While everyone was focused on where Anthony Davis might land at the NBA’s trade deadline, it was a different New Orleans Pelican that may prove to be the best acquisition of them all. Milwaukee’s move to nab Nikola Mirotic from the Pelicans was a microcosm of how this Bucks team operates: under-the-radar and extremely efficient.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is finally getting the hype that he so richly deserves as an MVP candidate, but despite owning the best record in the NBA (yes, better than the Warriors), his team still seems to be somewhat of an afterthought.
The Bucks sit atop the standings, but lag behind their Eastern Conference foes in media buzz. Philadelphia’s star-studded roster and flashy trades are certainly entertaining. The legendary Celtics franchise always demands attention, and between Kyrie Irving’s seemingly constant media sound bites and Boston’s obsession with acquiring Anthony Davis, there is tons of focus on the preseason East favorites. Toronto has become something of a media darling and a splashy move to acquire Marc Gasol from Memphis at the deadline has been well received.
With the majority of the Western Conference standing pat and appearing to accept their inevitable playoff fate of ‘death by Golden State’, the newly Lebron James-less East entered into a bona fide arms race at the trade deadline in an attempt to win a conference that is more wide open than it has been in years. Milwaukee wasn’t expected to be a big player at the trade deadline, and on the surface the Mirotic deal doesn’t scream ‘blockbuster’, but the move makes the team that is already the best squad in the East even more dangerous.
Mirotic is perhaps best known for getting his face wrecked by his then-Chicago Bulls teammate Bobby Portis. Chicago moved Mirotic to New Orleans and the 27-year-old has paired surprisingly well with Anthony Davis over the last season-and-a-half. That part is important, because it signals that he should fit in seamlessly with Giannis in Milwaukee. Mirotic averaged just a shade under 16 points and eight rebounds per game in New Orleans, but the Bucks are bringing Mirotic in to space the floor. He is shooting nearly 37% from the three-point line this season, good enough to force opposing defenses to respect him from deep. This ability to stretch the floor will give the Greek Freak plenty of room to drive and create.
While he’s not known for his defensive prowess, Mirotic will be able to help the Bucks in that regard as well. Brook Lopez is having an amazing season for Milwaukee (even adding a three-point shot to his arsenal), but he is more of a traditional center (big and slow) at the defensive end. Mirotic’s ability to play the five-spot defensively will allow the Bucks to handle pretty much any lineup an opposing team throws at them (think Golden State’s ‘Lineup of Death’), while also creating mismatches in Milwaukee’s favor.
The Bucks are already one of the most flexible teams in the league and Mirotic only adds to their shape-shifting abilities. There aren’t many matchups that Milwaukee has to fear now. They can handle the quickness of the Celtics going small or the size of Joel Embiid and the Sixers. While it’s a bit presumptuous to discuss a matchup with the Warriors, Milwaukee did log a 134-111 win over Golden St. at Oracle Arena earlier this season. Golden State has superior talent to almost every team in the league, as well as the roster to create mismatches and disadvantages on both ends of the floor. However, what Milwaukee has in Giannis a great talent equalizer and the addition of Mirotic rounds out a sneaky-good and surprisingly deep Bucks roster.
First-year Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s impact also can’t go overlooked. He has brought an offensive breath of fresh air with him to Milwaukee and his schemes have allowed the spacing that Giannis needs to flourish. Mirotic is the perfect player to throw into Budenholzer’s bombs-away philosophy and gives Milwaukee another shooter on the floor to help unlock Giannis’ seemingly limitless ceiling.
All we can ever do with sports trades is speculate as to the outcome. While Nikola Mirotic isn’t the same caliber of individual player as Marc Gasol or Tobias Harris, he has the opportunity to make a championship-level impact in Milwaukee.