Have you taken notice yet? Can you feel it coming? It might happen this year, or maybe next. Regardless, it’s not a matter of if, but when for the Milwaukee Bucks. They’re building something special. They’re on the verge of something big. Either you #FearTheDeer or you embrace it.
At this point, Milwaukee’s probably about a year ahead of schedule. But is it fair to say they are even abiding by a schedule? I mean, look back just two short seasons ago when the Bucks won 15 games and were far-and-away the worst team in the league. An impressive feat considering the Philadelphia 76ers had just begun their takedown of any semblance of a competitive basketball team that same season.
How does Milwaukee go from winning 15 games to winning 41 last season? Well, for a number of reasons.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR
It’s nearly impossible to quantify the impact a coach has on his team, but I feel safe in saying that the Bucks probably don’t win 41 games last season if Jason Kidd doesn’t hightail it out of Brooklyn to get his paws on the young, freakishly athletic roster in Milwaukee. At the time, many questioned Kidd’s brashness. He was viewed as power hungry (hard to deny), egotistical (quite possible) and downright arrogant (I mean, yeah). But the thing is: Kidd was totally right. Kidd’s got every right to be arrogant at this point.
But beyond Kidd’s personality and motives, it’s impossible to deny he created a defensive juggernaut. Milwaukee traps, they tag, they bump, they swarm — they’re simply everywhere. Kidd’s got the artillery in the likes of John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams and Khris Middleton. All the aforementioned can play the roaming free safety role just as easily as they can play the smothering cornerback. Defensively, the sky is the limit with this team. But of course, defense ’tis but half the game.
Last season, the Bucks were pretty anemic offensively. They were towards the bottom of the league in points per 100 possessions. With the exception of Middleton, they didn’t—and couldn’t—shoot threes. They hardly got to the free throw line. Essentially, their lack of shooting was far too great a hurdle to overcome.
WHAT HAPPENED THIS SUMMER
Well, the Bucks sure didn’t hesitate to sure-up the offense. They landed former-Piston big man Greg Monroe at a very reasonable price in unrestricted free agency. And beyond anything else, the fact Milwaukee could lure Monroe to Milwaukee freaking Wisconsin (which is an extremely underrated city, don’t get me wrong) over destinations like Los Angeles and New York is very much a big deal. The Monroe deal might work out perfectly, and his provided offensive ability will outweigh his defensive shortcomings. Or, alternatively, the Bucks can’t play him at the end of games because he’s so brutal on defense. Whichever the case, landing a top free agent like Monroe was monumental for Milwaukee going forward, regardless of the actual outcome of the signing itself.
But beyond Monroe, the team also made a draft-night trade to obtain backup point guard Greivis Vasquez. At the very least, Vasquez can be the Claritin to Carter-Williams’ spacing allergies. Then there’s Milwaukee’s first-round draft pick Rashad Vaughn. Simply put, if Vaughn knocks down outside shots on a consistent basis, then he’ll find a spot in Kidd’s rotation.
Most importantly, though, the team is getting Jabari Parker back, full-time. Parker’s the unknown component of Milwaukee’s entire equation. Questions still surround Antetokounmpo: Is he an All-Star waiting to happen, or is he a human highlight reel whose highlights instill a distorted image of the type of player he actually is? What’s for certain is that Antetokounmpo was Milwaukee’s second-most valuable player last year, accounting for 6.2 win shares.
In Antetokounmpo, the Bucks can feel pretty sure of the fact he’s at least a good player. In Parker, there’s a large amount of doubt. An ACL injury is never something to brush aside. If Parker recovers and becomes the offensive force Milwaukee needs him to be, they’ll be just fine. If not, it’ll take a little longer for when the Bucks figure it out.
KEY PLAYER TO WATCH: JABARI PARKER
Although, I’ve already spent a considerable amount of time talking about him, I can’t help but feel that Parker’s the integral cog to the entire operation. Last season was much too small a sample size to glean anything substantial from. And even so, Parker was in the first few months of his rookie season, which requires an allotted adjustment period. But, that said, the thing to keep an eye on will be Parker’s comfort at the NBA three-point line. Last season, his range was not NBA-level.
I’m higher on the Bucks than most, and I readily admit that. I’m enthralled by their defensive potential. Do I think they’ll compete for a top-three seed in the East? Probably not. But do I think they could improve on their 41 wins and perhaps capture home-court for a playoff series? Absolutely. With Cleveland being the obvious top dog, the rest is some mix of Chicago, Miami, Toronto, Boston, Washington, Atlanta and Milwaukee. And of those teams, Chicago’s probably the only sure-fire bet to have a better record than Milwaukee.
So, I’ll say that I think the Bucks will grab the No. 4 seed out East and win 45 games. That defense needs just enough offense to get by, and this season, I think they’ve got just that. It’s a recipe cooking up something bigger than 45 wins, though. In a couple seasons, I could easily see Milwaukee posing the biggest threat to the Cavs. Who knows, maybe that day will come sooner than we realize.