NBA Eastern Conference Finals: Bucks Favorites over the Hawks, Key Performance Analysis

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Milwaukee Faces the Hawks for a Spot in the NBA 2021 Finals

The NBA Eastern Conference Finals start on Wednesday with the Milwaukee Bucks having home court advantage over the Atlanta Hawks. Both teams made it to the ECF with Game 7 wins, over the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers respectively. The Bucks are strong favorites to win the Championship ring and are expected to win the series against the Hawks.

A Few Words on the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals Game 7s

Atlanta Hawks Upset the 76ers in Philadelphia

After a tight game 7, the 5th seed Atlanta Hawks in a major upset eliminated the 1st seed Philadelphia 76ers in Philly. They proceed to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2015.

Man of the match:

Without a doubt Kevin Huerter (27 pts, 7 rebs, 3 ast, 10/18 FG) carried the Hawks during the whole game and recorded his best scoring performance in his early NBA playoff career.

Worst man of the match:

In another disappointing game this season, Ben Simmons (5pts, 8rebs, 13ast, 2/4 FG) was not aggressive and got the least shots compared to any other starter of the game.

Important contributors

Trae Young could just not make a basket until late in the 4th quarter when he made a mid-range jump shot to bring Atlanta within two points, 82-84. Ice Trae was just 2/19 FG until that point but he scored 3 out of his last 4 shots in the final stretch. He finished with 21 pts, 3 rebs, 10 ast, and 5/23 FG, including a big three with 2.31 left in the 4th quarter to give Atlanta a 6 point lead over the 76ers 87-93.

Joel Embiid (31pts, 11rebs, 3ast, 11/21 FG) tried his best to carry his team to the Eastern Conference Finals, but his efforts were simply not enough.

Milwaukee Bucks Win in Overtime against the Nets in Brooklyn


Just watch this instant NBA Playoffs classic.

Key players improved their performance in the playoffs

We had a look at the change in usage percentage and true shooting percentage for both Bucks and Hawks players. Inspired by data visualization master Owen Phillips, we created the below view to see how players’ performance changed.

Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks player performance: Usage and Scoring Efficiency comparison of regular season and playoff performance.

What stands out for the Bucks players

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s efficiency in the playoffs has taken an 8% hit.
  • Khris Middleton saw his usage and efficiency drop a little bit.
  • Jrue Holiday really needs to step it up offensively. His True Shooting percentage dropped 13 percentage points.
  • Bobby Portis‘ usage dropped from 20% to 15.7% and his efficiency dropped by 4 percentage points.
  • Bryn Forbes and Brook Lopez have been relatively stable.
  • Donte DiVincenzo‘s True Shooting percentage was so bad we had to exclude him from the static graphs.

What stands out for the Hawks players

  • Trae Young‘s efficiency dropped by around 5% and his usage increased a bit.
  • John Collins and Clint Capela were as efficient as the regular season, with 65% and 60% TS% respectively. Their usage dropped around 6% each.
  • Kevin Huerter and Lou Williams have been great in the playoffs, with their efficiency going up by 6% and 4% respectively.
  • De’Andre Hunter and Bogdan Bogdanovic had a sharp drop in True Shooting percentage
Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks player performance: Usage and Scoring Efficiency comparison of regular season and playoff performance.

Pace, Ratings, and Four Factors paint a better picture of the playoff challenges

Latest academic research in the field of basketball analytics stress the importance of metrics such as pace, ratings, and the four factors. Inspired by the great book Basketball Data Science with Applications in R, we had a look at how the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks performed as a team. Anyone interested in basketball analytics should definitely get their hands on a copy. The BasketballAnalyzeR R package is simply amazing.

Some background and definitions

  • Pace is the number of possessions per minute. Both the pace of the team in question and their opponents are considered.
  • Offensive and defensive ratings refer to the number of points scored per 100 possessions.
  • The Four Factors were defined by Dean Oliver in 2002 in his book Basketball on Paper. They answer the question “what are the main strategies related to success?”. The Four Factors can be simply described as Score, Protect, Crash, and Attack:
    • Effective Field Goal Percentage
    • Turnover Ratio
    • Rebound Percentage
    • Free Throw Rate
Milwaukee Bucks and Atlanta Hawks Pace, Ratings, and Four Factors. Comparison of regular season vs playoffs.

The Bucks drop the pace in the playoffs while the Hawks stick to their plan

The Bucks slowed down the game tempo in the playoffs against the Heat and the Nets by around 5 fewer possessions per game. The pace in the Hawks games stayed quite low at slightly above 2 possessions per minute.

The Bucks and Hawks defenses worked magic

The series agains the Nets was tough for the Bucks and looking at the team ratings, it shows. Overall though in the playoffs, their opponents scored 7 less points per 100 possessions. At the same time, Giannis and the squad scored 8 less points per 100 possessions. The Bucks and their opponents’ eFG% dropped by over 4%. The rebounding factors showed a good improvement for the Bucks on both ends in the playoffs.

The Hawks improved defensively but also had a tougher time scoring against the Knicks and Sixers. Their offensive rating dropped from 114 to 107. They did force more turnovers than usual in the playoffs. Trae’s ball handling was great and as a team the Hawks had an improved turnover ratio. They did not do as good in offensive rebounds as the regular season. Last, they led their opponents to the line more often. This was a great part of their strategy and it payed off, with Ben Simmons being abysmal from the free-throw line throughout the series.

The surprising Hawks look capable to ruin the more mature Bucks’ playoff party. Can Giannis make it to his first NBA Finals or will Ice Trae pull another upset?

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