. They’re finally treating the regular season like it is less important.

We have seen really good results too. There was the win over the LA Clippers earlier this March that showed a version of the Bucks that could win the title. Khris and Giannis switched effectively on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, keeping them (and the Clippers!) scoreless over the last four minutes of the game. The offense showed new wrinkles as well, displaying gorgeous ball movement to get the Greek Freak a wide-open dunk to ice the game. The Bucks are stocking up on personnel that helps further this change.

Bobby Portis. Crazy Eyes. My sweet sweet boy. Milwaukee should have drafted him over Rashad Vaughn (sigh) all those years ago. But he is finally home. And he is hunting. Portis is quite possibly the first true stretch four that Giannis has played with. And it is having an impact on both players.

Bobby is not averaging career highs in any of the traditional box score stats. Except for field goal percentage. And 3-point percentage. He’s hitting 47.8 percent of his 3’s right now, an astronomical number. He is enjoying the space that Giannis gives him. He’s also putting players in the post for a lot of his possessions, something that Bud would not prefer. But Bobby is going to get his, and Bud has had to respect that. Another way the new personnel is forcing change on the Bucks.

He’s even shown some competency on the defensive end. Some good rotations, and genuine effort when switched onto a perimeter player. Not game-changing, but it has been enough for the Bucks so far. The issue is, MKE is still running drop coverage when he is out there. The same that they do with Brook Lopez. They are not going to survive against the Brooklyn Nets or the Boston Celtics or the Miami Heat etc in the playoffs running drop coverage. Enter P.J. Tucker.