Matthes Manifesto II: Where do the Indiana Pacers stack up in the East?

Indiana Pacers (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images)
Indiana Pacers (Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images) /
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MILWAUKEE, WI – (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI – (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks have everything a contender needs but two important things. Superstar: check. Giannis Antetokounmpo can do it all, and has steadily improved in each of his five seasons. The wingman: check. Khris Middleton has blossomed. While his three-point shooting fell off a tick last year, his all-around versatility improved. He was a 20-point scorer last season.

The coach: check. Mike Budenholzer is widely regarded as one of the league’s best especially when it comes to maximizing the existing talent. Versatile bench: check. Malcolm Brogdon, D.J. Wilson, and Sterling Brown are all young, spry and can switch among multiple positions.

The hang-up is that they lack a leading point guard and a consistent rim protector on defense. Now, Eric Bledsoe is the starting point guard, started all 71 games he played last season. He’s come off the bench zero times in the last four seasons.

Here’s the rub, his best two seasons, statistically speaking, came in 2016 and 2017, he averaged 20.8 points and 6.3 assists and his Phoenix Suns were a combined 47-117. Was he the reason they were terrible, of course not.

But Bledsoe thrives in low-stress situations when he’s either a supporting cast member or the team doesn’t play in many high-leverage moments. He averages plummeted in the playoffs (pts -4.2, asts -1.4). Milwaukee needs a starting point guard who can be counted upon in the big moments.

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The Bucks also need a consistent rim protector. The Bucks signed Brook Lopez over the summer and his offense will undoubtedly provide a boost and space for Antetokounmpo to work, but he’s not going to block many shots. John Henson got worked over more often than not. Tyler Zeller was unimpressive.

Thon Maker was the closest they came to a solution. Maker at time looked the part of the perfect stretch five. Maker can make threes, and block shots, but he rarely strings both together at the same time. Lopez will, at least, consistently deliver half of the equation.

Milwaukee is talented and will be able to bully their way through smaller teams. They will also struggle to prevent attacking guards (like Oladipo) from getting to the basket. Milwaukee does have Antetokounmpo, though, and he will cover up many ills.

Combine his natural talents along with Budenholzer’s coaching acumen and the Bucks will be a challenge for everyone to face.