There are only a handful of people who have shaped today’s Bucks team
By Tyler Job
One word defines the Milwaukee Bucks throughout the last 10 years: unpredictable.
Things were swinging on the upside for Milwaukee once the 2009 season ended. The Bucks compiled their first winning season since 2003 with a 46-36 record, Brandon Jennings had a solid rookie campaign averaging 15.5 points per game, and took the Atlanta Hawks to all seven games in the first round of the playoffs.
But the Bucks struggled to play good basketball for a while after that. It was not until 2016-17 that Milwaukee had a record above .500 (42-40), but they have stayed above that mark ever since.
Now, the Bucks unpredictably have the NBA’s best record and are very much in the championship conversation.
For any small market team, it all starts with the draft. Milwaukee knows this all too well. The city traditionally has not been a big, attractive free agent market, so the Bucks have had to rely on finding good drafts picks and signing players to cheap deals for most of the decade. Milwaukee’s draft picks this decade were up-and-down, with some working out very well, and some not. But those are the chances teams must take when they’re on the clock.
However, there have been five players in particular who have helped shape the Bucks into the beasts they are today.
Before we dive in to the top five, let’s start with a few honorable mentions.
HM: Larry Sanders – 2010, 15th overall
He had a lot of potential, but unfortunately, Larry Sanders had a lot of injuries and off-the-court issues.
Sanders played a big role in Milwaukee’s playoff season in 2013, nearly averaging a double-double with 9.8 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game on 51 percent shooting. He played the bulk of his games that season as well, playing in 71 while starting in 55.
His final two years in Milwaukee were full of injuries and personal reasons, and did not play more than 30 games each season. His problems off the court ultimately led to him being bought out by the Bucks relatively early in his career.
HM: Thon Maker – 2016, 10th overall
Former Bucks general manager John Hammond took a chance on an 18-year-old Thon Maker by picking him 10th overall in 2016.
His rookie year was not terrible. Maker averaged four points per game on 46 percent shooting and 38 percent from downtown. This is not unusual for such a young player who never went to college.
But the Bucks never saw that big jump they would have hoped from Maker. His scoring and rebounding increased very, very slightly, but his shooting percentage dropped after his rookie year.
He actually played better in his two playoff appearances with the team, averaging over five points and three boards a game despite a slightly lower shooting percentage. We can’t forget about his energy moments, either, because he had quite a few of them.
Milwaukee was hoping Maker would become a reliable piece to the team’s rotation, but he never found a consistent role. He was eventually traded to the Detroit Pistons earlier this year in a three-team trade along with the Pelicans.
HM: D.J. Wilson – 2017, 17th overall
The former University of Michigan product is still a work-in-progress for Milwaukee. But he is getting better, which is a good sign for any Bucks fan who wants to see him more.
D.J. Wilson barely even played his rookie year as a Bucks player, and instead got multiple assignments to the Wisconsin Herd. John Henson and Thon Maker were Milwaukee’s top two centers at the time, and Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty were reluctant to give Wilson any experience on the court.
The start of Wilson’s second year looked uncertain with a hamstring injury. But he was given a chance to show his talents and ultimately showed some flash. He scored nine points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his first break-out game against the Pelicans late last year, and had a consistent role in the rotation for a while. He continued to show his potential by scoring 16 points in a big road win over the Raptors in late January this year.
Coach Mike Budenholzer is still trying to find Wilson some minutes this year, but he’s mainly been the third big man on the depth chart behind Brook and Robin Lopez. He’s averaging about five points per game, so Budenholzer is still giving Wilson a chance.
Now, here are the top five Bucks draft picks from the last 10 years.
#5: John Henson – 2012, 14th overall
If the Bucks needed a hook shot, J-Hook was your guy.
John Henson had one of the more prolific hook shots in the NBA and it helped his game quite a bit. He averaged about eight points per game mostly as Milwaukee’s back-up center during his tenure in the Cream City. Ironically enough, his best season was during Milwaukee’s worst season as a franchise in 2013-14, averaging 11 points and seven boards per game despite the team’s very forgettable 15-67 record.
