After being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season, the Milwaukee Bucks have something to prove. They got a new elite coach in Mike Budenholzer from the Atlanta Hawks and that decision seems to have paid off big time. At 21-9, the Bucks are number two in the Eastern Conference, just behind a solid Toronto Raptors team. It’s the best start in 28 seasons for the Bucks. We knew they had a team full of potential, but the players say Budenholzer has given them the confidence and structure to be deadly on the court.
Despite being in a smaller, more unlikely market, the Milwaukee Bucks have got themselves a true superstar player in Giannis Antetokounmpo. While they may not have the pizazz and fame of the Lakers or the Warriors, they do have the potential to be a real title contender this season… Don’t they? Here’s what we think about the promise of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Let’s talk about Giannis Antetokounmpo
All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ key player, a playmaker who transforms his team into something better. A first-round pick in 2013, ESPN called the Greek-born 24-year-old a “unicorn” player for his versatility and talent. The Greek Freak, as he’s known to fans, is in his sixth season with the NBA. As the cornerstone of his franchise, he’s currently averaging a double-double with 26 points, 13 rebounds, and, just for fun, 6 assists per game. Pundits are saying that if he were part of a more headline-producing team, he’d be an MVP candidate. He still might be.
Antetokounmpo can play pretty much every position. During his time with the NBA, he’s been listed as a small forward, shooting guard, and point guard. He’s athletic and tough to guard. The man can pass, and, supposedly, he can cover the length of the court in six strides. What more could you want out of your star player?
Oh, he might just have some recruiting skills too. After defeating the New Orleans Pelicans and putting up 25 points on December 19th, Antetokounmpo shook hands with the opposing team’s star big man Anthony Davis and said, “Come to the Bucks, man.”
So there’s that.
But will Antetokounmpo stick around or be tempted by a bigger, more flashy team? Who knows? What we care about, though, is this: After six years with the team, will he finally lead them to a title this season? It’s totally possible.
The Other Bucks
Antetokounmpo doesn’t do it all on his own. The Bucks have the highest offensive rating in the NBA with 113.2 points per 100 possessions. The team actually ranks first in the East in three-pointers at 13.9 per game and they’re also first in the East when it comes to points in the paint at 54.7 per game.
Small forward Khris Middleton has been the perfect partner for the Greek Freak and he averages 17.4 points per game himself. He plays well off the Antetokounmpo because, unlike the big man, Middleton doesn’t need much space to drive to the basket or get a shot off. He took the spot that was planned for Jabari Parker as the freak’s point-scoring running mate when that duo didn’t work out as well as everyone imagined. As one of the league’s most underrated players, Middleton averages seven three-point shots a night and makes 39.5% of them.
Middleton played very little as a rookie before being traded to Milwaukee where he had to earn his spot on the team. He says, “I feel like over the years we’re building something special here, so I feel like there will be an opportunity for me to be here and win at the same time.”
Eric Bledsoe is another supporting piece for Antetokounmpo, scoring 16 points per game. As a point guard, he’s able to limit turnovers and destroy opponents by beating screens. And sometimes his numbers are even higher – he put up 27 points against the Detroit Pistons and 26 against the Indiana Pacers.
Point guard Malcolm Brogdon is also averaging over 15 points per game in his 30 minutes of playing time. He’s athletic with a strong mentality, plus he’s got the ability to improve. In 2017, the 25-year-old guard was the first Bucks player to win Rookie of the Year since Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Though he’s missed a few games with a hamstring issue, it appears he’ll be ready to play soon. Brogden says, “Our chemistry has definitely grown a lot. We’re coming into our own as a team, as individuals, and I think [Coach] Bud has really helped us do that.”
Coach Budenholzer didn’t want to be part of the rebuild happening in Atlanta, so he came to a team loaded with solid players. There’s also Jabari Parker (who the Knicks are reportedly interested in trading for), DJ Wilson, Sterling Brown, John Henson, and Thon Maker there in Milwaukee, giving him so much to work with.
According to Middleton, “We all know our role, our skill set and how to make our offense work.”