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Milwaukee Bucks

Every NBA team should be scared of what Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are doing

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Milwaukee Bucks (NBA Canada Illustrations)

Do the Milwaukee Bucks have your attention yet?

Carrying an 8-2 record into Oracle Arena for a date with the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors on a day with just three other games, the Bucks will be squarely in the spotlight on Friday.

It's early, but the Bucks look every bit the part of a title threat thanks to three under-the-radar moves this offseason.

The first was signing Mike Budenholzer to be their head coach. The second was signing Brook Lopez to be their starting centre. The third was signing Ersan Ilyasova to be Lopez's backup off the bench.

They didn't make any notable changes outside of those three signings - the four other starters are the same and the only other player currently in the rotation who wasn't on the team last season is Donte DiVincenzo - but the combination brought a new system to Milwaukee and players who could push it to its limit.

The result? The fifth-best offence, the third-best defence and the second-best net rating in the league, behind only the juggernaut they'll see on Friday.

In simpler terms? Milwaukee has looked every bit of a title contender and their matchup with the Warriors will be a good measuring stick for a team that has hopes of competing with the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference this season.

MORE: Should Budenholzer be the favourite to win Coach of the Year?

The improvements on offence will benefit the Bucks the most in their pursuit of a spot in the NBA Finals. Once a team that ranked near the top of the league in midrange scoring, the Bucks rank dead last in that category through the first three weeks of the season.

The Bucks have instead put a much greater emphasis on spacing the floor, with close of half of their shot attempts coming from the perimeter.

It's helped them make the transition from a team stuck in the past to one that fully embraces the modern NBA.

The player who will continue to gain the most from that change in philosophy is Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is being utilized more as a point centre this season with four 3-point shooters surrounding him for almost every minute he's on the court.

That puts less pressure on Antetokounmpo to develop the jump shot everyone has long believed he needs to reach his MVP potential because he now has all the space to play to his strengths for an entire game.

Just look at how reluctant Joel Embiid, one of the league's best rim protectors, is to provide help on this possession knowing the alternative:

The alternative, of course, is Antetokounmpo draws Embiid (or another help defender) into the paint and whips a pass out to the likes of Lopez, Ilyasova, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon or Tony Snell, five players who have combined to make 43.7 percent of their catch-and-shoot 3-point attempts so far on the season.

Even John Henson, who attempted a total of 13 3-pointers in his career entering this season, has been given the green light to shoot by Budenholzer. He's already taken 22 3-pointers in 10 games, making eight of those opportunities.

It would be one thing if Antetokounmpo wasn't capable of finding his teammates in those situations, but he's putting together a career year with 5.9 assists per game.

The Bucks are scoring 16.2 points per game off of those assists, putting him behind only 14 players - mostly point guards - for most in the league.

The only player on Milwaukee's roster that defenses can help off of is Eric Bledsoe, but Budenholzer has even come up with ways to make up for his inconsistencies as a shooter.

Beyond giving him the green light to shoot when he's open - Bledsoe is yet another player on the Bucks currently launching 3s at a career rate - Budenholzer has found success in the early going by putting the dynamic point guard in pick-and-rolls with Antetokounmpo while three shooters surround them.

Both of them are incredibly difficult to stop when they get downhill and switching leads to plays like this, with Antetokounmpo getting the ball in the post against the smallest defender on the court:

The scariest part about the Bucks' success to begin the season? They are still figuring things out.

You wouldn't know it based on the 25.8 points, 13.3 rebounds and 5.9 assists he's putting up on a daily basis, but Antetokounmpo recently admitted to Eric Nehm of The Athletic that he's only now starting to understand Buzenholzer's new system that has him and his teammates moving more than they have in the past.

"It makes it a little bit more difficult," Antetokounmpo said about the offence. "You don't know where your teammates are going to be (when you catch the ball) and where your spots are going to be."

There are days when that shows, like in the season opener when Antetokounmpo committed eight turnovers in a close win over the Charlotte Hornets or more recently in a loss to the Celtics that came down to the wire despite a rough shooting performance.

It might even show on Friday, when the Bucks take on the hottest team in the league in an arena where wins are incredibly difficult to come by.

But even if it does, every team in the league should scared of what Antetokounmpo and the Bucks are brewing in Milwaukee right now.

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