The Milwaukee Bucks ‘Small’ Lineup


Less than a week from the NBA All-Star Game, the last expectation from Milwaukee was to see the Bucks experimenting with new lineups. But with a collection of injuries to Zaza Pachulia and Kenyon Martin, combined with the on-going Larry Sanders fiasco, coach Jason Kidd has been forced to explore new options.

With a growing list of inactives, third-year player John Henson is the only center listed on the active roster. To combat this, Kidd has been starting 6’11” forward Giannis Antetokounmpo at the 4, allowing room to finish out the starting five with a combination of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Jared Dudley, and Khris Middleton.

Now admittedly, these lineup changes are not to be considered a long-term issue, as the injuries to Pachulia (strained calf) and Martin (ankle soreness) are only considered day-to-day. In fact, Pachulia already returned to action in Monday night’s game against Brooklyn. These alterations instead provide new possibilities when it comes to targeting specific matchups later in the season.

Let’s jump to April and the start of the NBA playoffs. Barring a major breakdown, the Bucks are essentially a lock for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee sits six games ahead of Charlotte, but also does not have the same firepower to compete with higher seeds Washington and Cleveland.

Earlier this month, the Bucks pulled off upsets to teams such as the Toronto Raptors and Portland Trail Blazers as a part of a five-game win streak. Unfortunately, this is not the norm, and should likewise not be considered an expectation. Milwaukee is an exciting team to watch and flashy enough to beat any team on a given night.

But they lack the consistency and ammunition to pull off a series upset.

That is, unless something drastic happens.

Imagine the Bucks coming into the playoffs with an entirely new scheme, new lineup, new look from anything they’ve previously run. In the NBA, fans will generally only see teams transition to a small lineup for only a few possessions. But rather, instead if the Bucks could create mismatches that last the entire game.

To start, as an offensive mind I love Antetokounmpo playing as a power forward. On one end of the court, he has the ability to run around anyone trying to guard him. Milwaukee can then stretch the floor and create more opportunities for themselves.

Defense is certainly a concern depending on matchup. There’s no way one can realistically expect Antetokounmpo to stop a big bruising forward such as a Carlos Boozer or Kendrick Perkins down low. He may, however, stand a much better chance against a Pau Gasol-type who likes to hang farther from the hoop.

And if that slow, bumbling forward tries to dribble, the Greek Freak can take it the other way.

I find it extremely difficult to determine what the Bucks have in John Henson. When originally drafted out of North Carolina, Henson was known for his defense. Knowing this, the fact that he’s averaged 11.2 points over the past five games is reasonable.

But when facing a large forward like the before-mentioned Boozer, Henson doesn’t stand a chance as the Las Angeles big man dropped 28 points.

So why take a chance when so much risk is attributed to this lineup? I admit, there are some considerable concerns at this point, but this lineup has so much potential to cause trouble for opposing teams.

For one, speed. With burners such as Knight and Mayo, having Henson and Jared Dudley as your slowest players on the floor provides a great advantage. Looking back at the Laker game last Wednesday night, the Bucks shot 50 percent from the floor as they were able to simply run by the opposition.

This sort of play could easily transition into a sort of run-and-gun offense if needed.

But as always, we so easily forget about defense. This isn’t a problem to be blamed on the fans, as teams forget about this as well. You may think I’m joking, but look at teams like Cleveland who stack up the likes of Lebron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and believe that a Anderson Varejao-type can sustain them on defense.

But I digress. The fact is that any team with a greater than average big man can have a career day against Milwaukee playing this speed lineup. Changes would certainly have to be made. Assuming Antetokounmpo and Henson cannot put on a quick 30 pounds before the end of the season, Milwaukee’s best option with this lineup would be to try out a zone defense.

They would then hope to provoke more jump shots and keep opposing centers out of the paint.

This analysis is, of course, complete speculation. One can expect to Milwaukee to return to its typical lineup once Martin and Pachulia return to full speed. But just remember that the Bucks are not much improved from the Herb Kohl years. This team is young and exciting, sure.

But if you’re still destined to lose in the first round, there’s not much difference between the sixth or eighth seeds.

More from Dairyland Express