Record: 22-20 Standings: Division – 4th, Conference – 8th
Offense: 8th (107.4) Defense: 23rd (107.7) Net: 17th (-0.3)
- Points – Giannis Antetokounmpo (28.4)
- Rebounds – Giannis (9.9)
- Assists – Giannis (4.5)
- Steals – Eric Bledsoe (2.1)
- Blocks – John Henson (1.5)
At exactly the halfway point of the 2017/18 NBA regular season, Milwaukee find themselves right in the middle of an Eastern Conference playoff seeding logjam. Coming into the season the Bucks appeared set to contend for the right to earn a home playoff series come April. As we stand right now, the Bucks find themselves right in the mix, only trailing the 4th placed Miami Heat by 3.0 games. However with so many teams bunched together in the standings, they are only 3.0 games ahead of the New York Knicks in 10th.
It’s been a roller coaster ride so far with Giannis launching himself into MVP contention, a major trade, coaching dramas, exhilarating wins and demoralizing losses all forming the basis of an intriguing story line so far. It only feels like yesterday the Bucks tipped off the season in Boston, but given we are at the halfway mark, lets take some time to review the first 42 games, both the good moments and the bad ones.
Rumors were circulating for weeks that the Bucks were on the verge of securing disgruntled Phoenix point guard, Eric Bledsoe. The deal was finalized on November 8th, sending Greg Monroe plus 2018 first and second round protected picks to the Suns in return for Bledsoe. With Monroe’s deal expiring at the end of the season and Milwaukee holding hopes of contending in the East, the deal was, and has turned out to be an excellent one so far. Averaging 18 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists and 2 steals per game as a Buck, Bledsoe has on multiple occasions come up clutch in the fourth quarter, nailing a huge three on the road in Washington last week to seal an important win and form one of his many highlights already. The Bucks chased Bledsoe hard, and so far, it’s paying dividends.
The Game: December 19, 2017, Cleveland 116 @ Milwaukee 119.
Cleveland came into Milwaukee having won the last five contests between the two sides, including twice already in the seasons first month. Adding to the difficulty of the task in front of the Bucks, the Cavs were in red hot form having won 18 of their last 19 games as they arrived at the Bradley Center. Milwaukee on the other hand had lost three straight to slip to 15-13 on the season.
The game started ominously, as Cleveland jumped out of the gates to take a 15-4 lead at the 8:42 mark of the first quarter. Impressively the Bucks steadied and after Giannis was fouled on a buzzer beating shot to end the quarter, subsequently making all three free throws, the gap had been closed to 4. After a rough start, you felt we had a game on our hands, but nobody could have predicted what came next. Between the 8:43 and 2:46 minute mark of the second quarter, Milwaukee reeled out the most breathtaking basketball you could ever wish to see. In 5 minutes and 57 seconds, the Bucks went on an astonishing 28-10 run, turning a 4 point deficit into a 14 point lead. 5 triples and a monster Eric Bledsoe put back jam (see above) had the Bradley Center pulsating with joy.
The drama wasn’t done there as the Cavs went on a fourth quarter 24-2 run, fueled by three Dwyane Wade triples to steal the lead back with 5:11 left. Fittingly, the game was iced for Milwaukee as Giannis finished an and-one with 5 seconds left after stealing a lose ball from between Lebron’s legs. The Bucks survived in what will be hard to top as the game of the year.
The Low Point: December 26th, 2017, Chicago 115 @ Milwaukee 106.
Inconsistent play has plagued the Bucks through the first half of the season but undoubtedly the lowest point came at home, on boxing day against one of their biggest rivals. Having already lost to Chicago only two weeks earlier at home, the Bucks seemed likely to seek revenge on the Bulls for that disappointing outing. Maybe it was a Christmas hangover that reeked havoc on the Bucks, it’s hard to say, but after taking a 9 point lead at the end of the first quarter, it got ugly, fast. In total the Bucks committed 20 turnovers, allowed 11 steals, gave up 61 rebounds and 54 points in the paint. An incredibly frustrating night ended miserably, as the Bucks took the lead early in the fourth on a Malcolm Brogdon layup, before crumbling offensively and having no answer to the Bulls on the other end. Losing to Chicago is never fun, but twice in a fortnight at home is brutal.
Ask any Bucks fan what they would do if they could make one move to the team right now and the vast majority would say they’d change coach. The #FireKidd campaign is continuing to gain steam the longer the season wares on, as the hot and cold Bucks continue to frustrate. Kidd is now in his fourth season as head coach of the Bucks and holds a hardly impressive 138-150 record.
After leading the Bucks to hold the NBA’s second best defense in his first season at the helm, it has been all downhill since as the physically capable roster simply fails to pick up Kidd’s heavy trapping scheme. In 15/16 the Bucks defense ranked 22nd, in 16/17 it was 19th and so far this season it sits 23rd and is trending downwards. With MVP candidate Antetokounmpo, Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon and raft of capable veteran’s at his disposal, the clock is ticking on Kidd despite his best attempts to deflect attention away from himself.
Baffling rotations, late game blunders such as the one above and his general stubbornness to change has Kidd on the hot seat. Time will tell if he has the ability to avoid the hovering axe.
In a team full of highly entertaining and athletic players, choosing the single most jaw dropping highlight through 42 games was a difficult task. In the end though I’ve settled on what will likely be a popular choice.
The Bucks hosted the Utah Jazz on December 9th in what was an extremely satisfying performance. Leading from start to finish the Bradley Center crowd rose to their feet as the clock wound down in the last 30 seconds with Milwaukee leading 115-98. Giannis had other ideas however. Sizeing up Thabo Sefolosha, an excellent defender in his own right, Giannis crossed over and then blew by the defender before rising up and exploding to the rim. Slamming down a ferocious dunk over the outstretched arm of one of the leagues best rim protectors in Rudy Gobert.
Disrespectful? Probably. Did we love it? Hell yeah!!
Who else? Giannis Antetokounmpo. Last years most improved player has incredibly gone to another level as his ridiculous rise to the leagues elite is appearing to have no ceiling. Giannis ranks 1st in the league in minutes (37.4), 2nd for points (28.4), 2nd in free throw attempts (9.1), 12th in rebounding (9.9), 17th in blocks (1.3), and 19th in steals (1.6). On top of all this, he is simply ridiculous in clutch situations, shooting 66.7 percent from the field in those moments. Illustrating his rise to superstardom is the fact he currently sits second in fan voting for the 2018 All-Star game in Los Angeles. Giannis is currently polling ahead of established superstars such as Steph Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant whilst only trailing Lebron James with one week to go. Highlight reel dunks, monster swats, graceful euro steps and hilarious interviews. Giannis is Milwaukee’s MVP, and he may just be on his way to becoming the leagues MVP.
The Road Ahead:
Looking ahead for Milwaukee you cant help but wonder how far this team can go this season. Jabari Parker is slated to return in approximately four weeks, providing the Bucks formidable offense with yet another elite, versatile scoring weapon.
The February 8 trade deadline could also be a major moment in the Bucks season with widespread rumors continuing to circulate that Los Angeles Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan is at the top of the Bucks list of targets. Other big men to have been mentioned as a target for the Deer include former Buck and free agent Andrew Bogut, Tyson Chandler and Javale McGee. A move feels inevitable in the coming weeks, which way they decide to go remains to be seen.
Will Jason Kidd last the season? Can the Bucks push forward into a top four seed? Will Jabari make a successful return?
The questions are endless moving forward and I for one, can’t wait to see how it all plays out.
Follow Kane Pitman on twitter: @mkebucksaus