The Milwaukee Bucks are a great team.
There, I said it.
I understand that fact completely, and I know just how dominant they were this past season. Mike Budenholzer (who was a really good coach in Atlanta) was the perfect person to take this raw but talented roster and mold them into something special. Brook Lopez was a great addition, as were George Hill, Nikola Mirotic, and Arlington native Pat Connaughton. I will not deny the Bucks are talented, you will not see that here.
However, compared to the Boston Celtics, one interesting variable is their playoff experience (or lack thereof). I can give you the whole narrative that the Celtics were sloppy this season, but are talented and are clicking at the right time (which is mostly true, although I wish they looked a bit more polished against Indiana), but I think looking at experience is much more interesting.
If you look at the Milwaukee Bucks roster, specifically those that received playing time in the first round (which I will do more in-depth in a moment), you will notice not many players have experience past the first round.
On the other hand, practically everyone on the Celtics does.
This could mean absolutely nothing, but for a Bucks team who’s top players are rather similar than last year, and with changes being made with what I would consider to be key role players (this is not a slight at Brook Lopez), I am curious what the fabric of this team is in a playoff setting moving on. Giannis and Khris Middleton, the longest-tenured players on the team (six seasons) just won their first playoff series after having been eliminated in the first round three times in the previous 5 seasons. How will they handle adversity, how will they handle facing a team that has players that have been down this road before?
Lets break down the experience of players on each team.
First, I will list the amount of playoff games each player that played in the first round has participated in during their NBA careers (ordered from the most experience to the least).
Then, I will note the amount of playoff games these players have participated in PAST the first round
Total Playoff Experience (Games Played)
- George Hill: 106
- Ersan Ilyasova: 37
- Tony Snell: 31
- Nikola Mirotic: 30
- Eric Bledsoe: 28
- Khris Middleton: 23
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: 23
- Brook Lopez: 17
- Pat Connaughton: 17
- Tim Frazier: 8
- Sterling Brown: 7
- D.J. Wilson: 4
Ties determined based on the player with the more playoff career MPG
Players not included who are on the playoff roster: Pau Gasol (136 games), Malcolm Brogdon (13 games), and Donte DiVincenzo (0 games)
Games Played past the First Round
- George Hill: 60
- Nikola Mirotic: 11
- Ersan Ilyasova: 5
- Tony Snell: 5
- Eric Bledsoe: 4
- Pat Connaughton: 2
- Khris Middleton: 0
- Giannis Antetokounmpo: 0
- Brook Lopez: 0
- Tim Frazier: 0
- Sterling Brown: 0
- D.J. Wilson: 0
Players with zero minutes were ordered based on how they were ranked on the first list
Players not included who are on the playoff roster: Pau Gasol (75 games), Malcolm Brogdon (0 games), and Donte DiVincenzo (0 games)
Of the players with experience past the first round who played against Detroit, only George Hill has any Conference Finals experience (he has no NBA Finals experience)
Hill and Nikola Mirotic are the only players on the team to play in more than one semifinals
Connaughton played less than three minutes in the 2016 Western Conference Semifinals as a member of the Portland Trail Blazers
Pau Gasol is the only player on the Bucks roster with NBA Finals experience (and the only champion), although he has not played a game all postseason (he played 3 games for a total of 30 minutes during the regular season); still noteworthy, as he can serve as the Kendrick Perkins honorary bench coach (WHICH IS IMPORTANT)
See rules above
Total Playoff Experience (Games Played)
- Al Horford: 115
- Kyrie Irving: 56
- Aron Baynes: 49
- Terry Rozier: 45
- Jaylen Brown: 39
- Marcus Morris: 27
- Jayson Tatum: 23
- Gordon Hayward: 19
- Daniel Theis: 4
- Brad Wanamaker: 1
- Robert Williams: 1
Players not included who are on the playoff roster: Marcus Smart (43 games), Semi Ojeleye (18 games), Guerschon Yabusele (13 games), Jonathan Gibson (0 games)
Games Played past the First Round
- Al Horford: 51
- Kyrie Irving: 40
- Terry Rozier: 24
- Jaylen Brown: 23
- Aron Baynes: 16
- Marcus Morris: 12
- Jayson Tatum: 12
- Gordon Hayward: 4
- Daniel Theis: 0
- Brad Wanamaker: 0
- Robert Williams: 0
