The Milwaukee Bucks are a Chick-Fil-A combo missing the waffle fries, or a new Drake banger missing the drumbeat. There’s something essential that’s missing about them when they otherwise should be great.
If you were to predict the league’s best player in 2021, Giannis Antetokounmpo might top the list. The 23-year-old is sensational right now, a superstar whose game doesn’t quite resemble anyone we’ve ever seen, and he’s only getting better. He improved in several categories this season, although though his very early buzz to be the MVP favorite quickly palpitated, he’ll still surely finish in the top-five voting.
Antetokounmpo isn’t on an island, or it doesn’t seem to be: the 26-year-old Khris Middleton is one of the league’s most underrated players; Malcolm Brogdon was an unusual Rookie of the Year last season but a promising young prospect all the same; Jabari Parker returned in the season’s second half; and the team even traded for Eric Bledsoe early in the year to add even more depth.
So why did this Milwaukee team finish just 44-38, secure only the No. 7 seed, and lose in the first round to a Boston Celtics team missing Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and for most of Game 7, Jaylen Brown?
That’s exactly what happened in the win-or-go-home matchup on Saturday, a 112-96 blowout that was never particularly close. Milwaukee hemorrhaged points during a hideous first quarter stretch that featured Matthew Dellavedova and Tyler Zeller playing together, and they treaded water at best the rest of the game. Even their blossoming star, Antetokounmpo, struggled mightily while scoring 22 points on 7-of-16 shooting.
Against this Boston team — undermanned and thus much less talented — that was simply unacceptable.
Why were the Bucks so disappointing?
The easy and partially accurate answer is the coaching. Jason Kidd was fired midseason, a late January move that briefly sparked the team only for them to trail back down to earth yet again. His stubborn refusal to stick with an overly aggressive defensive approach sunk him, and there was reportedly drama happening behind the scenes that influenced him being ousted, too.
The interim replacement, Joe Prunty, never appeared to leave his mark on the team, which isn’t totally unexpected. Prunty didn’t clean up the offense, and he didn’t markedly change the defense. Milwaukee still allowed too many open three-pointers and layups while failing to generate those shots consistently on the other end. The Celtics series certainly exposed the large coaching disparity between the teams.
Milwaukee has team-building issues, too, though. They were brought together with an extreme emphasis on length and wingspan, and a better coach should be able to harness those skills in a more capable defense. But they also need a better bench — that Shabazz Muhammad was able to be signed late in the season and then play heavy postseason minutes for them is inexcusable. As mentioned above, the one early stretch that truly sunk Milwaukee in Game 7 was a terrible bench lineup that failed to do much of anything.
The Bucks have two problems: that their extremely talented players weren’t properly used, and that they also had to rely on players that just weren’t talented enough. The twofold problem is their biggest offseason priority, and for Antetokounmpo’s sake, we hope they can fix it.
Good riddance to this year’s team, though.