A New Big Three
Four wins in five games is four wins in five games. Even when two of them come against a Kings team whose best player, ostensibly, is a comatose George Hill.
The Bucks won’t see the Kings in the playoffs. They could play the Pistons, a team they have now beaten twice in the past few weeks. The target should be on bigger things.
One month after trading for the immediately-helpful Eric Bledsoe, the eye test and numbers on Giannis/Bledsoe/Middleton suggest that the team has its biggest (only?) big three since Allen/Cassell/Robinson — and its first trio since then with a chance to trouble the East elite when the playoffs come and rotations are shortened and stars carry the day.
In 255 minutes together, Giannis/Bledsoe/Middleton have thrashed their opponents by 72 points. That equates to a differential of +13.5 per 48 minutes. Only four other teams in the league currently have a three-man unit doing that in 250+ minutes: the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics, and 76ers. (Not coincidentally, the Bucks have a few other three-man groups based around Giannis, Bledsoe, and/or Middleton who also make that list. Collectively, these three are great, but individually they also have shown to be able to make other lineups elite as well.)
Keep in mind this group is not beating up on second units; they are giving it to opposing starters. The team has been excellent offensively when they share the court (their 115.2 offensive rating is a touch better than the league-leading and historically-great Warriors), and defensively they have been just about as good — their 100.9 defensive rating is stingier than every team in the league except the Celtics.
That is all connected. The Kings could scarcely get off a shot as the Bucks blitzed to a 14–0 lead last Saturday, while the Blazers felt the wrath of Giannis/Bledsoe/Middleton firing on just-about all cylinders at the same time, for what felt like the first time this season.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) December 3, 2017
And that is just the thing. The three have not always looked at full throttle, or even in sync. For most of their time together leading up to the win in Portland, they gave you the feeling that they should be better together than they were, that they had been less than the sum of parts. That is turning.
You need more than three players of course, and the current starting lineup of Bledsoe/Snell/Middleton/Giannis/Henson is also one of the top-ranked five-man units in the league in terms of scoring differential. In the win over the Pistons on Wednesday, they got a much-needed boost from the bench. Slice it this way or that, the Bucks have still been outscored overall this season. But they are moving in the right direction.
It is hard not to with Giannis, whose “off-game” now resembles something like his 25-point, 10-rebound, 4-assist, 2-block birthday performance against the Pistons. If the Bucks have a true big three or not, they have an ideal number one.
The sky was falling two Saturdays ago in Salt Lake City. It did not take long for Giannis to push the thing back up.