When I look back at this season there was only one word that truly came to mind. Hope. I can confidently say for the first time in my life that the Milwaukee Bucks have arrived. No more 30 to 40 win seasons. Gone are the days of riding old veterans trying to milk the last few years of their careers. The Bucks are here to stay.
Chapter 1 – The Preseason
At the beginning of the season we were picked by Bleacher Report to finish 34-48 as the 13th best team in the East. Here’s what the “experts” had to say.
“Though there’s little doubt that growth from Giannis Antetokounmpo and the other youngsters will improve the Bucks’ fortunes, until this team figures out its Greg Monroe problem, it’ll be tough to make the gargantuan leap necessary for the Eastern Conference playoffs. “
Expectations were low, with K Mid injured and out for at least half the season, the Bucks were starring mediocrity in the face. Giannis was unproven, with a line of 17 pts, 8 reb and 4 assists per game in 2015-16. There were doubts about Jabari, who was coming back off of a torn ACL. There were questions in the middle with the lack of production from our signing of Monroe the year prior. Just all kinds of question marks. The team had no leader and seemed to have no identity.
Chapter 2 – November Through February 7
November was promising for the young Bucks. Wins over the Pacers, Grizzlies and Cavs showed what the Bucks could be. Giannis and Jabari were both averaging near 20 points and six or more rebounds a game and Milwaukee was 8-8.
Then came December. Giannis won Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors in the first week. Antetokounmpo averaged 24.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 3.7 steals and 3.0 blocks per game during the week while leading the Bucks to a perfect 3-0 record. Enter Malcom Brogdon. Brogdon was a second round pick out of Virginia. That means that every team, including Milwaukee passed on him at least once. Nobody could pass on the highlights he had against Cleveland on December 20 when he posterized Kyrie and LeBron. It was at this moment where “The President” began his run at Rookie of the Year honors. Still, Milwaukee was missing something.
January began with Giannis being on the cover of Sports Illustrated, something that hasn’t been done by a Buck in quite some time. He was labeled as “The Most Intriguing Point Guard in NBA History”. The Milwaukee hype was quickly dissipated as the Bucks went 10-16 over the next two months.
Chapter 3 – February 8th 2017
This was the return, the time for change, Middleton is back and the Bucks are ready to turn it around. Fast forward to the third quarter….. Jabari is laying on the hardwood in obvious pain and discomfort. All of Milwaukee was silent. Every pair of eyes on the wincing Parker as his teammates helped him off the floor. It didn’t take long for people to assume the worst. All of our fears were realized the next day when it was announced that Jabari had in fact torn his ACL, again. Parker averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.0 steals in 33.9 minutes per game. It seemed as though the Bucks, 22-29 at the time, were done. Even with Middleton back it was questionable if he could get back to midseason for with the playoff push on the horizon and with two rookies in the starting rotation it seemed as though Milwaukee would be looking at another Top 10 draft pick.
Chapter 4 – The All Star Break and Playoff Push
For the first time since 2004 the Bucks had an All Star. Their first starter since 1986. Giannis shined in the bright lights of New Orleans scoring 30 in the game with a couple of impressive dunks. Giannis had arrived and was ready to lead. Something about that weekend changed Milwaukee. We were 25-30 at the time but with Giannis emerging as a superstar the Bucks looked to shake things up in the East.
Beginning in March the Bucks were a different team. They were starting for the most part, a pair of rookies. Brogdon was known for the LeBron/Kyrie posterization but then there was Thon Maker. Maker was a question mark for most in the starting rotation. He provided a stretch center who could shoot from outside. He did a good job keeping big men out of the paint early in games and could hit big shots late. Even though he started the final three months of the year, Maker averaged only 13 minutes a game. That’s were Gregg Monroe came in. Monroe would find himself often guarding bench players. He used his size and post moves to terrorize second stringers and gave Milwaukee a much needed boost from the bench.
