Milwaukee at New Orleans
Time: 7 PM (CT), NBA League Pass
Spread: NOP -2.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The Milwaukee Bucks have won its past three and seven of its past 10 to climb to No. 4 in the Eastern Conference at 15-10 thus far. Milwaukee now travels to New Orleans to face the Pelicans at 7 PM on Local access television and NBA League Pass. The Pelicans are 2.5-point favorites in the affair, with an over/under set at 220 points according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.
Milwaukee most recently defeated the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons. All three teams are struggling, but Milwaukee has rode the unparalleled play of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is looking more and more like a true superstar this season. The “Greek Freak” is averaging 29.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game while also making a colossal impact defensively where he comes up with 1.71 steals and 1.63 blocks nightly.
Giannis is a two-way player, and perhaps the league’s best, with all due respect to the injured Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James, and others. Antetokounmpo’s length and athleticism make him a different kind of x-factor for the Bucks, since he truly can take over a game with his play on either end of the court. His PER of 31.2 is the highest at his position, whatever position that is (sarcasm, yes).
While ostensibly defined as a power forward, he handles the ball as much and much like a point guard, while the Bucks really lack a premier playmaker (Antetokounmpo leads the team in assists). The addition of Eric Bledsoe was a nice injection of talent at the low cost of a misfitting Greg Monroe, and Bledsoe has averaged 18 points and 4.2 assists per game as a Buck. Khris Middleton is quietly having an All-Star caliber season with 20 points, five rebounds and four assists per game.
Outside of that top-three pairing, the Bucks also have last season’s Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon is a stout defender and consistent performer on both ends of the court. Even Tony Snell and John Henson have done well in more clearly defined roles. The Bucks probably are still a little short on depth, but that could change if Then Maker continues to develop into an effective center. The second year big man is averaging just 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds per game, but the eye test reveals a long athletic big man who could eventually be a major factor down the road for Milwaukee.
Even if he is not, even if it takes another offseason to add more depth, the Bucks are a team on the rise on the transcending talents of Antetokounmpo. Injured star Jabari Parker does loom as a possible source of help, but after tearing the same ACL for the second time in his career, updates have been scarce in coming regarding the former No. 2 overall pick.
New Orleans, meanwhile, is an assortment of talent that hardly seems to click like things do for D’Antoni’s Rockets. Despite having two of the league’s premier big men in Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, the Pelicans have plodded around .500 simply because the team lacks complementary parts at nearly all other positions.
Combo guard Jrue Holiday has been too quiet to comprise a realistic “Big Three” as New Orleans hoped he would, and though his play has been solid, it has been nevertheless very unspectacular. Cousins and Davis have thrived, but the Pelicans lack scoring on the perimeter and really have no starting-caliber small forward at all. Instead, the team has used E’Twaun Moore and Holiday often on the wing, but neither brings the defensive presence required to stop the big bodies that the team encounters so frequently.
That leaves Davis and Cousins scrambling to do so, and the result often is that one or both end up in foul trouble. When teams can find a way to even remove one of those two stars (by attacking the rim), it renders New Orleans in a world of trouble simply because the team really is a two-man squad. One hates to break the argument down to matters so simple, but the Cousins experiment will likely end a relative failure, if only because expectations were simply too high to begin with.
In some senses it is an exciting treat to see two gifted big men like the Kentucky bigs playing together, but that does not mean the formula is necessarily that of what it takes to build a contending team. Even if New Orleans could re-sign Cousins, adding the right pieces around he and Davis, and Holiday, is a monumental challenge to Dell Demps, and one that the GM has yet to come close to solving.