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A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP MILWAUKEE

I CAN'T BELIEVE nobody's come out and said [GM] Jon Horst should be Executive of the Year. They've added GEORGE HILL, they've added NIKOLA MIROTIĆ and they haven't subtracted anything.... The growth of GIANNIS ANTETOKOUNMPO'S game and body: A lot of that is a convergence of his talent and his character. He wants to tear your head off. He grew up tucked away in a corner in Athens, and he learned about fighting and being competitive. He doesn't have any emotional attachment to anyone. He's not playing against guys he's seen 100 times in AAU.... KHRIS MIDDLETON can shoot, play-make when he has to, and his defense is wildly underrated.... Having Miroti´c is going to be huge because it allows their lineups to be so much more unpredictable. If you have predictability in the playoffs, you can be game-planned for. They can use Miroti´c and ERSAN ILYASOVA as the de facto bigs; they can go big with BROOK LOPEZ, who can shoot it and is an underrated paint protector; they can play Antetokounmpo as a ballhandling five. They're always going to be spaced out and have shooting. It's going to be a pick-your-poison type thing.... Their defense has been awesome because they have such great switchability. The analytics back that up. People point to [coach] Mike Budenholzer's failures [with the Hawks] in the playoffs, but he's never had a player as good as the Greek Freak. They've got a combination of coaching creativity and lineup diversity to be really dynamic. They have a championship profile.

THE BUCKS have, at no great cost, significantly improved their odds for postseason survival. Playoff basketball gets smaller as it goes deeper; lumbering centers are often the first to exit the floor, their size eclipsed by speed and skill. Enter Nikola Mirotić. Acquired from New Orleans in a three-team deal that cost Milwaukee four second-rounders and two marginal players, he's a floor-stretching four with the strength to defend fives. There will come a time in April or May (or, Giannis willing, June) when teams will use extra shooters and off-ball screens to force 7-foot Brook Lopez out of the paint. It's then that the 6'10" Mirotić will prove most valuable. The Bucks can rotate Antetokounmpo, Mirotić and forward D.J. Wilson (a pleasant surprise in a season of pleasant surprises) through its frontcourt as needed, sparing Lopez from being exposed.

No matter his position, Mirotić slots perfectly into Milwaukee's free-form offense. Everything coach Mike Budenholzer runs is designed to ensure spacing, which provides a canvas for Antetokounmpo to be at his most artistic. Mirotić will stretch that canvas to the edges of the court. Like Lopez, he comfortably spots up well beyond the three-point line, converting an absurd 43.9% of his attempts beyond 28 feet, and he has the ninth most makes from that distance despite missing 27 games. Extending the D is a tactical priority for the Bucks, whose practice court features taped zones—some as far as the hash marks—designated for optimal spacing. Not only does Milwaukee have a coaching staff that will empower a shooter of Mirotić's talents, but it also has skilled players who will take advantage of the space he supplies.

1 MILWAUKEE BUCKS

KEY IN-SEASON MOVES

ACQUIRED: PF Nikola Mirotić / PG George Hill

LOST: C Thon Maker / 2021 first-rounder

37.4 TELLING NUMBER

Three-pointers attempted per game by the Bucks, the most in NBA history by a team other than the Rockets.