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Why the Bucks can jump from the 6th seed to the 3rd seed

The Milwaukee Bucks became one of the first up and coming teams to make the playoffs this year. While bounced in the first round, the 6th seed put up enough of a fight to take a 2-1 lead against the Toronto Raptors. With a rising star in Giannis Antetokounmpo, a ROTY winner, and other high impact players, this team is on the rise. The Bucks have what it takes to jump in the eastern conference and make a run at the #3 seed this upcoming season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the most exciting players to come out in recent history. At 6 foot 11 inches, this small forward has a massive size advantage over many players at his position vertically, and a dominating game that could match the best in the league. Giannis actually is a prime example of the modern position-less basketball, as he has also been used by the Bucks in both the Point and Shooting Guard positions as well. He has taken a massive jump over the past season in statistical averages, rising from 16.9 PPG, 7.7RPG, 4.3 APG in 2015-2016, to 22.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG, 5.4 APG in 2016-2017, per Basketball Reference. Not only did he take a jump here, but Shaun Powell of NBA.com explains just how impactful his play was last year:

“At 22 years old, Giannis became the youngest player to lead his team in scoring, assists, rebounds, blocked shots and steals, and only the fifth in NBA history to do so.”

With his growth and versatility, Giannis has the ability to be a top 10 player in the NBA, and theoretically could be based on being elected a starter in last year’s All Star game. While being an All Star starter is a nice milestone for a young player, one former perennial All Star thinks Giannis can be much more. That player is Kobe Bryant, who challenged him to be the MVP this upcoming season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo will have a hard time achieving the goal of MVP, although his play already shows glimmers of a campaign for that award. He has already achieved the title of Most Improved Player for the 2016-2017 season, so now it’s his time to see if he can push his game to the max. He’s already pushing NBA rangers to expect greatness from him, with Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated considering him the 9th best NBA player in their Top 100.

While a rising superstar such as Giannis Antetokounmpo is important for a playoff push, one player won’t get a team far in today’s NBA Another exciting player on the rise for the Bucks is Malcolm Brogdon. Malcolm was taken in the 2nd round of the 2016 draft, and no one at the time would have thought he would end up the most NBA ready rookie of that class, earning him Rookie of the Year honors at the NBA Awards. Brogdon put up a respectable line of 10.2PPG, 2.8RPG, 4.2APG, and 1.1 steals in his first year, while averaging this over only 26.4 minutes played as a rookie, per Basketball Reference. While some question how high a ceiling Malcolm could have as he’s already very much a developed NBA level player, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t take a leap this upcoming season as he adjusts to being in the NBA and on the Bucks even more. Acccording to NBA Power Rankings at ESPN, they have faith in his abilities, ranking him at 56 on their top above top players like Andrew Wiggins and Nicolas Batum. With his great ball handling, decision making, and two way abilities, Malcolm Brogdon will be a solid piece of the Bucks potemtially jumping to the #3 seed this upcoming season.

The Bucks may have key players in Giannis and Brogdon, but many forget one of their major contributors and arguable number two option going into the season, Khris Middleton. While he came back from an injury late in the season last year going under the radar, he was a huge part of the team before then. Many forget he was 20th in real plus minus in the 2015-2016 season according to the statistics at ESPN, above stars like Gordon Hayward, Mike Conley, and John Wall.

While there is more to the game than RPM, Khris also put up a line of 18.2PPG, 3.8RPG, and 4.2APG over 79 games in his 2015-2016 season per Basketball Reference. Even though injuries prevented him from contributing much this past year, his prior season indicates he will return to being one of the games elite wing stars, and a major contributor for the Bucks. Ben Golliver and Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated believe he will be at the very least, ranking him at 35 in their Top 100. He truly is one of the most underrated wing players in the game today and will be importantly to any playoff run for the Bucks.

Outside of the three important players covered, the Bucks also have very solid starters and role players like Thon Maker, Greg Monroe, John Henson, Matthew Dellavadova, Mirza Teletovic and Tony Snell rounding out the top of the rotation for the team. They also have rookies DJ Wilson and Sterling Brow who will look to fight for playing, although last year showed how impactful a rookie could be for the team.

Additionally, one of the Bucks’ best players not mentioned, Jabari Parker, is working his way back from injury for a hopeful return to form in 2018. While he didn’t get to play the full 2016-2017 season, he was the team’s second best player before tearing his ACL. The up and coming power forward for the team will have a hard path to get back in form for the team’s eventual playoff push. Once healthy though, Parker has the ability to help the Bucks to the next level. While it’s unknown when Parker will be back on the court this upcoming season, last anyone had heard, he was doing well on his road to recovery.

Jabari Parker

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Parker and Middleton both play a part in why the Bucks haven’t added any big ticket free agents as well. This would normally hurt a team looking to compete, this actually isn’t a huge problem for them. Revisiting Shaun Powell of NBA.com, he explains how they make up for this in a previously covered point for the Bucks:

“Another reason for the Bucks’ reluctance to make changes had to do with Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker. For the most part, the Bucks were without two of their three best players and still won 42 games. Basically, both will be “new additions” because of their injury-shortened seasons.”

The opinion on adding new big ticket free agents isn’t just the opinion of writers’, but also one held by the team’s own players who finds no reason for a major change.

The Bucks players should be good enough to compete with the best in the league. Individually impactful, but together they are a dangerous team in any matchup, with versatility and size to take on anyone. With everything considered for the organization internally, along with how many prominent players have left the Eastern Conference this offseason, it will potentially fuel the Bucks enough to do something many think will be a hard task. With some luck with players health and other team’s loss of depth, the Milwaukee Bucks should make a strong push for the 3rd seed this upcoming season.