The 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks undoubtedly centre round one man in Giannis Antetonkoumpo, and why wouldn’t they? He’s posting all-round numbers that are truly astounding, is picked by many to be this season’s MVP and is still growing in more ways than just his height and muscle mass.
He’s backed up nicely by his fellow score-heavy guard in Khris Middleton, who is again having a season that screams ‘how am I not an All-Star yet?!’. Coach Budenholzer’s offensive system has taken a liking to a dynamic shooter like Middleton as he spearheads the 3-point obsession for the team shooting more of them than any other in the league right now.
Besides the odd night out, these two are a consistent lock for an impact on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. They get the job done. They earn their keep. Anyone watching a Milwaukee Bucks game this season with a stat sheet in hand would agree.
But for a team winning as often as these Bucks, even two elite scorers isn’t enough to justify their current record. A start to the season likes this requires backup. It requires players to step up in ways we may ever have seen from them before.
And most importantly, it requires an X Factor.
An X Factor is that player who – although clearly isn’t the most important player on their team – plays such a role that when they are playing well, it appears to lift the rest of the team right along with them. It’s that player who goes the extra mile in ways that aren’t always recorded on the stat sheet. The one who demands the attention of the opposing team but not necessarily the media. The one whose absence would be realised a whole lot more than their presence.
When the X factor is ‘on’, the team is ‘on’.
And in a team like the Bucks – sporting a freakish Greek at the helm – an X Factor is so often essential for a championship run. We like to think Giannis and Middleton could achieve all of this success no matter the supporting cast, but the truth is there are role players in this team who they couldn’t live without. Let’s take a look at three of them right now and debate who the ultimate X Factor is for the 2018-19 Milwaukee Bucks.
Connaughton is the prime example of a player whose stats don’t necessarily reflect his value to this team. His second efforts on both the defensive and offensive end have become reflective of the team’s hustle at large and he’s quickly becoming a fan favourite because of it.
With athleticism that needs to be seen to be believed (don’t even get us started on his vertical leap numbers) the effectiveness of Connaughton’s play is so often compacted by the specific time of the game at which his eye catching plays occur. Whether they be second-attempt blocks at crucial times in the 4th quarter or hustle rebounds that allow Giannis to reload at crucial end-of-quarter situations, Connaughton can often be relied upon for giving the bucks a burst when its needed most. He truly is a pleasure to watch play the sport of basketball and the Bucks should be grateful to have him on a 2-year deal.
Through the 2018-19 season to date he is averaging 7.0 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game but with a player like Connaughton, there’s only one stat that matters most and that’s the Bucks position in the standings.
What an inclusion ‘Splash Mountain’ has been to this team. The not-so-secret weapon of the Bucks’ big-man-that-can-shoot-the-three-ball has been a big part of their success so far as he has established himself as yet another threat the opposing team can’t leave alone from outside.
In true X Factor style, when Brook is on, the Bucks are on. Exhibit A being his best shooting night in a Bucks uniform as he drained 8 threes against a tough Denver outfit on the 11th of November. But again, in true X Factor style, when Brook is off it can have a significant negative impact on the team’s ability to win. An 0-12 night from deep against a lowly Phoenix Suns team was a major contributor to the team’s loss on the 24th of November – a painful one to swallow for any Bucks fan.
Averaging 1.7 blocks and 4.0 rebounds per game don’t quite speak enough to the impact Lopez has on the defensive end, as he is typically an extraordinary barricade designed to block out opposing players from taking the rebounds that are rightfully the Greek Freak’s. That’s an X Factor for you, yet again contributing to success that isn’t necessarily tracked on the stat sheet.
It’s fair to say that between Giannis, Middleton and Bledsoe on any given night, at least one of them will have a stat line worth talking about for all the right reasons – and for any time that’s not the case, there is Mr. Bledsoe to fill the void.
Bledsoe appears to be a whole new man under Coach Bud, with improvements in the categories that reflect the new team-first mentality that was so desperately required for Bledsoe to take his game to the next level. His rebound average has improved from 3.9 with the Bucks last year to 4.5 this year and his assists have risen from 5.1 to 6.0, all whilst playing an average of two minutes less per game compared to last season.
As well and good as these stats – and please Eric, keep them coming – the real bonus for Bledsoe this season is his ability to impact the emotional and mental momentum of the team. So often we have been graced by a bicep flex after an and-1 or a screaming towards the crowd after a monumental play and it’s the exact type of killer attitude this Bucks team needs to succeed this year. It’s the opposite of the mentality Jabari Parker brought to the defensive end of the floor, and that can only be a good thing. To use words Bledsoe resonates with: ‘He wants to be here’ and we most certainly want him and his X Factor qualities here, too.
Who do you think is the real Milwaukee Bucks X Factor? Is it someone from this list, or someone else we missed? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!