League Pass power rankings: The Bucks are wreaking havoc

Published March 7, 2023, 2:45 PMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

The Milwaukee Bucks are one of the hottest teams in the league, making them a must-watch every time they play.

5. LA Clippers

Where Russell Westbrook goes, drama follows. He thought he was getting a fresh start by joining the Clippers, a team that heavily recruited him after his exit from crosstown rivals LA Lakers. Instead, it’s just been a similar experience while wearing a different jersey.

All eyes were on Westbrook as he took over the starting point guard position for the Clippers. He was hyped by both key players and the coaching staff as the missing piece to a team that was gaining steam before the All-Star break. So, when the team went on a five-game slide in Westbrook’s first five games, the blame also fell on the team’s newest addition. 

From being featured heavily in his first game, Westbrook was benched in crunchtime in the succeeding close games. His role has been minimized with the focus of the offense given back to Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

That’s what makes the Clippers so interesting. They’re trying to figure out the Westbrook experience on the fly. They shot themselves in the foot by hyping up their newest addition, so they can’t suddenly bench him as the Lakers did towards the end of his tenure with the team. The Clippers are locked into Westbrook, whether they like it or not.

4. Dallas Mavericks

When Luka Doncic asked for help, this isn’t what he imagined. He probably wanted a couple of additional shooters to kick out to or a rim-rolling big man he could link up with. Instead, he got another heavy usage guard in Kyrie Irving.

Adding a superstar guard like Irving has its perks. With Doncic out, Irving made an immediate impact in his first game for the Mavericks. Irving is talented enough to lead his new team even with his fellow All-NBA star out. Irving also showed that he can team up well with Doncic. In their win against the Philadelphia 76ers, both Irving and Doncic erupted for 40 points to showcase the impressive firepower of the team.

Besides those two games, Dallas has had a tough time integrating Irving into their system which used to be heavily reliant on Doncic. While Irving brings additional firepower to the team, he doesn’t address their biggest needs. Their big men are still underperforming and their defense is still bleeding points.

But at least the Mavericks can get buckets. The defensive identity that propelled them to the West Finals is gone. In the final 17 games of the season, the Mavericks are going to have to outscore opponents with a makeshift “my turn, your turn” offense with Irving and Doncic. That may not be ideal but the Mavericks have to make it work now.

3. New York Knicks

It’s so refreshing to see the Knicks actually functioning like a proper basketball team. For the longest time, they’ve lounged in mediocrity, getting almost all their moves wrong. They drafted the wrong guys, overpaid overrated All-Stars, and traded for ill-fitting pieces. This season, it seems like they’ve gotten everything right.

It all starts with their star players. Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle have set the tone perfectly for the team. They both play hard, do all the little things that contribute to winning, and they’re both quietly confident players. Following their footsteps have been the team’s recent picks in the draft. RJ Barrett is inefficient, but he’s not afraid of big moments. Immanuel Quickley has accepted his role as the sixth man. Finally, the Knicks pulled off the right trade at the deadline. They weren’t swayed by the big names made available. Instead, they acquired Josh Hart who fills a need and fits perfectly with the team.

All those right moves have turned the Knicks into one of the proudest teams in the league. They’re the hottest team in the league right now, stringing together nine straight wins, beating rivals like the Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, and Miami Heat during that span. They’re not afraid of anyone, no matter what the reputation of their opponents may be. Their confidence is also what makes them so entertaining.

2. Phoenix Suns

Just add Kevin Durant and any team becomes an instant contender. He’s the unique superstar that can single-handedly raise the ceiling of a team, and at the same time, fit in so well with any roster. 

Durant’s hyper-efficiency on both ends of the floor means he doesn’t take away any possessions from the rest of the Suns who still need their touches. In his first three games with Phoenix, Durant has only averaged 14 shot attempts to average 26.7 points. By comparison, the player he replaced, Mikal Bridges, averaged 13.6 points to score 17.2 per game. Because he’s taking up the same amount of shots, guys like Devin Booker are still able to get their shots in. Also, because he’s scoring more with the same amount of shots, the Suns are so much better with Durant. Then again, that’s already a given.

The KD-led Suns are 3-0 and have risen up to fourth in the West. During that same stretch, Booker was named Player of the Week, averaging 36.0 points and 7.7 assists, which means the two are getting along just fine. Durant’s presence has also taken the scoring burden off Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton’s shoulders. Paul has been focused on setting the table for the rest of the team while Ayton is just gobbling up rebounds.

Unlike other teams that are struggling to integrate key players into their existing systems, the Suns hit the ground running because Durant’s unique skill set allowed them to. Now they can focus on winning basketball games and building momentum heading into the playoffs.

1. Milwaukee Bucks

There’s no question about it now. The Bucks are the championship favorites. Before their last loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee strung together 16 straight wins. During that stretch, they beat contenders and lottery teams alike. They won games in such a professional manner, taking a look at the opponent in front of them and bulldozing them all the same way. In fact, after the loss that ended their losing streak, they immediately bounced back with a win over the Washington Wizards.

Offensively, nothing has changed for the Bucks. The fulcrum of their offense is still Giannis Antetokounmpo who’s constantly flying to the rim, making plays for the intelligent group of shooters and cutters on the team. It’s on defense where the Bucks are so devastating.

They’re one of the best teams in the league, allowing only 110.6 points per 100 possessions. That’s roughly only 111.5 points per game at a stingy 45.1 percent shooting clip. They wall off the paint with their big men while the wing players chase their assignments all over the court. If anyone slips up and someone happens to get a free lane, they have the ultimate failsafe in Antetokounmpo to clean things up.

There’s 47 feet by 50 feet available in the half-court for teams to create a shot. The Bucks’ determined peskiness, overall length, and total team chemistry shrink that area to nearly half the size. As soon as their opponents bring the ball past half-court, they’ve entered the torture chamber and Milwaukee is the best at squeezing the life out of their opponents in 24 seconds this season.