The last time these two teams faced off, things were a tad different. The Memphis Grizzlies were lingering around the top of the Western Conference, knocking off the Bucks in Milwaukee in their only meeting this season. Now, the Memphis Grizzlies are holding on for dear life in the Western Conference, as they are 7-19 since Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Milwaukee still sits at the top of the Eastern Conference, having a legitimate chance of reaching the Finals this year.
Ahead of tonight’s game, I caught up with Brian Sampson (@BucksFilmRoom) to talk about the Bucks and the Grizzlies.
1) SPLASH MOUNTAIN! Brook Lopez’s emergence as a 3-point specialist has been one of the most underrated stories this season. Could you just talk about Lopez’s newfound specialty and its importance to this Bucks team?
Lopez only took 31 total threes during the first eight years of his career. That number then skyrocketed to 387 with the Brooklyn Nets during the 2016-17 season, and he already has 279 this year in 41 games. His ability to stretch the floor has really opened the whole floor up for the Bucks, and I’m not just talking about Giannis Antetokounmpo. Lopez routinely pulls the opposing teams biggest player (and typically, best shot blocker) way away from the rim. I mean like 30 feet away. The Bucks would still be a good team without Splash Mountain, but his confidence and ability to pull the trigger and knock down the three-ball has really done wonders for Milwaukee.
2) James Harden has made a surge in the MVP race. Do you think Giannis can hold him off to win the MVP award?
It will be a very interesting race if James Harden continues to put up the offensive numbers he has been. Fans don’t seem to appreciate Harden’s style of play as evidenced by the All-Star ballots. Even though fans don’t vote for the MVP, you wonder if some of those hard feelings won’t rub off onto actual voters. Regardless, it’s hard to argue with the raw numbers he’s putting up. Still, Antetokounmpo brings a more well-rounded game. Sure, he can’t knock down an outside shot, but he doesn’t ignore half the court like Harden does. Antetokounmpo is one of only two or three players in the entire NBA who can solidly defend 1 through 5, bring the ball up the floor and create their own bucket at the other end. Harden can hardly defend the opposing team’s worst player.
3) I’ve seen multiple clips of DJ Wilson’s defense on Twitter and was super impressed. Do you think he could serve as a frontcourt defensive specialist alongside Giannis?
A lot of Bucks nation is enthralled with Wilson. After not playing for most of his career, he came on in early December and suddenly got meaningful minutes. Not only was he seeing the court, but he was performing as well. I’m a lot slower to come around on Wilson than others, as I’d like to see more than one month of solid play. Wilson does a great job of using his length and the rule of verticality to his favor. He can also go up and block a shot here or there. It’s too early to say if he will turn into anything, but he’s proven he can at least flash solid defensive potential.
4) Brogdon, Middleton, and Bledsoe are all free agents this summer. How would you rank these guys 1-3 as priorities this summer, along with the biggest contract you’d offer them?
Brook Lopez also gets thrown into that mix, as we just talked about how important he is to the Bucks. I’m not a salary cap guy (See: @BucksFilmRoom), so I’m not exactly sure about the money I’d offer. However, if I had to rank the four of them here would be my list:
5) What matchup are you most looking forward to?
Lopez vs. Marc Gasol.
Gasol’s path to a three-point shooter is very similar to Lopez and he’s exactly the type of player the Bucks struggle to defend. Bucks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer has elected to go with a deep drop coverage on pick-and-rolls. That means Lopez drops way into the lane on a ball screen in order to prevent a shot at the rim. That leaves him susceptible to the pop, as his big, lumbering body takes a while to get going. Gasol lit the Bucks up in their first matchup and was 6-for-12 from downtown. The Bucks haven’t switched much up on defense and likely won’t in this game. The key will be whether Gasol can hit 50 percent of his shots again.
Thanks, Brian, for joining us for this edition of Five Questions. Be sure to follow him on Twitter, @BucksFilmRoom.
Also follow @sbngrizzlies for updates on tonight’s game.