The Miami Heat stunned Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of last year’s NBA Playoffs. Handing them a gentleman’s sweep, the Heat went on to make the NBA Finals in a losing effort. However, one year later and things are drastically different. These teams met again in the playoffs, this time in the first round. Only now, the Bucks had a whole new team and handily dispatched the Heat in a 4-0 clean sweep. This inverse outcome didn’t occur simply because of poor play by the Heat. The Bucks’ domination should highlight their improvements, instead.
Over the course of the 2020-2021 NBA offseason, the Bucks made a major trade and a few subtly helpful additions in free agency. As part of that colossal four-team trade last offseason, the Bucks acquired All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday from the New Orleans Pelicans. In November of the Covid-adjusted free agency period, the Bucks also signed a backup shooting guard and power forward. These came in the forms of Bryn Forbes and Bobby Portis, respectively. Also, during the season, they acquired P.J. Tucker from the Houston Rockets just before the trade deadline.
These players have different roles on the team, but each of them has proven to be important to the Bucks’ success in their first playoff series this year. Some of these additions improve the team in aspects that were insufficient last time around. Others add something to Milwaukee that they did not have in their arsenal in their shocking early exit last year.
Jrue Holiday has come out this season and has been everything the Bucks wanted from him and more. In his first playoff series with the Bucks, Holiday was critical to the sweep. Holiday put up roughly 15 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds, and 2.3 steals per game in the series. His ability to facilitate the offense and set up looks for the focal points of Milwaukee’s offense, Giannis and Khris Middleton, is part of what makes the Bucks so lethal.
Holiday is one of the best point guards in the NBA. There is no other way to look at him other than the most valuable addition of the Bucks’ offseason. He has arguably one of the most complete skill sets in the league, notorious for his phenomenal abilities on both sides of the ball. That’s part of why the Bucks gave him such a hefty contract, but he deserves every penny.
In obtaining the services of Jrue Holiday, the Bucks also parted ways with Eric Bledsoe. Their former starting point, while solid, didn’t bring enough to the table for the Bucks to be confident contenders. In his 9 playoff games for the Bucks last year, Bledsoe put up close to 12 points, six assists, four rebounds, and one steal a game in over 30 minutes per contest. The significant increase of point guard play has been arguably the biggest reason for the Bucks’ improvements this year.
Bryn Forbes signed with the Bucks on November 24, 2020, to a two-year/$4.8 Million contract. His role as bench bucket-getter has added much-needed depth to the shooting guard position. With the departures of Bledsoe and George Hill after last season, the Bucks’ guard depth was thinning. Forbes’s flamethrower has given the Bucks 48 minutes of firepower on offense.
Bryn Forbes has been everything the Bucks need from him so far this postseason. He averaged 15 points a game in the first series, making four three-pointers and shooting 48.5 percent on them in the playoffs. Forbes even outscored the Heat’s best player in the series, giving the Bucks 60 points, while Jimmy Butler only managed 58 over 4 games. Forbes may see his role increase after the Bucks announced that Donte DiVincenzo would not return from injury this year.
Signed the same day as Forbes, Bobby Portis agreed to a two-year/$7.4 Million contract with the Milwaukee Bucks. After last season’s disappointing end for the Bucks, they parted ways with Robin Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, and most significantly Marvin Williams. These players were aging vets, with only Williams getting any playoff run, and it was obvious that the Bucks wanted to take their team in a different direction.
Portis has been solid in 18 minutes a game this offseason, averaging close to 11 points and five boards. He also helps stretch the floor for the Bucks, as he’s knocking down 46.2 percent of his three-pointers so far. He’s been serviceable on the defensive end, too, despite the stats not always being there. He may also see an increased role in the absence of DiVincenzo, as the Bucks shrink their rotation from nine to eight players.
The most recent addition to the Bucks is P.J. Tucker. After joining the team around the trade deadline, Tucker has done for the Bucks what he’s done his whole career. At this stage in his career, the 36-year-old NBA veteran is almost exclusively a defensive anchor, with the occasional corner three-pointer on offense. He rounds out the end of the Bucks’ newfound 8-man rotation in the playoffs.
While his statistics are not even worth mentioning, one cannot understand Tucker’s impact on the teams he’s been a part of by just looking at the box score. The 6’5″ forward gives the Bucks a veteran presence that knows nothing less than consistent effort and grit. The toughness and savvy he brings to Milwaukee are arguably more important than any stat on the scoresheet.