Defensively, it was the play of Middleton, Snell and Delly that helped the Bucks through the back half of their season. Snell proved even at 25 he could help shut down opposing shooters. He did lose minutes due to being a liability on the offensive side. Delly, who was the Buck’s biggest signing this past offseason, was in charge of pacing the game. He did a good job of on-ball defense and not letting the game get too fast for the young roster. Then there was Middleton. He may have not been the offensive spark plug some expected but when he was on the floor Milwaukee just flat out played better. He did a great job with controlling opposing offenses and was a sniper from behind the arc shooting 43%.
The young Bucks went on to go 17-10 after the All Star Break and were awarded the sixth seed in the East. A playoff series was set with Toronto.
Chapter 5 – Postseason
In a game where it looked as thought Giannis may as well have been LeBron, the Bucks dominated. In the second half Milwaukee looked like a Varsity team beating on a JV squad. Milwaukee outrebounded and outplayed a Raptors team that just looked lost. Monroe off the bench scored 14 pts and grabbed 15 boards as his counterpart Maker swatted three shot attempts in only 15 minutes. Milwaukee ended up only surrendering 32 points in the entire second half.
Milwaukee had no answer for the deep ball in game two. Countless times the Raptors would set a ball screen up top and force Milwaukee to double team leaving shooters open everywhere. Milwaukee had a real chance to make this 2-0 heading back to Milwaukee but instead would have to return to Toronto for the eventual Game 5.
Game three brought with it all kinds of excitement. Milwaukee was hosting a playoff game again with a chance to take the lead in the series. The Bucks started incredibly fast jumping out to a 20 point lead and at the end of the third quarter they led 78-46. The Bucks had six players in double figures and Tony Snell held Demar DeRozan to eight points, all off of free throws. Milwaukee could make it 3-1 with another win.
Sometimes players get cold and their whole team can’t quite figure it out. That was Game 4 in a nutshell as Milwaukee got beat 87-76 in a game where they shot 37% from the field. Giannis looked exhausted and the Bucks had to return to Toronto for Game 5.
There are times where you can see that one team is just flat out better than the other. Toronto proved in Game Five that even though Milwaukee may be better skill wise than the Raptors, we were still young. A host of bad turnovers and questionable shot selections led to Milwaukee getting beat by 25. The Bucks had one more shot to defend their home turf and force a Game 7.
In a game where nothing seemed right for the Bucks in the first half only scoring 38 points and looking flat at home the Bucks found themselves starring elimination in the face. After DeMarre Carroll’s three with 5:16 left in the third the Bucks found themselves down 71-46. Most young teams would phone it in and call it quits. Not Milwaukee. Slowly they began to chip away at the lead. Delly, Middleton and Snell each ended the quarter with a three of their own and the Bucks were suddenly down 13 going into the fourth. The fourth started slow and with 8:37 left in the quarter Coach Jason Kidd was hit with a technical foul with Milwaukee being down ten. A rookie move for the young head coach. With four minutes left the Bucks had the ball down four when Middleton hit a three and got the foul. Normally he’s money in this situation but he missed his free throw. Then a minute later Jason “The Jet” Terry drills a three and the comeback was complete. 25 points down no longer, the Bucks had the lead. The final two minutes were a slew of bad offensive sets, turnovers and easy baskets as the Bucks fell 92-89. The season was over. 18 of 28 from the line in this game.
Chapter 6 – Looking Forward
What the 2016-17 Milwaukee Bucks proved was that they were an incredible young team. They turned a pair of nobody rookies into a playoff starter and a Rookie of the Year candidate. They took a skinny six foot eleven inch Greek homeless kid into the NBA’s next big thing. We took our “burden” of a center and turned him into a Sixth Man of the Year candidate. Now there are things that need to happen to continue this rise as a team. First they need to hope that Monroe opts in on his final year of his contract. Second, they need to hope that Jabari can defy the odds and return sometime in the middle of next year. The third and final thing is what I think the icing on the cake is for any good sports team. That’s consistency. If Milwaukee can be the team that played over the final three months of the season then there’s no reason that we can’t win 50 games next year. We have a star, roll players and vets. Now we need to put together one complete season to see if the Bucks can become a true force in the Eastern Conference.