The Bucks From Afar

While the 2015-16 Bucks have struggled mightily, a conversation about the team while traveling in Asia reveals a much sunnier bigger picture. Plus: stats of the week, what to read and much more.

So, I am writing this from Asia, where I am doing some sightseeing and preparing for my brother’s wedding. I want to share a story from here and although we have been wearing plenty of Milwaukee and Wisconsin apparel, I assure you that my story is not as cheesy as saying someone saw me wearing a Bucks t-shirt and started up a conversation with me about Giannis Antetokounmpo, and thus the Bucks are a worldwide brand. Hopefully, the story can be a little bit more enlightening.

Yesterday, while helping prepare for the wedding, I drank a few beers and talked with two of my brother’s friends from the United States. Both originally have Wisconsin ties, but have moved elsewhere in the country. One resides in Philadelphia, while the other lives in Seattle.

While catching up, they both asked me about what I was doing, which inevitably led to a conversation about the Bucks. I started to describe how the season was going and how much the Bucks have been struggling and how Greg Monroe didn’t really fit and how the defense was bad and how the Bucks don’t really shoot a lot of threes…and, at this point, I realized they had sort of stopped caring. One of them said, “Well, this year doesn’t really matter, right? Aren’t they more worried about the future? Giannis is putting up numbers, right?”

I, of course, responded positively to that prompt, but then launched into a plethora of caveats detailing Antetokounmpo’s recent bout with confidence problems, his lack of outside shooting, his seeming stagnation as a creator…and, once again, I had managed to put a glazed over look on both of their faces. With one of them responding, “His numbers are better than last year though, right? So, that’s a positive step. How does Jabari look?”

Obviously, as I am wont to do, I went into entirely too much detail and brought up Parker’s struggles on defense, his problems with his jump shot, his problems getting the same lift on his jump shot, and his insistence on taking a few steps before each catch he makes on the offensive end…and, as you can probably guess, I saw an all too familiar look on each of their faces. One of them said, “Some of that probably has to do with his injury though, right? And he hasn’t even played an NBA season yet, right?”

I nodded in the affirmative to both retorts before he said, “At least you don’t have to write about the Sixers. They can’t do anything right. Hinkie wrecked the entire organization. Brown seems like a smart coach, but that team is such a mess. I mean, they just signed Carl Landry and play him 15 minutes a night.”

At this comment, my brother’s other friend jumped in and said, “You both actually have NBA teams in your city! Seattle doesn’t have one and they would do just about anything to get one. Those people are passionate about their sports and it kills them not to have one. Speaking of that, did the Bucks figure out their arena?”

Again, I nodded again and he responded, “That’s good. The plans looked awesome and that could really help out the city, but they’re lucky they figured that out. Seattle would have snatched up an available NBA team.”

Our conversation continued for a while longer and devolved into topics less relevant for this column, but the look on their faces as I described the Bucks’ “problems” stuck with me. There are certainly plenty of problems with this Bucks team and many of them seem very serious to Bucks fans that live and die with every shot, but, from afar, those problems seem much more trivial. Milwaukee has a NBA team with two young, recognizable, possibly franchise-altering players and that’s a lot more than many other franchises.

Clip of the Week

While this might not seem like the most spectacular play, it is worth noting that Khris Middleton has become a much more effective and willing passer this season. I don’t know if it’s necessarily a surprise, but his continued development has been a very welcome development for the future of the Bucks.

What to Read

Report: Jason Kidd is Bucks’ De Facto General Manager – Before Christmas, Adrian Wojnarowski had former Nets assistant general manager Bobby Marks on his podcast and they discussed the Bucks. In their conversation about the Bucks, they talked about a number of topics, all of which Dan Feldman at Pro Basketball Talk transcribed two weeks later.

Here’s hoping 2016 is the Year of Angry Giannis – Brew Hoop’s Dan Sinclair penned a beautiful plea for more of the version of Giannis Antetokounmpo that talks trash to opponents, dunks all over them, and dominates games.

Bucksketball Roundtable: Seven questions facing the Bucks entering 2016: The Bucksketball crew took a look at some of the interesting topics that should define the rest of the Bucks season. The last two questions (and answers) are particularly interesting.

