As we have made it through the first quarter of the NBA season, both the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers have found success. Philadelphia was 23-12 heading into Dec. 31 and has been nearly unbeatable on its home floor. Milwaukee, meanwhile, led the NBA with a 30-5 mark heading into New Year’s Eve.
The 76ers blew out the Bucks on Christmas Day, but it is pretty clear that Milwaukee is a better team than Philadelphia. If you disagree, head to the online sportsbooks in PA to bet against it.
Here are the five reasons why we see Milwaukee as the better team than Philadelphia:
When dissecting the Bucks’ and 76ers’ starting lineups, you won’t really find a hole in either. Philadelphia’s is as good as it gets, while Milwaukee has strong defenders and shooters at all five positions. But when the conversation shifts to bench play, it seems Philadelphia is a little short-handed for yet another year under Brett Brown.
Milwaukee’s entire bench is full of players not only with experience but good performance capabilities. George Hill is among the game’s top backup point guards, while they have shooting in Sterling Brown and Kyle Korver. Robin Lopez gives them energy and rim protection off the bench, while Donte DiVincenzo does a little bit of everything. Pat Connaughton also does it all.
When Khris Middleton missed two weeks, the Bucks didn’t skip a beat. Even with Eric Bledsoe out, Milwaukee kept rolling along. They also won big when Giannis Antetokounmpo had to sit out a game.
Philadelphia, meanwhile, has two backup point guards that have both functioned as third-string point guards for several years. James Ennis, Mike Scott, Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz aren’t exactly household names at the point.
They can all shoot the ball well and are solid defensively, but Thybulle is the only “game-breaker.” It will seem for the third year in a row that deadline trades will be necessary, while Milwaukee is all set.
This is a small part of the argument, but a relevant one. Ben Simmons is one of the tallest point guards the game has ever seen and thus will usually have a height advantage. But, he still has a glaring hole in his game.
He has no willingness to try the outside shot in games, finally making his first long ball a few weeks ago but not really taking any since then. It makes guarding him in late-game situations extremely predictable because he will either drive to the hoop or dish it out.
He came into the league scorching hot as a rookie but hasn’t shown too much progress since then. He is also highly inconsistent in the playoffs.
Antetokounmpo did not enter this league with a jump shot, but boy, has he fixed that. Milwaukee’s playoff struggles prior to last year were partly fueled by his lack of outside shooting.
He isn’t shooting lights out at 32 percent from three-point range, but he made 44 in his first 27 games, and the 25-year-old is keeping guys who leave him open honest, at the very least.
He has adapted his game as needed, and the former MVP does so much more than that. But that outside shot has changed everything for Milwaukee.
No disrespect to Brett Brown, who was named as the National Team coach of Australia, but he is no Mike Budenholzer. He has a wildly-talented starting group in Philadelphia full of guys who get it done on defense and are capable of big things on the other end.
But he has fallen in the second round in back-to-back years and so far hasn’t made progress. If Philadelphia does not make it into the Eastern Conference Finals this year, you have an idea of who to place the blame on.
Toronto was tough last year, but Brown couldn’t find a way to get Joel Embiid going against Marc Gasol at all. He also had zero against him in that matchup this year. Great coaching is on display when they make playoff adjustments.
If anything, one specific thing about Budenholzer stands out among the rest. He took the Atlanta Hawks to a 60-22 record during the 2014-15 season, and it ended with a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. His starting five took home a shared “Player of the Month” award, telling of how good he is.
Korver and DeMarre Carroll were featured there, and his system worked perfectly. He got Korver to an All-Star Game. He took a Bucks team that hadn’t won a playoff series in nearly two decades and helped them to the Eastern Conference Finals in year one. He’s superior to Brown.
For the long history of professional basketball, having two legitimate bigs in your starting lineup was considered the way to go. And so Philadelphia would be looked at by the old legends as very wise for its Embiid-Al Horford pairing.
But it is the Brook Lopez-Antetokounmpo duo of Milwaukee that shows us how it is supposed to be these days. You cannot really pair two bigs together and find ultimate success, considering Horford’s biggest NBA successes have come at the 5 spot.
Horford and Embiid won’t play all of their minutes together, but it is like when they had Markelle Fultz and Simmons starting together early last year. It is unwise.
All of Milwaukee’s power forwards are able to defend solidly, not take up the lane, and bury the three. Antetokounmpo is capable of 35 to 37 minutes a game as needed, and when he’s out, Ersan Ilyasova comes in and gets it done. He’s tremendous at taking charges and spaces the floor well.
He can shoot it well from deep among his other attributes. Philadelphia has the same thing in Scott too, but it is not quite the same. Horford also gets the backup 5 minutes. And that will be a tough matchup with Robin Lopez in the head-to-head.
This, in the scheme of things, may not play a big role in the success of either club, but it’s very relevant. The NBA is a professional basketball league, but players can have fun within the scheme of things. Antetokounmpo is a great example of how a star should act. He does his thing, has fun with the media, but is a good sport.
He jokingly called LeBron James out for tampering when he took Anthony Davis in the All-Star Game draft last year. He’s posted some great videos on Instagram and loves the fans. He hasn’t had any outbursts, and it’s telling of the Milwaukee culture.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, has a true star in Embiid, but also the ultimate distraction. For several offseasons, it seems, he didn’t get into quite the shape he was supposed to, still getting winded a bit quick early in the season.
He calls people out on social media regularly, and, while it doesn’t seem like a problem, it is clear he puts a lot of his time into it. His game is fantastic, yes, but if he doesn’t do less talking and more playing, he’ll continue to be a distraction. Milwaukee has none.