The evolution of the Milwaukee Bucks

 

 

A fluke is described as an unlikely chance or occurrence and especially surprising piece of luck. What statistics can you use to deem any team’s success a fluke? Regardless of how far they go in the playoffs, the Bucks’ success through 37 games has been no fluke.

The Bucks have largely been a mediocre team this century through players like Ray Allen, Michael Redd, Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings. The hiring of former Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer seems to have rejuvenated the franchise and boosted its status, not only in the Eastern Conference, but around the league.

It wasn’t long ago that Milwaukee introduced new general manager Jon Horst. It was the summer of 2017 and the state of the roster was relatively similar to now. The one major difference was acquiring Eric Bledsoe in exchange for multiple draft picks and Greg Monroe, who led Milwaukee in win shares for the 2015-16 season.

Ever since then, the leader in that department has been franchise centerpiece Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is now well-established as one of league’s most valuable young players. Any GM would likely choose Antetokounmpo over any player not named Anthony Davis if hypothetically starting a brand new team.

The Greek Freak has become a nightmare to defend despite his lack of a consistent jumper. He is shooting just over 15% from long-range this season after improving to 30.7% last year. His free-throw percentage has also dipped below 70%. Nevertheless, Antetokounmpo is still only getting better and has validated that by the Bucks’ league-high .730 winning percentage.

His supporting cast has also given him more room to operate with. Cutting ties with Jabari Parker only to re-compensate with Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova initially seemed like a questionable move. That move, however, has paid dividends. Parker was not worth all that money to keep around, especially considering how much cheaper Lopez and Ilyasova came.

Antetokounmpo has pretty much turned into the full-time point guard and that has benefited Milwaukee in the big picture. Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are all comfortable handling the ball but have shown flexibility in surrounding Antetokounmpo off the ball. For that reason, Tony Snell has seen his minutes cut significantly. There was nothing wrong with Snell as a three-and-D presence but he has gained a more fitting role off the bench.

Third-year guard and former rookie of the year Brogdon has been everything the Bucks hoped for and more. Many guards these days don’t gain notoriety without filling the stat sheet. Not that it’s a bad thing but there is something special about a player that can make crucial plays that aren’t necessarily measurable. Brogdon, a 51-percent shooter on the season, is that type of player. He never forces anything, sticks to the script, executes properly and exemplifies true leadership.

Where do we start with Middleton? Oh yeah. He was involved in the Brandon Jennings-Brandon Knight trade in the summer of 2013 as a throw-in. Look how far he has come; Middleton blows those two out of the water. Not to mention, Jennings may never play another game in the NBA and injuries have derailed Knight to the point where it’s hard for him to earn playing time. Middleton is no superstar but has the tendencies of a generational player that can attack the defense several different ways.

Bledsoe often acts as the X-factor for this team. He has enjoyed years being the star player on Phoenix, averaging over 20 points and six assists. He now handles less of a scoring load at 15 points per game. However, he is shooting the ball much more efficiently as Antetokounmpo opens up a world of opportunity for him. In addition, his health has taken a turn for the better. Regardless of his production on a game-to-game basis, Bledsoe’s services are much appreciated on a potential Eastern Conference contender.

Coach Budenholzer taking the reins has been a blessing in disguise for the Bucks, who now appear more organized collectively. The team has gone from middle-of-the-pack to top three in defensive efficiency. On top of that, it leads the league in opponent shooting efficiency, opponent fastbreak points and opponent points in the paint. Lopez is no rim protector by any means, which further proves the key to success is communicating on that side of the ball.

On the other side of the floor, the Bucks lead the league in shooting efficiency and points per game. They also convert on the second-most three-pointers per game. Milwaukee’s strong depth with additional players like George Hill, Pat Connaughton and Thon Maker should bode well for its eventual playoff run.

The results have been favorable thus far but deeming Milwaukee a top-tier team may be a bit premature. Boston and Toronto are still seen as the front-runners and we also need to look out for the Sixers once they get acclimated with Jimmy Butler. Brighter days ahead could be looming for a Milwaukee franchise that’s finally garnered some well-deserved publicity.