Henson never got past that benchmark, but he stuck through thick-and-thin as a Bucks player. J-Hook was also an exceptional shot blocker and still is averaging 1.5 blocks per game for his career. He played well enough to have an identity in the rotation for the most part.
The combination of Henson hurting his wrist along with Milwaukee signing Brook Lopez last year eventually led him to being shipped off to Cleveland, the same trade where the Bucks got George Hill.
Henson averaged a career 7.5 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in Milwaukee. That’s not too shabby. Henson had his moments in both the regular season and playoffs with the Bucks.
#4: Donte DiVincenzo – 2018, 17th overall
Donte DiVincenzo was the only pick draft pick Milwaukee had in 2018, and it looks like the Bucks found a good one in the Big Ragu.
He’s only in his second year, but this gentleman is all over the court on a regular basis. He scores, rebounds, passes, flies, jumps, defends, you name it. He does a lot of the little things right who ultimately makes a big impact.
DiVincenzo is averaging 8.5 points per game this year on 43 percent shooting and 34 percent from behind the arc, as well as 4.4 rebounds per game, 2.2 assists per game, and 1.5 steals per game. His steals average leads all Bucks players.
Khris Middleton suffered a quad injury in November, and DiVincenzo stepped up really well in his starting role. The 22-year-old averaged 10.5 points per game throughout the 10 games he started, and scored in double figures seven times.
Eric Bledsoe is currently out of action with a shin injury, and DiVincenzo is playing starting minutes once again. Ranking DiVincenzo at number four might shake things up, but the Big Ragu has some really promising potential. It is perhaps only a matter of time until he develops into an exceptional talent.
#3: Jabari Parker – 2014, 2nd overall
Oh, how unlucky of a career Jabari Parker had with the Bucks.
Many teams wanted him, but Milwaukee unsurprisingly took him as the second pick in the 2014 draft. He was supposed to be a part of what the Bucks are now.
Parker was making a case to be rookie of the year, as he averaged 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. But he tore his ACL in his left knee just two months into the season against the Suns, and did not see the court for another 11 months.
It didn’t even feel like Parker suffered a torn ACL because of the strong second year he had. The former Duke product averaged about 14 points and five boards per game and shot 49 percent from the field. And who could forget about his excellent performance on both ends when he helped Milwaukee end Golden State’s unprecedented 28-game winning streak in 2015? Parker posted 19 points, corralled seven boards and snagged two steals. He was getting his mojo back. He was performing like the player the Milwaukee faithful hoped to witness.
Averaging 20 points per game on 49 percent shooting and 37 percent from deep, Parker was becoming a major piece to the Bucks in just his third year. Let me say that again: averaging 20 points per game in his THIRD year.
And then just before the all-star break in 2017, disaster struck once again for Parker in the same way as two and a half years prior: he tore his ACL in the same knee. He sat on the sidelines for 12 months. Unlucky.
Parker eventually made his emotional return against the Knicks on-schedule, and despite playing in limited minutes, he still managed to score 12 points.
He shot a career-best 38 percent from three during his last year in Milwaukee. However, the Bucks let him go after they and Parker could not agree to a new contract. That combined with Parker’s injury history, Milwaukee felt re-signing him to a new deal was a bit too risky.
He’s been playing well ever since leaving, too. Parker is averaging 15.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, and about two assists per game with the Hawks this year. But if you think about it, his career in Milwaukee turned out to be really, really unfortunate and unlucky.
#2: Malcolm Brogdon – 2016, 36th overall
Malcolm Brogdon was arguably one of the best picks by any team a few years ago. He had five years of experience out of the University of Virginia, and he showed why he belonged in the big leagues in his rookie year.
His well-executed offense combined with his stingy defense made him a reliable player for an inconsistent Bucks squad at the time. Brogdon averaged over 10 points per game on 46 percent shooting and 40 percent from downtown, eventually earning himself Rookie of the Year and also “The President” nickname Bucks fans loved.
