As fans already look beyond the first round towards the ultimate goal of winning a championship, many hurdles remain in the Milwaukee Bucks path.
The city of Milwaukee remains on edge. Desperately wishing for the Milwaukee Bucks to advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001. If one has never fully understood why mobs of berserk fans flip cars and riot after a sports championship, take a look at Milwaukee. Thousands of fans eagerly waiting to erupt. And the best part is, it’s only round one.
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A first-round victory would be fantastic for this city and basketball franchise, but one must also consider the realistic chances the Bucks have at making a deep run into the playoffs. While this team is stacked full of intriguing facets, a steep climb to a potential NBA championship remains in front of them. Don’t forget that this new young corps has yet to win even 45 games in a regular season and the likes of LeBron James remains in the same conference.
The doomed reality is, unless you’re starting a true NBA superstar, you already find yourself at an extreme disadvantage. Luckily, few teams have discovered alternative routes to cracking the championship code. But it wasn’t until 2014, when then-ESPN writer, Bill Simmons put these ideas to paper.
The 2011 Mavericks won the title with a veteran team built around a spectacular coach (Rick Carlisle), an elite rim protector (Tyson Chandler), an elite perimeter defender (Shawn Marion), an elite heat-check guy (Jason Terry), quality 3-point shooting (39.4 percent and 184 made 3s in 21 playoff games), savvy team defense and one historically good scorer with crunch-time chops (Dirk Nowitzki).
Remarkable NBA coaches are so easily overlooked in today’s NBA landscape. In the past 15 seasons, only 6 coaches have won an NBA title without having a LeBron, Kobe, or Shaq on roster. These include the aforementioned Carlisle, Gregg Popovich, Larry Brown, Pat Riley, Doc Rivers, and Steve Kerr. That’s a pretty good list.
Riley won’t let you forget how many rings he has, as Popovich endures as the Greek God of coaching basketball. Those left remain a solid list of coaches, but one would not classify as spectacular. They were, instead, fortunate enough to surround themselves with ridiculous talent. Larry Brown of course with the 2004 Pistons, Rivers with the Big-3 Celtics, and Kerr most recently with the Splash Brothers Warriors.
That 2007-08 Boston team is the model the Milwaukee Bucks should strive for. A top-10 offense, but more importantly the top-rated defense in the league. That team had everything. Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins in the starting lineup as a solid defensive foundation, bolstered further with a young Tony Allen and Glenn Davis coming off the bench. Paul Pierce is a buzzer beater master, and Ray Allen hasn’t missed a three-point shot since he was 12-years-old.
That group fits Simmons’ criteria almost perfectly. Doc Rivers is a top-10 coach in the league today; Jason Kidd is not. But as Kidd continues to mature as a coach, the young team around him progresses in development; leaving a hopeful, yet very cloudy future.
The roster is clearly more important, but drastic improvement must be made. This season, Milwaukee ranks 13th offensively, but holds a “Wait, this team is in the PLAYOFFS?!” defensive ranking of 19th in the league. That’s terrible.
Milwaukee is also without an elite rim protector. Greg Monroe has his moments, but is on the wrong end of a changing NBA spectrum. Fans need to pray that rookie Thon Maker turns into the next Garnett (and can shoot threes!). Luckily, hope endures as the 20-year-old averages 20 minutes in the playoffs.
As alluded to before, consistent defense remains a concern. With Khris Middleton coming back from injury this season, Tony Snell has taken over as the team’s top perimeter defender. Having both in place provides a solid corps, but finds itself looking up at the list of top NBA defenders.
“Hey, wait! We have Jason Terry!” Unfortunately, Milwaukee is half a decade too late on this deal, as his contributions off the bench are limited. Now for those unaware, the basketball term “Heat Check” refers to a player on fire, simply shooting out of his mind. But without fail, instead of shooting the same shots that are producing, this player will ultimately attempt a shot he should miss. Whether draped in defensive coverage, or the more frequent deep-range three, for some reason this player needs to learn if they’ve accidentally stepped into basketball God status.
The heat check is a lost art in the NBA as not too many players do this anymore. The prime examples are Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook, who seemingly attempt this once a game.
Milwaukee doesn’t have anyone like this. When drafted, the hope was that Rashad Vaughn would turn into this type of player, but his 32 percent beyond the arc in limited minutes off the bench leaves much to be desired. When Giannis starts rolling in his midrange game, he’ll eventually gain the confidence to sneak an ill-advised three.
Milwaukee does not have that go-to game winning shot guy. We’ve seen buzzer beaters from Middleton, Giannis, and even rookie Malcolm Brogdon. Now it certainly doesn’t hurt having other options, but the NBA is old-school in this way. When the game is on the line, who do you want to have the ball? The Bucks seem unsure of who that guy is.
Holding an incredibly promising and exciting team, Milwaukee certainly has the talent for the city’s first-round playoff victory since 2001. But as fans look beyond towards that ultimate goal of winning a championship, many hurdles remain in the Bucks path.