Before tipoff on Wednesday, October 5, 2016, the hype around this Milwaukee Bucks team was conservative. There was a buzz around number 10 overall pick and rookie phenomenon Thon Maker. Giannis and Jabari were poised to be an exciting combo. Khris Middleton had made leaps the season before. And head coach Jason Kidd had created some excitement by trying Giannis at multiple positions.
After Middleton tore his hamstring and Carter-Williams was sent making for Tony Snell, it felt like another season to grow, rather than make waves. Missing their stud scorer in Middleton, the Bucks posted a dismal 4-12 record between January 4 and February 8, and it looked like they’d be on the outside looking in. All that could save their hopes was the return of Middleton on the eve February 8. What was meant to be a celebration for the return of a fan favorite turned into a devastating winter’s night as Jabari Parker, on the night of Middleton’s return, tore his ACL and would be finished for the season.
That was supposed to be it. That was supposed to be the nail in the coffin, the final kick in the stomach, the last Jenga piece removed to topple the tower. Historically, any team to lose a bonafide scorer and leader during preseason, only to lose their second best player by midseason, is toast. Those types of cursed occurrences should oust any team from league memory. But, this team should not be forgotten.
During the month of March, just three weeks after losing their anchor in Jabari Parker, the Bucks were playing their best basketball of the year, posting a 14-4 record. Malcolm Brogdon, an early second round pick, was making a convincing run at rookie of the year, something no one expected out of him, and Thon Maker was looking like an A-1 defender at 20-years-old. Giannis was carrying out his normal shtick by leading the team in every major statistic, one of only five players in NBA history to ever do so. Parker was missed, but the Bucks took the age old cliché “never give in” and adopted it with ferocity, so this face was no rarity.
At season’s end, the Bucks had wrapped up the 6 seed, and would face a fearsome Toronto team in the first round. Before the playoffs began, analysts at FiveThirtyEight gave the Bucks a 23 percent chance to advance to the conference semis, and a nine percent chance to move to the conference finals. Although both remain to be seen, if history is any indicator, the Bucks will do all they can to defy expectations, and keep the jaw dropping highlights, like the one below, coming.
GET OUT OF THIS GREEK GOD’S WAY YOU PUNY MORTAL HUMANS ⚡️ pic.twitter.com/X3F5DIzkTo
— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) April 15, 2017
In essence, regardless of whether or not the Deer take the first round, this year should go down as a raging success. The strides in confidence this team has made are unquantifiable, and will, without a doubt, carry into next season. If this is the kind of production we can expect from relatively unpolished talent, the mind cannot comprehend the potential in the coming years, and to give these young and upcoming studs playoff experience now is unequivocally invaluable. Even though a leap forward was anticipated, injuries should have derailed a promising season. Certainly nothing like this should have been the end result, but then again, that’s what was expected, and all who counted out the young Bucks are certainly eating their words now.