Brogdon also played the most amount of games in a single season with Milwaukee during his rookie campaign (75). He never reached 70 during his tenure as a Bucks player after that due to injury problems.
Last season, The President accomplished a feat only seven other players prior to him had done by joining the 50-40-90 club. He made at least 50 percent of his shots, shot at least 40 percent from three, and hit at least 90 percent of his free throws. Only Larry Bird, Mark Price, Steve Nash, Reggie Miller, Dirk Nowitzki, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant have done that at least once. That’s some elite company. And it could not have come at a more opportunistic time, as the Bucks won 60 games last year.
A late-season plantar fascia injury kept him out until near the end of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but picked up right where he left off. Brogdon put up a 13-point average on 45 percent shooting as well as five boards in his final seven games in Milwaukee.
The Pacers offered Brogdon a deal the Bucks chose not to match, so Milwaukee made a sign-and-trade deal with Indiana. And Brogdon is striving there. The President is averaging career highs in points (18.3), rebounds (4.5) and assists (7.6).
It’s not that Milwaukee did not want him back, either. Sometimes when it comes to contracts, things just don’t work out in the end. But Brogdon made a lasting impression during his time as a Buck. Just talk to the fans who cheered him on when he was introduced as a Pacers player for the first time in Milwaukee.
#1: Giannis Antetokounmpo – 2013, 15th overall
“With the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, the Milwaukee Bucks select Giannis Antetokounmpo, from Athens, Greece.”
Those words announced by former NBA commissioner David Stern is one of the best things that’s happened to the Bucks this decade.
Giannis, who once was a major project for Milwaukee, is now one of the best players in the universe. What else could you say about him? He didn’t start playing hoops until he was 12. He was drafted as an unknown at 18. But every year since, Giannis has improved his game unprecedentedly. His points have gone up. He’s snatching more rebounds. He’s dishing the ball more frequently. He’s shooting the ball better. He’s swatting balls away in the mightiest ways possible. His move set and foot work almost makes him impossible to defend. He dunks ferociously. He always tries his best on every possession, whether that’s offensively or defensively. He does it all in freakish ways.
Fans and media finally gave Giannis some national attention in 2017 when he earned his first All-Star bid when he was just 22. He averaged about 23 points per game and nine rebounds in his first year as an All-Star.
A year later, his scoring went up. And then again the following year. And then again this year. He went from averaging about seven points as an 18-year-old kid to 31 as the 25-year-old reigning MVP.
One aspect of his game that was not a strong suit for him for a long time were his jumpers, particularly 3-pointers. He never attempted more than three a game and shot mostly below 30 percent.
Well, it appears Giannis took his own 3-pt. issues personally. This year, he’s attempted the most triples (159) and is tied for second-most 3-pt. makes with Wesley Matthews (52 each) on the team. He’s hitting the long-distance shots at a 34 percent clip. Coach Mike Budenholzer wants the players to “let it fly,” and The Greek Freak is doing it without hesitation. He’s shooting spot-ups and pull-ups any time he wants. That’s scary.
But perhaps the one thing that defines Giannis the most is his love for the game. His work ethic is outstanding. He’s even said that during the off-season, he works out alone because he doesn’t want other players to figure out his game. And due to that, Giannis has gone toe-to-toe with the top tier NBA players and excelled. He’s outscored James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and even LeBron James just to name a few in games this year. The Greek Freak leads the NBA in player efficiency rating (33.85), second in the NBA in scoring, and sixth in rebounding. At one point he had 19 consecutive double-doubles. The things he can do are endless.
Giannis is the reigning MVP. He’s a three-time All-Star. He’s leading a team with the best record in the NBA. He is the face of the Bucks. He is arguably the face of Wisconsin sports. And he might just become the face of the NBA down the road. He has become what the Bucks hoped him to be and ran with it like he won the lottery. He is an unbelievable, hard-working, absolute freak of nature who will not stop until he becomes one of the greatest players ever.
Giannis, like the Bucks this decade, defines what unpredictable is all about.