Next up in the series of contender comparisons is the Milwaukee Bucks. On the surface, it’s simple: the Bucks are the reigning NBA champs and the Mavs aren’t. Is there more to it than that? Let’s dive in and see.
Best Player: Luka Doncic vs Giannis Antetokounmpo
Luka Doncic runs into a tough matchup here. Before the Bucks’ 2021 playoff run that ended with a championship parade, I might’ve put Luka ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo. But now... Giannis has to be ahead of Luka.
Luka can definitely do more with the ball in his hands than Antetokounmpo, but Giannis’ ability to impact the game on the defensive end is miles ahead of Luka’s. Giannis proved on the biggest stage last season that he can be the best defensive player in the world, while being an unstoppable force around the rim on offense.
There’s a world where Luka passes Giannis soon (it’s actually quite likely, given his ability to control the game on offense), but for now, Giannis has the edge.
Sidekicks: Kristaps Porzingis and Tim Hardaway Jr. vs Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday.
Just as the Mavs’ sidekicks fared poorly against Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook in my previous article, the comparison with the Bucks is depressingly lopsided.
Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton were two huge components of a championship team. Jrue consistently defended the opposing team’s best players and was capable of having nice stretches on offense, while Khris was the guy for the Bucks down the stretch. He hit big shot after big shot and was consistently responsible for closing games.
Kristaps Porzingis, on the other hand, is a talented diva made out of glass. What that will mean for this coming season is yet to be seen, but it didn’t look great last season. Tim Hardaway Jr. is an impressive two-guard that spaces the floor nicely for Luka and can create his own shot — but he’s not known as a defensive stopper.
The comparison isn’t close. Middleton and Holiday are simply much better than Porzingis and Hardaway.
With the recent news that the Mavs are expected to sign Frank Ntilikina, aka “Frankie Smokes,” aka “The French Prince,” aka “The Frenchise,” (sorry, but these nicknames are all elite), the Mavericks’ depth improves! Ntilikina isn’t exactly a needle mover, but he does provide another guy who can get spot minutes off the bench. He will also immediately be one of the Mavs’ best defensive players. Whether or not his offense is good enough to keep him on the court remains to be seen.
The Mavs don’t have bad depth, but even if they add Ntilikina, it could be much better. The Bucks? Their depth is rock solid.
Milwaukee had a nice offseason. They brought back Bobby Portis, one of the better bench guys in the league, and also signed Grayson Allen (among other moves). They have all of the pieces they need to support Giannis, Khris and Jrue. Unfortunately, the Mavs don’t have the edge here either.
Finally — a place the Mavericks can compete! Remember those cool Frank Ntilikina nicknames I talked about a couple of paragraphs ago? All of those help the Mavs in this situation.
It’s not that the Bucks don’t have nice swag (they do!), it’s just that I feel like after they won the title, they used up so much swag that they might be a little behind the Mavs in that department this season.
Overall advantage: Bucks
I know the Mavericks won the swag category, and that should be the most important thing, but I think all of the Bucks’ on-the-court advantages are too much for the Mavs to overcome. Unless something weird happens in the upcoming season, the Bucks should be taken much more seriously as a contender. No surprise, right? They won the freaking title last season.