If you haven’t been paying as much attention to the Bucks this year, well, I understand.
After last season’s historic 27-win improvement and the offseason addition of low-post brute Greg Monroe, expectations were understandably higher this year. Alas, the young Bucks have seemingly crashed back down to earth, especially defensively. Milwaukee sports a 26-38 record and is seven games back of the eighth-seeded Bulls in the Eastern Conference standings, a far cry from last season’s sixth-place finish. Things haven’t been exactly peaches and cream in Milwaukee.
If you scratch beneath the surface, however, there are plenty of positive takeaways from this season. Honestly, this year was never about making the playoffs, even if expectations dictated otherwise. Milwaukee’s mantra is “Own the Future” for a reason, and the front office has been smart in building a core for the future while still staying competitive in the present. So if you haven’t been watching, you’ve probably missed a few things.
Recently, you’ve missed one of the most exciting developments of the 2015-2016 season: Giannis Antetokounmpo, point guard extraordinaire. With Bucks’ point guard Michael Carter-Williams done for the season, and Greivis Vazquez still recovering from foot surgery, Jason Kidd has been forced to get creative with his offensive scheme. Since OJ Mayo and Jerryd Bayless are more combo-guard than point guard, and without trust in youngster Tyler Ennis, Kidd has decided to put the ball in the hands of his two best players: Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The results have been… impressive. It started a few weeks ago, when Giannis recorded his first ever triple-double, stealing the spotlight during Kobe’s last appearance in Milwaukee. He did it all that night, finishing with 27 points (12-17 shooting), 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals and 4 blocks (MCW did actually play that night). Then, three games later, Giannis had his second career triple-double in an exciting home win over the Rockets, dropping 18 points (7-13 shooting), 16 rebounds, 11 assists, 4 steals and 2 blocks.
After another three game intermission, Giannis was back at it again with his third career triple-double in only seven games (he was one rebound shy from his fourth the night before). He dropped 26 points (8-20 shooting), 12 rebounds, 10 assists, 4 blocks and 3 steals. I think you get the point. Do yourself a favor and watch some of these highlights. You’re probably used to the euro-stepping dunks and Superman blocks, but the cross-court passes and playmaking abilities are something entirely different to behold. His shot clearly still needs work, but that too has noticeably improved.
It’s true, there is still plenty that needs to get worked out. The Bucks are 3-5 over this stretch, though every team they’ve lost to is a playoff contender, and they’ve allowed at least 100 points in every single one. And that’s okay! Milwaukee is in the curiously advantageous position in which they are trying to win and be competitive, and yet if they lose it simply means a better draft pick that will help shape this team’s future. There are as many positive aspects to winning as there are to losing, at least at the moment.
One of the best and most promising developments has been Giannis’ connection with Jabari Parker, and it’s something that should have the rest of the league on alert. They’re both improving game by game, and they’re developing a high-octane chemistry that has serious potential. It’s no coincidence that since Kidd has unleashed Giannis at the point, we’ve witnessed easily Parker’s best stretch of ball as a pro. Over the last month, Jabari has bested his career high three times (23, then 28, then 36), and has seemingly transformed from a raw rookie into a blossoming star overnight.
His per-game averages over that stretch? 19.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 38.1 minutes while shooting 50% from the field. These numbers are a far cry from his pre-All-Star break numbers, which were 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, .8 steals, 28.8 minutes and 48.8% shooting. His turnovers are down, he’s being efficient while taking more shots, he’s getting to the line more, and he’s even hit a few threes. He is simply better at everything. And a lot of this starts with Giannis feeding him the ball in rhythm, where he doesn’t have enough time to overthink his next move or shot. They’re simply playing together, feeding off one another’s pace and athleticism, and they’re having fun while doing it. And this is only the beginning.
The truth is, we’ve only scratched the surface of the potential of these two, but more specifically Giannis. I can’t stress enough how insane it is that he recorded his first three career triple-doubles while only having the reigns of the offense for about six games. Just imagine an entire season, in an offense that is actually able to space the floor with shooters. And then remember that he’s 21. He’s on trajectory to be a seven-foot Russell Westbrook, the likes of which the league has never even glimpsed before. The sky truly is the limit with this team. So don’t panic Bucks fans, the future is still as bright as it ever was. Blindingly so.