It’s pretty undeniable that the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t just have one of the most dominant regular seasons in NBA history last year, but it was also one of the best seasons in franchise history outside of their 1970 NBA championship season. Since their dominant run in the 70s, this was only the second time since 1980 they won 60 games, and their run to the ECF was the furthest they’ve gone in a postseason since 2000. It started basically right away with a 7-0 start in October, a little bit of a struggle in November at 8-6, but from there they never had a month with less than 10 wins and never lost more than 6 games, including a stupid two month stretch in January/February where they went 22-4. That’s pretty good. It didn’t really matter who they played with a 40-12 record against the East and a 20-10 record against the West, and one thing we learned was you give this team a 10+ point lead and it’s a goddamn wrap for you. They were 45-5 in those games and an impressive and NBA leading 28-13 against teams over .500. Anyway you slice it the Bucks were as legit as they come and that’s why they enter this season with legit NBA Finals expectations. But before we get into all that, first we mustn relive this pretty dominant season
2018-19 Season Highlights
Now we can’t talk about how awesome the Bucks were all year without also mentioning their epic choke job in the ECF. It was all fun and games for Bucks fans to clown on the Celtics when they lost 4 straight in the second round, but then not so much fun when it was their own team that lost 4 in a row to lose to Toronto in 6. Giannis could only do so much by himself while also looking like an actual human at times, and Khris Middleton….woof. A guy that was literally incapable of missing any shot he took against BOS was downright terrible in that ECF outside of Game 4, which they still lost. It was a fairly historic postseason run for MIL which is what made that result so shocking
and honestly for a team that had a point differential of +10 for most of the season, it was one of the only times a team didn’t win a title or at least make the Finals. Only the 2015-16 Spurs did that. The others, the 2016 Warriors/2015 Warriors/2014 Warriors/2008 Celtics all won the title or made the Finals. Considering this was the first year with a new coach and a new system, you could certainly do a lot worse, but the big question now becomes was that a fluke or are the Bucks on the brink of becoming a legit monster? They enter next season with mostly the same roster
with some solid additions like Kyle Korver, Wes Matthews and Robin Lopez so chances are they are every bit as devastating as they were last year if not better since guys will be more comfortable with Coach Bud’s system. At $132,867,703 they have the 11th highest payroll in the league and this is before Giannis’ gigantic supermax extension. They sort of made their bed with the big Bledsoe/Middleton extensions so basically this is the group you’re going to see for the foreseeable future. The big question will be if George Hill/Eric Bledsoe can give them enough to make up for losing Malcolm Brogdon who was a really important piece to their success. Not a star or anything like that, but the man has ice in his veins and always seemed to make gigantic fourth quarter high pressure threes. Losing him isn’t insignificant.
But when you look at their offseason you see a team that made moves to only add to things they already do really well, which is kind of scary. For example outside shooting. This was a team that was 2nd in the NBA in 3PM, 2nd in 3PA, but 15th in 3P%. Well what do Kyle Korver and Wes Matthews do? Shoot the ball really well from deep. We already saw how much attention Giannis garners, well now how do you think it will look when they are kicking it out to a wide open Kyle Korver? I don’t care if he’s 50, the man can fucking shoot. This was a team that had the 2nd best defense in the league last year, and I don’t see that changing. Even swapping reserve big Thon Maker for someone like Robin Lopez shouldn’t be a negative, you may not have watched a ton of Bulls games but Lopez can more than hold his own on that end. It’s safe to say this is a team that doesn’t have a ton of holes which is why they have the 3rd best title odds in the league.
For me, what makes them terrifying is whatever level we’re about to see Giannis get to next. We all know his one “weakness” is his outside shot, well what if I told you that might soon be an area of his game that doesn’t limit him? I mean he shot 32.7% on 3.7 3PA with 1.2 3PM in the playoffs last season and it’s slowly but surely becoming more of a part of his game. Last year was a career high in 3P attempt rate at 16% so in my opinion it’s only a matter of time before the whole “make Giannis shoot” strategy has to be thrown out the window. The second you have to respect him as a jump shooter you are big time fucked because he’s going to just use his size/speed to go right around you. Combine respectable shooting with this
and yeah, good luck. Remember, this dude is 24 and not even close to being a finished product. If that doesn’t scare you as a fan of an opposing team, you’re lying.
But while Giannis is a sure thing, there are still huge questions about this team moving forward. First and foremost, can Khris Middleton be your #2 on a championship winning team. If you’re a Bucks fan and watched him during FIBA and you want to be honest with yourself you’d admit he stunk out loud. In fact both the Bucks that made Team USA were pretty terrible. Thankfully the Celtics on the team took most of the heat from the internet, but considering you just gave Middleton 5/177M it’s normal to be slightly concerned. Then you look at his postseason history and he’s a guy that was legit lights out last year, but it was against the Celtics, a team that for whatever reason he murders. You look at the rest of his playoff production and I dunno is this good enough as a #2 you just gave max money to?
This is not to say Middleton sucks, far from it. He’s an All Star caliber player, but for a team that is trying to get over the hump it’s fair to question if he’s the guy who can fill that role as Giannis’ sidekick once you get into a tough playoff series. Even if they get through the East and play someone like LAC in the Finals, what has Middleton shown that he can get the best of Kawhi?
Then there’s Eric Bledsoe, another super confusing player. He’s another main piece of this puzzle that also has struggled in the postseason since he arrived in MIL, last year especially with his 41/23% splits which were even worse at 29.8/16.4% in the ECF. You can’t say with absolute certainty that you know which Bledsoe you’re going to get in a series, and that’s dangerous. Again, not having Brogdon around anymore makes Bledsoe all that more important to this team’s postseason success, and I don’t know how you could be comfortable with that yet.
What we know is this new system should once again have this team at the top of their conference and one of the best teams in the NBA. They’re going to be a top 5 team again in pace, a top 5 team in catch & shoot situations, one of the more isolation heavy teams in the league since they have an unstoppable force in Giannis, and a team that is long as hell and absolute nails on the defensive end. But as we’ve seen, things can change when a team has REAL championship expectations. They’re still in a tier of their own within the Eastern Conference, and while they may not win 60 games again because that’s hard as shit to do in back to back seasons, the win total doesn’t really matter for them. It all comes down to their postseason play and if they can get over the hump and make a Finals. Anything other than that would be a massive disappointment.
Official Greenie Prediction: 57 wins