The Uncertain Future of The Milwaukee Bucks

This past off-season The Milwaukee Bucks took a huge swing for the fences when they brokered a deal to acquire 8 time All-Star and sniper extraordinaire Damian Lillard. The deal sent out a package centered around Jrue Holiday, and signaled to Giannis Antetokounmpo that anything less than top tier contention was unacceptable. But regardless of the clear talent upgrade of swapping Jrue Holiday for Damian Lillard, the deal still came with a fair amount of risk, specifically because of the potential for defensive slippage that could come along as a byproduct of the move. Still, defensive concerns aside, reactions to the deal were mostly postive from sources around the league, with some even going as far as to compare the potential of the newly minted duo to the all-time 1-2 punch of Shaq and Kobe.

Following the Bucks busy offseason—which also included them promoting longtime assistant Adrian Griffin, to take the reins as Head Coach—they were widely considered to be as talented and primed for contention as any other team in the East, if not the league. Unfortunately however, after stumbling out of the gate, and failing to conjure up any sort of a defensive identity, the Bucks absolutely smashed the panic button, and fired Adrian Griffin, moving on to longtime Head Coach Doc Rivers to right the ship.

So far, the results haven’t been great. Since the hiring of Doc Rivers, the Bucks are 6-7, and despite an impressive recent win over the West-leading T-Wolves, something still feels off. The talent is clearly there, but if coach Rivers isn’t able to implement a system and scheme that gets the most out of the clearly talented Bucks’ roster, then they’ll likely continue to struggle with inconsistency, and ultimately come up short once the playoffs roll around.

Finding and maintaining a defensive identity is clearly the Bucks number one priority as they continue to round into form in hopes of a deep playoff run, but the offensive fit between Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard should continue to be monitored. On paper, the basketball fit between the two stars seems like a match-made-in-heaven. Lillard seems like the perfect Robin to Giannis’ Batman. The combination of Giannis’ dominant interior scoring should meld seamlessly with the all-time great perimeter scoring of Dame.

Unfortunately however, while the duo’s fit hasn’t been bad—by any measurement—it certainly hasn’t fully lived up to the hype just yet. There have been moments, certainly, where the chemistry between Dame and Giannis seems poignant and dangerous, but there have also been consistent instances of stagnation and on-court clunkiness. While Giannis has continued to put up MVP numbers—30.8 ppg, 11.3 rpg, and 6.4 apg—Dame’s numbers are down across the board in his first year in Milwaukee. In order for the Bucks to reach their full potential, its two megastars may have to learn how to more equitably share the load.

Despite all the clear imperfections and shortcomings of the current makeup of the Bucks roster, I do believe high-level talent trumps all in the NBA and the Bucks will eventually figure it out. Although the transition from Adrian Griffin to Doc Rivers has been anything but smooth, there is still just enough time—roughly a third of the season left—to smooth out the kinks and build enough team chemistry to reassert themselves back at the title contender’s table. Whether that means they’ll figure it out enough to beat a juggernaut like the Celtics in a seven game series is a fair question, but I’m willing to bet they will figure it out enough to at least be able to meet them in the Eastern Conference Finals. Anything less than that, has to be considered an immense organizational failure at all levels.

As much of an up and down season as the Bucks have had so far, they are very much still in the hunt for the East’s number two seed. And if Doc Rivers is able to conjure up some of that same magic he did with the ‘08 Celtics, there’s no reason to believe the Bucks aren’t capable of getting hot at the right time and making a real push for the Championship. All-World players win playoff games and series, and there aren’t too many teams out there that can rival the All-World duo of Dame and Giannis. Once the playoffs begin, if the Bucks are clicking and have any sort of momentum built up, it will most certainly be time to “Fear The Deer”.

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