The Milwaukee Bucks were a surprise team in the NBA this year while the Hawks improved their record for the sixth year in a row. Here’s a breakdown of the matchups in this series:
Point Guard: Brandon Jennings is definitely a fun player to watch even if he can’t shoot a lick. He played in all 82 games for the Bucks this season and he averaged 32.6 minutes, 15.5 points, 3.4 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game. If Jennings is cold shooting the ball and he continues to be selfish with the ball the Bucks will be done really early in this series. Still, Jennings is a physical mis-match for Michael Bibby based on his speed.
Mike Bibby is a battle tested warrior but he’s running on fumes right now. He played in 80 games (all starts) for the Hawks this year and he averaged 27.4 minutes, 9.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. Bibby probably has a few big shots left in him but I see Jamal Crawford playing more than him in this series to deal with Jennings.
Shooting Guard: John Salmons was outstanding for the Bucks since coming over from the Bulls at the trade deadline. He played in 30 games (28 starts) for the Bucks this season and he averaged 37.6 minutes, 19.9 points, 3.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Salmons will likely be the go to man for the Bucks in this series offensively.
Joe Johnson is as smooth as they get at shooting guard. He played in 76 games (all starts) for the Hawks this season and he averaged 38.0 minutes, 21.3 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Johnson might shoot a little bit more than usual in this series with his free agency coming up this summer.
Small Forward: Carlos Delfino came back from overseas and he had his best year of his career in the NBA. He played in 75 games (66 starts) for the Bucks in which he averaged 30.4 minutes, 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The Bucks will likely need him to score a little more than usual in this series.
Marvin Williams is the team guy who does the dirty work for the Hawks. He played in 81 games (all starts) for the Hawks this season and he averaged 30.5 minutes, 10.1 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. Williams needs to be aggressive in this series both offensively and defensively.
Power Forward: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has taken over as the starting power forward for the Bucks. He has played in 73 games (62 starts) for the Bucks this season and he averaged 25.6 minutes, 6.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. Mbah a Moute will need to hit the boards and play D for the Bucks because Josh Smith will be all over the place for the Hawks.
Josh Smith is the best stat sheet filler other than LeBron James in the NBA. He played in 81 games (all starts) for the Hawks this season and he averaged 35.4 minutes, 15.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.6 steals and 2.1 blocked shots per game. He plays all out, all of the time as he is often the best player on the court for the Hawks.
EDGE: HUGE FOR HAWKS
Center: When Andrew Bogut went down for the season due to injury the Bucks turned to veteran Kurt Thomas. Thomas will hit the boards and play defense for the Bucks in this series. It will be hard for him to maintain a high energy level against the much younger Al Horford of the Hawks. Thomas has played in 70 games (9 starts) for the Bucks this season and he averaged 15.0 minutes, 3.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.7 assists per game.
Al Horford really improved his game big time this season for the Hawks. Horford played in 81 games (all starts) for the Hawks this season and he averaged 35.1 minutes, 14.2 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.1 blocked shots per game. Horford’s a little undersized for a center but that won’t be a problem against the Bucks.
BENCH: The Bucks use their bench a lot as Luke Ridnour, Ersan Ilyasova, Jerry Stackhouse and Charlie Bell all averaged over 20 minutes a night this season. Ridnour (10.4 points, 1.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists) and Ilyasova (10.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.0 assists) are the leaders of the bench brigade. Ridnour could be really important in this series if Brandon Jennings struggles with his shot. Ilyasova will have to help out along the undermanned front line of the Bucks. Stackhouse and Bell come off the bench shooting the ball. Dan Gadzuric will give Kurt Thomas some relief in this series.
Jamal Crawford should be the sixth man of the year in the NBA. He played in 79 games (0 starts) for the Hawks this season and he averaged 31.1 minutes, 18.0 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. Crawford will likely get most of his playing time at the point in this series. Zaza Pachulia and Joe Smith will provide some muscle off the bench in this series while Maurice Evans will team with Marvin Williams at small forward.
COACH: Scott Skiles did a remarkable job with this team. He led them to a 46-36 record (56.1%) during the regular season despite not having the most talented roster around. Skiles is now 80-84 (48.8%) in his two years with the Bucks. He has some post season experience as his teams sport a 15-20 record (42.9%).
Mike Woodson led the Hawks to a 53-29 record (64.6%) this season. He has now coached six seasons with the Hawks compiling a 206-286 record (41.9%) but the team has improved it’s record in each year Woodson has been in Atlanta. Woodson has a 7-11 (38.9%) record in the post season with the Hawks.
PREDICTION: This looks like a total mis-match on paper. I’m still going to give the Bucks a win at home but the Hawks will take this series in 5 games.