(Two) Weeks in Review

Wednesday, December 23 – The Bucks took care of business against the Sixers and put together a 113-100 victory in Joe Prunty’s first game leading the Bucks while Jason Kidd recovers from hip surgery. Giannis Antetokounmpo (22 points, six assists, five rebounds, two steals, and two blocks) and Khris Middleton (21 points, six assists, five rebounds, and two steals) had huge games and put up nearly identical stat lines.

Saturday, December 26 – The Bucks entered the third quarter with a three-point lead over the Raptors and left for the start of their road trip with a 111-90 loss. After some cold shooting in the first three quarters, the Raptors hit eight of their ten three-point attempts in the fourth quarter to pull away from the Bucks in the final period.

Monday, December 28 – Bucks fans were forced to immediately confront the moves their team had made during the offseason as Greg Monroe struggled and Zaza Pachulia scored nine points in the first nine minutes of the Bucks outing against the Mavericks. Things did not end up getting much better as Milwaukee fell 103-93 to Dallas.

Tuesday, December 29 – Despite a career-high 36 points and a stretch in which he scored ten straight Bucks points to pull the Bucks within two points of the Thunder, Khris Middleton just could not do enough to get Milwaukee a victory in a frenetic 131-123 loss in Oklahoma City.

Thursday – The Bucks were ready to help out fans in Milwaukee and Indianapolis with New Year’s Eve by giving Bucks fans a reason to celebrate and Pacers fans a reason to drink. The Bucks secured a double digit lead halfway through the third quarter and nearly gave it away with turnovers late in the game, but ultimately pulled out a 120-116 victory.

Saturday – In the battle of the North’s two celebrated young teams, the Bucks were able to come out on top with a 95-85 victory over the Timberwolves. Antetokounmpo and Parker were in double figures, but it was Bucks bigs Greg Monroe (19 points, 10 rebounds) and John Henson (15 points) that really shined.

Monday – After a victory over one of the league’s youngest teams, the ever-wise Spurs came into Milwaukee and taught the young Bucks a few lessons in a 123-98 loss. In the teams’ first meeting, the Spurs won with their excellent defense, but this time around, it was the Spurs’ offense that shined.

Tuesday – In the first game of the I-94 battle, the Bucks came out flat and let the Bulls run out to a 16-4 lead. Despite getting a little bit closer a few times throughout the game, the Bucks eventually fell 117-106. Former Marquette star Jimmy Butler was the game’s top performer with 32 points and ten assists.

Next Week’s Preview

Friday – Just 11 days after playing the Mavericks in Dallas, the Bucks will welcome them to the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Wesley Matthews hit some big threes late in the teams’ first meeting, so the Bucks will have to see if they can do a better job closing out the three-point line in the second meeting.

Sunday – The Knicks and Bucks have split their two previous meetings this season with the Bucks winning their most recent game on Saturday, December 5. Since that meeting, the Knicks have played .500 basketball with an 8-8 record.

Tuesday – A week after falling to the Bulls, the second game of the I-94 series will take place in Milwaukee. The Bucks will try to shut down Jimmy Butler and Pau Gasol, who have regularly beat them up in the last two seasons.

Wednesday – The Bucks will have a chance at redemption against the Wizards on Wednesday in Washington. Milwaukee has been run off the floor in their two previous meetings, with the Wizards averaging 116.5 points per game.

Stats of the Week

22.9/5.1/3.8 – Since the last Quick Bucks more than two weeks ago, Khris Middleton has averaged 22.9 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game on 53.2 percent three-point shooting and 53.7 percent shooting from the field.

32.6 – John Henson has been a stellar rim protector for a few years now, but he has really stepped it up over the last two weeks, defending 6.6 field goal attempts per game and holding opponents to 32.6 percent shooting. Before that, he was holding opponents to (a still stellar) 46.3 percent on 5.4 shot attempts per game.

107.3/116.2 – The lineup of Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, and Greg Monroe have played 239 minutes together this season and put up an Offensive Rating (points per 100 possessions) of 107.3, which makes them one of the NBA’s 20 best offensive lineups. Unfortunately, they’re the only team in Top 20 offensive lineups with a negative net rating because of a Defensive Rating of 116.2, which is the league’s worst.

Quick Bucks is Milwaukee Magazine’s weekly roundup of all things Milwaukee Bucks written by Eric Nehm. You can also find his work at SBNation’s Brew Hoop or you can find him on Twitter@eric_nehm, where he would love to hear about the strangest place you ever watched a Bucks game..