After weathering an early season storm of injuries and bad vibes, it looks like the Golden State Warriors are back in the business of dominating the NBA. But as they lift their heads up from the early struggles, it’s hard to not notice the changing NBA landscape.
Case in point, the Milwaukee Bucks are no longer an up-and-coming team; they’ve arrived.
The Warriors are without Draymond Green for at least a few more games, adding an un-needed challenge for Golden State.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (17-9) at Milwaukee Bucks (16-7)
WHERE: Fiserv Forum — Milwaukee, WI
WHEN: Friday, Dec. 7, 2018 - 6:30 PST (PDT? I dunno, it’s on at 6:30, ok?)
WATCH: ESPN; NBCSBA
Radio: 95.7 The Game
Blog Buddy: Brew Hoop
A worthy adversary
I’m not going to fawn over them too much (see what I did there?), but the Milwaukee Bucks are legit. Per basketballreference.com, they’ve got the second-best offensive rating, the sixth-best defensive rating and have managed to attain that while playing the toughest schedule in the NBA to date. They hold second place in a tight Eastern conference, trailing only the blisteringly hot Toronto Raptors for the top spot.
A team stocked with the sort of long-limbed, versatile defenders that can bother Golden State, the Bucks have really soared this year on the strength of their best player’s play. Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to develop, and at just 24 years old you can see that there’s still plenty of room to grow on his upward trajectory. Just look at his stat line (which coincidentally leads his team in every category but blocks (Brook Lopez)).
Interestingly, the Bucks are an extreme embodiment of the “live by the three, die by the three.” Stated by our friends over at Brew Hoop:
“Live by the three, die by the three.” That’s the response you’ll sometimes get from fans that are somewhat quicker to accept losses than others. And they’re right: in wins, the Bucks hit 37.5% of their threes and allow only 32.3% (while putting up 5.0 more attempts than opponents), and in losses Milwaukee makes 33.0% of their threes while allowing a whopping 43.3% (while putting up only 3.5 more attempts than opponents). This is a massive swing when comparing the Bucks’ make rate to opponents; going from +5.2% on makes in wins to -10.3% on makes in losses leaves an awfully small margin of error elsewhere in a game.
The Warriors have had a contentious relationship with three point shooting so far, with many calling on coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors to emphasize more attempts from deep. Shooting nearly 40% from deep as a team, it’s definitely in the Warriors’ interest to look for more opportunities. They defend that three ball reasonably well, but it is worth noting that Golden State allows more deep attempts than just about any team in the league. Opponents average nearly 34 threes per game, which puts the Warriors at 30th in the league when it comes to denying three point shots. As elucidated in that block quote above, the Bucks team is especially susceptible to shooting themselves into — and out of — games, so the three point line will be extra important tonight.
Return of the juggernaut
The last time these teams faced each other on November 8th, Eric Bledsoe scored 26 points, and Antetokounmpo put up a relatively pedestrian (for him) 24 points and nine rebounds to lead the Bucks over the Warriors, 134-111. But everything around Golden State feels just a bit different since the return of one Stephen Curry.
In his two games back since the groin injury, Curry has led the team with 30 points against the Hawks and then scored a team-high 42 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists against the Cavaliers on Wednesday night. I think it’s safe to say that Curry is back.
But is it possible that he’s better than ever? His scoring efficiency is absurdly good. As one of our old members used to say, “there’s no such thing as off the chart, you just need a bigger piece of paper.” GSOM user, abaddon has charted all players who have turned in at least 20 points per game with a True Shooting percentage of .650 or better.
Before the two MVP awards, one might have asked if this was sustainable — after all, this is still awfully early in the season, right? Well, we’ve gone through about a third of the season, and given his historical performances, it’s really not out of the question to wonder if Curry will maintain this level of play through the rest of the season.
A battle of two seven-foot, ball-handling scorers
If you are looking for a matchup to watch in this game, then the battle between Kevin Durant and Antetokounmpo should be worthy of your attention. Unlike some of the other marquee names that we may face (cough Lebron cough), Durant and Antetokounmpo seem to actually seek each other out on the court.
There are some parallels between the two, but there is also a glaring discrepancy on offense. Durant is a much more polished offensive player and comfortable shooting from anywhere on the court. Antetokounmpo is a close-range specialist, albiet a highly effective one. He’s almost exclusively a two-point shooter, something of a rarity these days. Last season he took 90% of his attempts from inside the arc (down to 86% this year) but still manages to boast a reasonably efficient .621 TS%.
No matter what, this matchup will certainly feature its fair share of highlights, as both players measure themselves against one another.
Everyone who watches this game will have a good time. And please, basketball Gods, no injuries please.