Two years ago, Coach Jason Kidd fostered a collection of talented lanky wings into a playoff team. Despite a premature playoff exit those young wings have been recycled and refurbished into a dangerous collection of talent.
Through Christmas, the 2016 Milwaukee Bucks continue to grind through the purgatory of the Eastern Conference along with every team not named the Raptors or Cavaliers. Their lack of consistency has hidden their true potential. The Bucks are better than their 15-16 record this season, The Bucks are better than they were two years ago, and the Bucks are the most dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.
It seems to be blasphemous to go this long in an article about the Bucks without mentioning their all world superstar; Giannis Antetokounmpo. When Giannis plays well, the Bucks pass the eye test as one of the best teams in the NBA.
Giannis has made great strides, both literally and figuratively, in improving his overall game. A modest 28% from behind the arc for most wings would deem you unplayable in today’s NBA, but his unmatched versatility is what keeps him on the floor.
Antetokounmpo has a chance to become the fifth player in NBA history to lead their team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Unlike Lebron James and Kevin Garnett, two of the four that have accomplished that feat, Giannis is playing next to someone that can be just as lethal as the Greek Freak.
Former number two overall pick Jabari Parker has clearly recovered from tearing his ACL two years ago. Averaging 19 points a game, Parker has continued to evolve himself into the kind of player he was expected to be coming out of Duke.
His explosiveness and ability to score, now from anywhere on the court (37% from three improved from 25% in 2015), adds a go to scorer to supplement the Greek Freak’s versatility. These two wings alone are enough to force LeBron to resort to taking 35 foot three pointers in order to defeat this dynamic duo the last time they faced on December 20.
Often championship teams are constructed around a trio of talented players. Even though Giannis’s wingspan alone can amount for an extra person person, the Bucks are missing their sharpshooting guard Khris Middleton due to a torn hamstring.
With the loss of an 18 point scorer, the Bucks haven’t lost a beat offensively, ranking fourth in assists per game and second in points a game. The Kidd era Bucks have never been an offensive juggernaut the likes of the Warriors and the Cavaliers, but a stingy defense (fourth in opposing three point percentage) and a modest 35% clip from three has kept them close to .500 so far this season.
The reason for optimism in Milwaukee is the ace in the hole that is Greg Monroe. Monroe’s numbers have continually gotten worse since his arrival from Detroit. However, the reemergence of star talent at the center position has made having 7 footers that take up space in the paint cool again. At the same time, Monroe’s lack of lateral quickness and shot blocking ability will scare the same teams that need his kind of presence down low.
At the end of the day, Monroe is an NBA talent that someone will want to give away significant talent for. Whether it’s Elfrid Payton in Orlando or Will Barton in Denver, the addition of a quality playmaker to boost a 25th ranked backcourt in terms of scoring would make the Bucks that much more dangerous in half court and take pressure off their two young wings.
Whether it be this year as an eight seed matching up with Cleveland, or next year in a four vs. five matchup, with Jabari and Giannis growing as a tandem, the Bucks are becoming slowly becoming a team to be reckoned with in the East.