The Milwaukee Bucks today are not the Bucks of five years ago.
In recent years, the team has transformed from lower-middle tier Eastern Conference also-rans to one of the most fun teams in basketball, anchored by the game’s most exciting new superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The last time the Bucks had a player of this caliber, it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who left for Los Angeles in 1975.
And though the Bucks bowed out of the playoffs early last year (losing in the first round to the Boston Celtics), they did so with an interim head coach. This year, Mike Budenholzer takes over, having impressed the Bucks’ brass with the fact that he is not Jason Kidd. With Bud calling the shots, the team may have a real chance to realize its full potential and compete in a now LeBron-less Eastern Conference.
The regular season kicks off this week, so here’s a quick rundown of what’s new, what’s not, and what’s next in Cream City.
Well for starters, the Bucks will play their home games somewhere other than the BMO Harris Bradley Center for the first time since 1988. The palatial Fiserv Forum opened in August, creating a modern home for a postmodern basketball team. Plus, it has a beer garden, which will surely be a fun hangout for those sweltering January nights.
The Bucks didn’t make a ton of roster moves this offseason, but they did bring in a little fresh blood. They signed veteran swingman Ersan Ilyasova, a fan favorite former Buck, and big man Brook Lopez. The latter, pictured below, is remarkably efficient on offense, especially considering the fact that he’s seven feet tall. Lopez has averaged double-digit scoring in his career — 17.9 points! for a center! — in addition to nearly seven rebounds and two blocks a game. And Milwaukee used its lone draft pick on former Villanova standout Donte DiVincenzo, a sharpshooter who could develop into a useful bench player.
The biggest change in personnel, however, is on the sidelines. Expectations are high for new boss Budenholzer, formerly the Atlanta Hawks coach. He has a reputation as a defensive savant, having turned the Hawks into competitors by forcing teams to out-defend them. Best-case scenario, Coach Bud applies the same philosophy to the Bucks, weaponizing their freaky length and forcing opponents to beat them on both ends of the court.
Plus, 23-year-old Jabari Parker’s 43-year-old knees are now the Chicago Bulls’ problem.
Two words: Giannis. Antetokounmpo.
2017’s Most Improved Player is a 2019 frontrunner for MVP, as another superhuman season is expected from the 23-year-old. And he’s been stellar in the preseason, too: Last weekend The Greek Freak notched a triple-double against the soap opera that is the Minnesota Timberwolves. And he did it in just 25 minutes.
Giannis is the definition of a true combo forward, able to dominate both in the paint and the backcourt. But luckily he’s had some of the load taken off him in the past season, thanks to last year’s addition of veteran point guard Eric Bledsoe to run the offense. Likewise, shooting guard Khris Middleton has been steadily breaking out the past few years, and this season he’ll be looking to cement his place as one of the league’s elite.
The runway seems to have cleared enough for the Bucks to really take off. For the first time in his career, LeBron James will be playing outside of the Eastern Conference. Without James’ singular dominance, the East is suddenly a wide-open field. Though playing catch up to the Celtics and 76ers, the Bucks are seen as a team that could fill that vacuum. And with Budenholzer at the helm, they enter a new era of competitiveness.
And once for the culture, fuck Mike Dunleavy. Always.