The word ‘potential’ can be dangerous, when attached to a player or team. It means, at some point, that person or franchise must live up to the lofty expectations placed upon them or face disappointment and people perpetually asking — what went wrong?
On the other hand, potential acts as a driving force for those obsessed with maximizing their talent. If the last two weeks of basketball are anything to go by, the young Milwaukee Bucks are beginning to turn their humongous potential into a reality.
Despite being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, the Bucks should feel very encouraged at how their series against the Toronto Raptors transpired. They pushed the Raptors to six hard-fought games and were led by superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, who posted 24.8 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.7 blocks on 53 percent shooting.
Milwaukee’s two Aussies, Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker featured prominently and played key roles throughout the series.
Rookie Thon Maker started at the centre spot in all six games, averaging 5.8 points, 3.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.8 blocks in just under 20 minutes of playing time per game.
Let’s just pause for a moment to acknowledge how far Maker has come in just twelve months. This time last year, the Aussie was the mystery player of the draft, having not played any college or professional basketball. He was projected to be selected anywhere from the lottery to the second round and many expected Maker to spend at least the first year of his career playing in the D-League.
Not only did Maker end up playing at the NBA level his entire rookie season, he started every single playoff game. For a young 19-year-old to go from high school basketball to starting in an NBA playoff game in the span of 12 months, is truly mind-boggling.
Maker made his presence felt when he was on the floor. He was able to ignite the Bucks in a number of games thanks to his defence around the rim. Across the series, Maker had electrifying stretches of play in which he was able to string multiple blocks together. In game one, Maker was able to block both Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan early in the third quarter, with both plays resulting in Antetokounmpo getting an easy basket on the other end.
In Milwaukee’s eventual game six loss, the Aussie recorded a career-high 5 blocks. He was also able to trouble Toronto’s All-Star back court for much of the series, being a respectable defender against Serge Ibaka.
Offensively, Maker didn’t feature prominently as he shared a lot his time on the floor with offensive threats like Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. When he did feature however, it was mainly in pick-and-pop situations with Antetokounmpo and fellow Aussie Matthew Dellavedova, who came off the bench to play a crucial role for Milwaukee.
Dellavedova posted 7.7 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists on 39% shooting as the Bucks’ back up point guard. Despite not starting, head coach Jason Kidd elected to use Dellavedova to close games out. The Aussie remained on the floor the majority of the fourth quarter during Milwaukee’s game one upset on the road and acted as a steadying influence throughout the series when the Raptors made runs.
At just 26 years of age, Dellavedova is already a playoff veteran. As a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Delly has been to the NBA Finals the last two seasons, with especially heavy minutes played in the 2015 Finals. This young Bucks squad lacked any significant playoff experience coming into the postseason, and Delly was able to add value there.
One portion of the game Delly failed to deliver in, was his shooting. He shot just 16-41 from the field during the series and 6-16 from downtown. This came on the back of a regular season in which Dellavedova shot a career low 36% from long-range; he was a solid 41% in 2015-16.
If the Bucks are moving forward with Antetokounmpo as the team’s point guard, Delly must be able to play off ball. He has to knock down those open looks, if he is to nab consistent minutes alongside the Greek Freak.
Despite his shooting troubles, Dellavedova remained a solid, reliable playmaker for Milwaukee. His ability to connect with big men Greg Monroe and Thon Maker in the pick-and-roll and on lob passes was apparent in the series and is a nice weapon for the Bucks to have.
Defensively, Delly had his hands full having to contend with Lowry, DeRozan and Raptors back up point guard Corey Joseph. The Aussie made his name in the NBA as a scrappy, hard-nosed defender and did a serviceable job against Toronto’s guards.
Dellavedova’s finest game of the series came in game six, when he put up 12 points, four boards and four assists as the Bucks fell just short of completing an unbelievable 25 point comeback to force a game seven.
Both Maker and Dellavedova were handy in their roles for the Bucks this postseason. While neither set the series on fire, they did much of what coach Kidd would have hoped for. Maker was brilliant around the rim defensively when given the chance while Delly was cool, calm and collected off of the bench.
Over the final two months of the season, the Bucks went 16-9 to finish 40-42 overall and secure the sixth seed in the East. The team finished very strong, and with Jabari Parker seemingly set to return to the team next season following his recovery from knee surgery, the young Bucks may very well go deeper into the post season next year.