Players not included who are on the playoff roster: Marcus Smart (24 games), Semi Ojeleye (10 games), Guerschon Yabusele (8 games), Jonathan Gibson (0 games)
Outside of Daniel Theis, every key rotation player (you can quantify this at minimum as someone who played in each game) has played at least one game past the first round
Every key rotation player except Gordon Hayward has played in the Conference Finals at least once
Kyire Irving (13 games) and Aron Baynes (3 games) have NBA Finals experience, and each has won a championship
Horford, Irving, Rozier, Brown, Baynes (and Smart) have appeared past the first round more than once
Horford, Rozier, Brown, Baynes, Morris, Tatum, as well as Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye and Guerschon Yabusele were all on the 2018 Boston Celtics, and as a group have played in over 10 games past the first round, including a series win against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Fun fact: Al Horford has played the most postseason games of any active NBA player to never reach the NBA Finals
If you haven’t thought of it yet, let me present to you a counterargument: you have to start somewhere.
After Game 1, we know the majority of the Milwaukee Bucks players who did not have experience past the first round before will once the game is over. That is a fact.
My argument is that the majority of players on the Boston Celtics – especially the 6 players who played during this past first round who played in the postseason a year ago – have experience in this setting that the Bucks simply do not have. Outside of George Hill and Nikola Mirotic, only four other players have made the semifinals, and they did so only once.
The core of this team, Giannis, Middleton, Lopez, Bledsoe, those four players have a total of 4 games past the first round between them (all held by Bledsoe). Yes, Hill has experience, as does Pau Gasol, but could this lack of experience as a group be a deterrent?
When the Celtics face adversity, they’ll have players that have been there before. 9 of the 15 playoff eligible players were on the team that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago. Kyrie Irving, who did not play last postseason, is an NBA champion. Gordon Hayward also has previous playoff experience. There are players on this team that have been there, know what it takes, and can reflect on past experiences of similar situations and use that to help them get through it. That could mean facing a Game 5 where the series is tied 2-2, or trailing late in Game 3, or a drama-filled Game 7 (Bucks players such as Giannis have played in a Game 7 before). Recall can be crucial, especially if nerves induce mistakes if you haven’t experienced it before.
I am not saying this is THE variable that will make or break the series. The players will play the games, and the better team will win, but if it is close, and each team (and I mean Boston) plays to their full potential, it will be close, and a variable like experience could become an x-factor.
Before I stop, I just want you to consider this: think of some recent teams that have reached the NBA Finals (as some like Nick Wright are already saying the Bucks will reach), and think about their previous playoff experience. The 2012 Thunder made the Western Conference Finals the year prior. The key pieces of the 2015 Warriors were on the team in 2013 when they faced the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semifinals. Teams like the 2008 Celtics and 2011 Heat were newly assembled, but individually players like LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen had past playoff experience. The 2007 Cavs, well a year prior LeBron led most of the same pieces to the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Most of the core of the 2006 Heat had been to the Eastern Conference Finals a year prior. I could go on (and feel free to prove me wrong), but the key core players of the Bucks are new to this moment, and that means they’ll have to take their lumps.
Could they still advance? Absolutely.
However, if we are considering this a pseudo-Eastern Conference Finals (I know, not fair to the other teams, but look at the national perception), then this will be a BIG test for the Bucks…
And all I am saying is maybe they aren’t ready yet, and maybe that could be a factor…
Or maybe they’ll just steamroll through Boston and play like they did all regular season and prove me wrong, because past outcomes do not predict future results.
Just something to keep an eye on.
Follow Nick on Twitter (@Nick_Collins14)