The formula for the Milwaukee Bucks has been pretty straightforward over the years: pair Giannis Antetokounmpo with enough shooters and playmakers so that he has enough spacing to drive to the basket. There is more nuance in that now that the playoffs have fully arrived, but more importantly the loss of Donte Divincenzo puts more pressure on Mike Budenholzer to scour the bench for the right combinations that balance the shooting with the defense. No player better highlights that difficulty in balance than Bryn Forbes.
Forbes came to the Bucks as a free agent this offseason and signed a relatively cheap two year, $4.8 million contract with the club. The second year is a player option and if his play in the playoffs continues it would surprise no one if he declines it for a bigger pay day. But that look into the future isn’t now and the Bucks have a lot of work to do still. Notably, a playoff run in which a lot rides on the championship equity of a group that isn’t getting any younger.
That ride to a possible NBA Finals might rest more and more on the modest shoulders of the 27-year-old shooting guard that drained 45 percent of his 3-pointers during the regular season. His hot shooting was a major catalyst in the first round against the Miami Heat where he shot a blistering 48.5 percent from deep. His minutes have started to creep up with the major void of Divincenzo and that level of shooting may be enough to keep him in games, especially when they need to juice up their offense.
The Bucks partially struggled last year in the playoffs against the Miami Heat because they were unable to nail down their 3-point attempts. They took a total of 165 3-pointers over the course of five games and were only able to drill 32.7 percent of them. In contrast, the Bucks were able to sweep the Miami Heat this year by hitting an astounding … 32 percent of their 3-pointers. Of course the offense isn’t solely reliant on 3-pointers but that figure seems to run in stark contrast to what may have been expected with the Bucks romping Miami. Regardless, Forbes still made a monumental impact in being able to take advantage of his chances. Forbes ultimately ended up hitting 21 of the 52 3-pointers made by the Bucks, which would have broken the playoff record for most 3-pointers in a playoff series if he continued at that rate.
Forbes gives the Bucks a shooting element that forces defenses to either stay close to him when the ball handler gets some penetration in the lane, or deflates defenses when they stray too far away by swishing enough deep jumpers. Against the Heat on Saturday he made Miami pay time and time again.
A play that stands out was when Antetokounmpo had the ball at the top of the key against Tyler Herro in the 3rd quarter on Saturday. Miami was in a zone so Herro had help from both Trevor Ariza and Bam Adebayo. Giannis was able to spin into the middle of the zone to cause Ariza to step toward him to help and before he continued his move he zipped a crisp pass to Forbes who was stationed several feet beyond the opposite wing for an open 3-point shot.
The importance of that play is that it showcases that Antetokounmpo has made strides in his decision-making, but also that Forbes forces the defense to make tough choices. His incredibly deep range creates enough space that help defenders are scrambling to make a tough choice, and neither option is very appealing.
The gravity has allowed the Bucks to flourish over these past four games with an offensive rating of 126.9 points per 100 possessions with Forbes on the court, which is especially impressive considering that the Bucks defense has been the difference maker in their wins so far this postseason. Having Forbes to juice up the offense in starting units could allow them their best chance to succeed, especially since he may be more liable to being hunted late in games if the Brooklyn Nets are able to take down the Boston Celtics.
That brings up the elephant in the room of why playing Forbes a significant amount of minutes could be problematic. The Bucks had a 114.8 defensive rating during the regular season with Forbes on the court, which would have ranked 24th overall in the league. He isn’t a great rebounder and rarely passes the ball. Forbes has made the 3rd least amount of passes out of all of the players in the playoffs that have averaged at least 20 minutes per game. His role doesn’t necessarily ask for him to do more than that, but the point remains his usefulness is truly through his one elite skill.
The reason this needs to be brought up is that pesky issue of the Bucks balancing lineups with players that ideally can succeed on both sides of the ball, especially the deeper they get into the playoffs. Divincenzo is a huge blow for this exact reason, and it lays a lot of the burden on Forbes to soak up all of that responsibility. More than likely it won’t come down to just him, but another scintillating shooting performance might make it near impossible for Budenholzer to take him off the court.