Milwaukee Bucks

Bucks riding Giannis Antetokounmpo and depth to combat early injuries in title defence

Through 12 games, the NBA's defending champions have split their results and are only 6-6, but nobody's panicking in Milwaukee.

In the early stages of their title defence, the Bucks have had to overcome plenty of injuries but one constant for them has, of course, been Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The reigning Finals MVP is the only starter from last year's regular season to have played more than half the team's games. He's played every one of the 12 games so far and is averaging numbers that are not far off his career-highs with 26.6 points, 11.8 rebounds, 6.0 assists and 1.8 blocks.

Those numbers rank him second in the league in ESPN's PER (Player Efficiency Rating) and third in NBA.com's PIE (Player Impact Estimate).

In the Bucks' most recent game, a 112-100 win at Madison Square Garden, Antetokounmpo stuffed the stat with 15 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and two blocks in 38 minutes of action.

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However, a rough shooting night for the Greek Freak, which has been a bit of a trend having shot upwards of 50 percent in only five of the 12 games, opened up the opportunity for other players to step up.

The duo of Pat Connaughton and Grayson Allen combined for 21 of the team's 30 fourth-quarter points, and 18 of the final 27, helping the Bucks stay ahead and withstand the Knicks' furious second-half comeback which was sparked by a 23-6 run.

21 of Connaughton's team-high 23 points came courtesy of a career-high seven 3-pointers, while all of Allen's 15 points came from beyond the arc.

Considering the number of games that the Bucks' other key players have played, the team has needed such performances from their role players.

Jrue Holiday has only appeared in six games, Khris Middleton - who is currently sidelined in the NBA's health and safety protocols - only played six games and Bobby Portis, the team's spark off the bench in the 2021 NBA Finals, has also only played six. Meanwhile, starting center Brook Lopez has only suited up for one.

Multiple role players stepping up in the absence of the key rotation players has been a trademark of the Bucks' early season. If not for them, the team's record could be far worse than 6-6.

Through 12 games, the team has six players averaging double-digit points - the most they've had since their 60-win season in 2018-19. Allen and Connaughton have been huge for the team, averaging a combined 26.3 points per game.

This depth would be crucial once they are at full strength, helping them defend their crown when it matters the most.

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