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If the Bucks master their new offense, they can win the East

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Milwaukee is spreading the floor better, and getting smarter with its shot selection.

Milwaukee Bucks v Charlotte Hornets Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The Milwaukee Bucks looked freed in their season-opening 113-112 win over the Charlotte Hornets, spreading the floor way wider than the team’s previous iteration. Giannis Antetokounmpo led a cramped group last year that struggled to reach its offensive potential, but in the team’s opening 48 minutes of the 2019 season, it showed that Jason Kidd-inspired nightmare may be a problem of the past.

Here’s the shot chart for the Bucks on Wednesday:

Last year, Milwaukee was 25th in three-pointers attempted and in the top half of the league in most shots attempted from 16-23 feet. In their season opener against Charlotte, they attempted just four straggling two-pointers from beyond 12 feet. That’s modern basketball gold, and what’s propelled teams like the Warriors and Rockets to the greatest offensive season in league history.

This one-point win was more of a grind than it should’ve been for Mike Budenholzer’s new team, but that comes with the territory with their revamped offense.

For now, there’s plenty of reason for Milwaukee fans to be excited. This team has the talent and the structure to win the East if this comes together by year’s end.

The Bucks’ newcomers are perfect fits for the new style of play

Milwaukee’s roster is similar to what it was a year ago, aside from a new stretch-shooting center in Brook Lopez and rookie Donte DiVincenzo from Villanova. They’re complementary players Giannis has so desperately needed to reach his and the team’s potential.

The pair combined for 22 points on 7-of-13 shooting, all of which came off buckets inside the paint or behind the line (Lopez 2-of-5, DiVincenzo 2-of-4.) Here’s their shot chart:

Rather than filling minutes with rim-running bigs like Thon Maker or redundant slashers like, uh, Jabari Parker, these two make perfect fits alongside Antetokounmpo. Neither needs the ball to be successful and both can make a living in this offense off the catch-and-shoot.

All this means Giannis is somehow even more unstoppable

Antetokounmpo is the point guard, center, and everything in between, and Budenholzer is finally unleashing him to his full potential. Antetokounmpo put up 25 points, 18 rebounds and eight assists, running the Hornets ragged for most of the game.

The Bucks’ new system is designed for Giannis to rack up a dozen or more rebounds per night for the very purpose of running down teams’ throats. Heck, if your point guard is seven feet, let him grab the board and run full speed the other way — there’s no need for a middle man. That’s part of the reason he’ll come close to averaging a triple-double this year.

Giannis could always fly, but Milwaukee is finally taking advantage of its one-in-a-million unicorn by giving him a runway. Shooters were able to spot-up as the defense collapsed towards Antetokounmpo, resulting in 34 three-point attempts, nine more than the team averaged last season. This offense has all the pieces to become one of the league’s best.

This fast-paced offense comes with its consequences, though.

Milwaukee nearly forfeited its lead for good, coming out on top by way of back-to-back game-winning misses from the Hornets. That’s largely in part to the Bucks’ turnover nightmare.

Giannis had eight alone, coming up on the wrong side of charge calls off his full-court sprints and missing targets on kickouts. The team combined for 21.

Playing quick risks death by turnovers, and had Milwaukee played someone better than Charlotte, it’d have been dug six feet under. Cutting down on the sloppiness will be at the forefront of the Bucks’ wish list.

But it’s just Game 1 in Milwaukee, and Bucks fans have many reasons to be excited. It’s a four-team race in the East, and Giannis and co. are showing the upside to claim the throne. The team’s success is all a matter of perfecting this new offensive system.