On Saturday night the playoffs begin, and the third-seeded Toronto Raptors will be hoping to replicate and potentially surpass last season’s Eastern Conference Finals visit this year. However, the Milwaukee Bucks stand in their way in a first round match-up, creating a stern test for the Raptors.
Riding the astonishing individual success of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks had stormed to a playoff berth as the sixth seed after a season filled with inconsistency and line-up alterations. With a relatively young, up-and-coming roster led by the likes of Rookie of the Year candidate Malcolm Brogdon, Antetokounmpo, and Khris Middleton, the Bucks are unpredictable to say the least.
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) April 14, 2017
After the first few months of this season, Milwaukee was not where they were supposed to be. Ranked as one of the more dangerous rosters in the East coming into the season, the Bucks fell short of expectations early on without leading scorer Middleton and then losing Jabari Parker, finding themselves out of playoff contention. However, since Middleton’s return from his hamstring injury, the Bucks have been given a new lease of life, enjoying an impressive month of March culminating a 14-4 record. This run was enough to propel the franchise into the playoff places where they stayed for the remainder of the regular season.
Antetokounmpo has been at the forefront of the Bucks’ success this year, becoming only the fifth player in NBA history to lead his team in all five major statistical categories (points, assists, rebounds, blocks, and steals). The following goes without saying; the ‘Greek Freak’ is, without a doubt the runaway candidate for the Most Improved Player award.
Another player that the Raptors will need to be wary of is Thon Maker. An unlikely danger man to many, Maker, like the Bucks, has enjoyed a far stronger end to the season averaging 8.4 points and 4.5 rebounds per contest over the last seven games. The tenth pick in the 2016 NBA Draft has the potential to make the difference for Milwaukee acting as a great floor-spacer, and his 7-foot-1 frame allows him to also pose a threat inside as well.
Thon Maker is going to be a difference maker in this league for a LONG time. He’s got great instinctual defensive ability. Tons to work with
— Oliver Maroney (@OMaroneyNBA) April 14, 2017
Toronto, similar to the Bucks, has also struggled with injury problems after starting point guard Kyle Lowry was sidelined for over a month after surgery on his shooting hand, but when fully fit, the Raptors are a potent threat in the East.
Adding Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker has really filled a need for the Raptors, and in Ibaka they have an underrated scorer who can act as an elite stretch-four, shooting threes at a 39.8-percent clip since joining Toronto. As well as his unique ability to pose as an efficient rim protector and outside threat, the Spaniard is also no stranger to postseason basketball, considering the abundance of intense playoff runs he endured with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
DeMar DeRozan has excelled as the Raptors main man, leading the franchise in scoring with 27.3 points per game, good for fifth best in the league as well as a career-high. He also became just the third shooting guard in the last 20 years to average over 27 points while shooting less than two three-pointers a game, joining Michael Jordan and Dwyane Wade on this list. During Lowry’s absence, DeRozan had stepped up his defensive intensity and play-making, both of which the Raptors will be hoping he has in his arsenal during the postseason.
— NBA (@NBA) April 15, 2017
Prediction: Raptors in 6
While the Bucks will put up a rigid fight against the Raptors, the undeniable quality of Toronto’s roster will shine through and they should take this series.
But don’t be too surprised if Giannis rallies his troops to a win a game or two in this series. The Bucks are a franchise that are certainly on the rise, but with insufficient postseason experience and facing such a difficult task against the Raptors, the challenge ahead may just be too tough for the Bucks to conquer.