The Bucks Have A Great Bench

Sterling Brown picked off the pass. He threw ahead to Pat Connaughton. He pushed and then dropped it back to George Hill. He swung to Ersan Ilyasova. He went to the paint and kicked to Robin Lopez.

In those 11 seconds, each of the five players on the Bucks made space and rhythm for a teammate. It culminated in this Lopez triple. There was not a Cavalier within ten feet of him.

This was just one play, but it is representative of bench-based lineups since the start of the year. More than a quarter through the season, the Bucks statistically have the second best bench unit in the league.

Bench: Differential Per Game (2019–20)
1. Mavericks: +5.6
2. Bucks: +4.1
3. Lakers: +3.7
4. Clippers: +3.4
5. Pistons: +1.8

Their bench also ranks second in the league in minutes per game, with only the Clippers giving slightly more time to their reserves, largely because they technically bring two guys (Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell) off the bench who are actually part of their core closing lineup.

When the Clippers came to Milwaukee last week, they were outscored by a combined 59 points when Williams and Harrell were on the court. In what was expected to be a showdown featuring not only two of the best starting units in the league, but two of the best benches as well, Milwaukee’s reserves helped blow the game open. Most of the second half was mop-up time, which for the Bucks means rolling out one of the best benches not only this season but in recent league history.

Bench: Differential Per Game (since 2000)
1. Mavericks: +5.6 (2019–20)
2. Bucks: +4.1 (2019–20)
3. Spurs: +3.9 (2015–16)
4. Spurs: +3.8 (2013–14)
5. Spurs: +3.7 (2011–12)
6. Lakers: +3.7 (2019–20)
7. Raptors: +3.6 (2017–18)
8. Bulls: +3.5 (2011–12)
9. Spurs: +3.4 (2016–17)
10. Clippers: +3.4 (2019–20)

They are up there with some memorable bench squads. Kyle Korver was raining threes for that Bulls team, on a bench that also included prime Taj Gibson and rookie Jimmy Butler (who was not yet getting rotation minutes). The Raptors featured budding Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet, guys who would figure centrally in bringing them a title the next season. Pick your favorite Spurs bench: The 2013–14 title-winning supernova brought Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, Marco Belinelli, and Patty Mills off the bench, while the 2011–12 version had Kawhi Leonard coming off the bench for 25 games in the regular season before blooming in the playoffs.

The Bucks are 10–0 this season when they are missing a starter, and with Eric Bledose expected to be out for approximately two weeks, their depth will be tested. Outside of the core starting five, Donte DiVincenzo has filled in as a starter most often among the reserves and has played very well in that role. He is a natural when it comes to understanding the pace and the angles of the game. Here he freezes the defense before delivering a handoff to set up Giannis for an easy finish.

Coming off excellent postseason runs last year, George Hill and Ersan Ilyasova might be the headiest and steadiest bench duo in the league. Hill leads the NBA in three-point percentage (by far, at 53.4%) and has the fifth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league, while Ilyasova as always ranks among the league leaders in charges drawn and self-awareness. Sterling Brown still has the best Defensive Rating in the NBA. Robin Lopez is starting to hit threes. D.J. Wilson has taken another step forward. Kyle Korver still has defenses lunging. Pat Connaughton — still blocking jump-shooters, still cramming on the unsuspecting — is having the best year of his career (again).

Statistically, the Bucks so far are one of the most dominant teams of all-time based on point differential. As a result, for the second straight season, they have a built-in, natural load management approach. Which is to say, they are killing teams, their bench comes in and makes it worse for opponents, and along the way Giannis plays like one of the best players ever, in a modest number of minutes. This season, he is averaging the fewest minutes since his rookie season.

Giannis: Minutes Per Game
2013–14: 24.6
2014–15: 31.4
2015–16: 35.3
2016–17: 35.6
2017–18: 36.7
2018–19: 32.8
2019–20: 31.1

Depth will help the Bucks push for homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs. Once they get there, some might be thinking, well a great bench is great, but what you really need is an elite starting lineup.

Bad news for people who are looking for bad news about the Bucks:

Starters: Differential Per Game (2019–20)
1. Bucks: +9.4
2. Lakers: +5.9
3. Sixers: +4.7
4. Heat: +4.0
5. Clippers: +3.5