Five reasons why Milwaukee’s historic season is still not enough for some folks
Despite the Milwaukee Bucks continuing their historically dominant season, it feels like it is only inspiring the Bucks fanbase.
Milwaukee clinched a playoff spot through just 56 games on Feb. 23, the earliest in NBA history. The team is now 52-9 and is more than capable of becoming the third team ever to reach the 70-win milestone. Milwaukee would need to 18-3 down the stretch to ensure a 70-win season.
The Bucks are also on track to secure one of the highest point-differentials in the league’s 74-year history with a +12.3 margin.
Reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to surge up the ranks and is on his way to winning the prestigious award for the second-straight year. The 25-year-old Greek Freak is averaging 29.7 points per game to along with 13.7 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He is a top three player in the NBA right now, and arguably the best player in the world (no disrespect to Joel Embiid).
The Bucks have all of these eye-opening facts, and yet, many people remain skeptical of them outside of Wisconsin. This year’s team is becoming one of the quietest and greatest teams the NBA has ever seen. As frustrating as the skepticism sounds, there are actually several reasons why.
#1: The Bucks’ only championship was a long, long time ago
Milwaukee won its first NBA title in 1971, and have not won it since. The team appeared in the Finals one other time in 1974, but fell in seven games to the Celtics. Milwaukee reached the Conference Finals on four other occasions, most recently last season. Several other teams including the Celtics, 76ers, Lakers, Spurs and Warriors, just to name a few, have been much more successful over the past few decades than Milwaukee. When teams have not made deep runs in the playoffs over a long period of time, people tend to forget about them.
The Bucks are trying to change that perception. They have made the playoffs on several occasions throughout the past decade, but they were mostly one-and-done appearances. Getting to the playoffs is one thing. Winning is another. The more success the Bucks have in the playoffs, the more the basketball community should embrace them.
#2: Khris Middleton isn’t flashy
The Bucks’ number two star is one of the most underrated players the league has seen in recent memory. Khris Middleton is a two-time All-Star, and is putting up career-high numbers this year in points (21.1 PPG) and shooting percentage (51 percent overall and 44 percent from three). Middleton is trying to become just the ninth 50-40-90 player in league history this season. He is becoming one of the great shooters in the NBA. All of that screams “superstar,” right? Well, it should.
Middleton is the type of player who walks the walk. He lets his game speak for who he is. He calmly does his job, and there’s really nothing flashy about it, either. But he gets the job done. If Middleton contributes to making the Bucks win every night, I’m sure that is all he cares about most.
When the Bucks win or lose, you cannot tell the difference in Middleton’s attitude. It feels like he is the same person every time. That is why the 28-year-old is as underrated as he is. When players do not say much, the national sports media will turn their attention to a more outspoken player. But we have seen that Middleton is not about being too outspoken and creating drama. It can create negative energy, and all Middleton wants to do is help his team win.
#3: Milwaukee doesn’t have a proven, third option
Eric Bledsoe is and will continue to be the Bucks’ primary third choice behind Giannis and Middleton. Bledsoe has been playing just fine with Milwaukee in the regular season ever since Jon Horst traded for him in late 2017. He is a phenomenal defender, and even made the NBA All-Defensive First Team last year. He will occasionally drop 30+ points on some nights. Bledsoe does what third options do.
The main problem for Bledsoe is the postseason. For some weird reason, he suddenly goes cold in the playoffs. Bledsoe registered 15.9 points per game on 48.4 percent shooting overall and about 33 percent from downtown during last year’s regular season. However, his numbers sank in the playoffs in points (13.7 per game average) and shooting percentage (41.4 percent overall and just 24 percent on threes).
But here is the beauty of the situation: should Bledsoe play like he has in the last two postseasons again this year, Mike Budenholzer has a plethora of guys on the bench he can turn to. George Hill is more than capable backup point guard to Bledsoe. Donte DiVincenzo can literally do everything. Kyle Korver can shoot the lights out. Pat Connaughton is always hustling on both ends of the court. Marvin Williams is a proven, veteran player, solid shooter and flexible defender. Ersan Ilyasova knows how to play in the playoffs under Coach Bud. Sterling Brown is all over you defensively. And don’t forget about Robin Lopez, one of the most elite rim protectors in basketball. Budenholzer didn’t have the luxury of DiVincenzo, Korver, Williams or Robin Lopez in last year’s playoffs.
The Bucks are so deep of a squad that they win so many games even when Bledsoe does not play well. Depth will certainly win games for teams in the playoffs. Just look at Toronto last year. The Raptors had Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell, OG Anunoby and a couple others off their bench. They helped the Raptors earn a title. This year’s Bucks have Hill, DiVincenzo, Williams, Lopez and several others who can fill the gaps the Bucks didn’t have last year. Milwaukee’s depth is going to be key.
#4: The team is in Milwaukee!
I am not sure of any other way to put this, but the Bucks are based out of a smaller-scaled city in a league full of much bigger cities than Milwaukee. The Bucks are a small-market team, traditionally not a lot of bigger stars will select Milwaukee, and in general, people outside of Milwaukee and Wisconsin just won’t care. Folks from Wisconsin might care, but the rest of the country probably will not.
National sports media outlets more often than not will reference the big-market teams. Those who watch ESPN or Fox Sports see hosts and commentators very frequently converse about teams from L.A., New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, etc. The bigger-market teams grab more people’s attention. It’s just the reality of the situation.
It isn’t like Milwaukee is not the only small-market team people are skeptical about. The Denver Nuggets are second in the Western Conference with a 41-19 record, yet we do not hear about them very much. The Thunder are putting together a solid campaign with a 37-23 record, despite losing both Russell Westbrook and Paul George. But they are not talked about that much either because they are based in Oklahoma City.
As long as Milwaukee keeps having success and goes deep in the playoffs, maybe more attention will turn to the Bucks. But it is on the team to check those boxes.
#5: Giannis’ future
I just mentioned that Milwaukee continues to not get as much national attention compared to the bigger-market teams. But the one, enormous reason why the Bucks do get a lot of attention is all based on the pure speculation of whether or not the Greek Freak is going to stay in Milwaukee. Giannis may very well decide to not accept a supermax extension and flee to a bigger market.
When the time comes for Giannis to decide what is best for his future, he will undoubtedly be the largest-prized possession on the market. Teams from all over the league will likely try to find ways to grab him. It is even being rumored that Golden State’s trade for Andrew Wiggins is all a part of a future deal for Antetokounmpo.
But all of the talk and rumors about Giannis’ future are based on a narrative that we won’t know the answer to until down the road. It’s all gossip, and not completely factual.
There will continue to be skeptics, and people will continue to doubt Milwaukee. But the Bucks can shut them down by continuing to play at a historically high level and making deep runs in the playoffs, perhaps winning a championship.
Their golden opportunity is right now.