Midway through the 2018-19 season, the Milwaukee Bucks have been one of the NBA’s best teams. They have the second-best record in the league, and you could make a good argument that the Bucks have been the best team in basketball up to this point. The Bucks are really, really good.
If seeing those words in sequence is wrinkling your brain, you’re not alone. Even the most optimistic Bucks fans didn’t expect them to start the season with a 30-12 record, looking like a title-contending worldbeaters. The Bucks’ preseason over/under was 46.5 wins and they’re on pace to win close to 60 games and contend for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the MVP frontrunner, is leading the conference in All-Star voting, and is putting on a night-to-night show that needs to be seen to be believed. Mike Budenholzer looks like the favorite to win Coach Of The Year honors. They’re the only team in the league with a top-five offense (2nd) and defense (3rd). Milwaukee has already notched wins against nearly all of the NBA’s top teams (Golden State, Toronto (twice), Denver (twice), Philadelphia, Portland, Boston, and Houston). They’re the only team in the NBA yet to lose back-to-back games. They boast the league’s best point differential and net rating, major statistical indicators that this success is no fluke.
This is all real. This is all happening.
And like Giannis getting from half court to the rim in just one dribble, this is all as disorienting as it is amazing. A generation of Bucks fans have watched this team lose games and fail to meet even modest expectations. The just-demolished Bradley Center hosted playoff series victories in just two seasons in its 30-year existence. But maybe—just maybe!—this team is the payoff for enduring all those years of losing.
With all this early season success, the skeptics are falling by the wayside and the Bucks bandwagon is picking up steam. The Fiserv Forum is currently riding a streak of seven straight sellouts. And the Bucks have the best home record in the Eastern Conference (19-4).
They’re currently in a road-heavy part of their schedule, with 21 of 30 away from Milwaukee, but that just means that once the weather starts to warm up in the Cream City, home games will be plentiful, with nine of the regular season’s final 13 games at Fiserv Forum. We’re going to go ahead and guess that those, too, will be sellouts.
And Giannis Antetokounmpo has developed a reputation as the most electrifying player in the NBA to watch in person. What he’s doing is just surreal. He’s averaging 26.6 points (9th in the NBA), 12.8 rebounds (5th), 6 assists (19th), 1.5 blocks (12th), and at least three plays per game that will get you jumping out of your seat to shout “HOW DID HE DO THAT?!?”
Beyond Giannis, the rest of the Bucks starters are having excellent seasons. Khris Middleton is second on the team in scoring with 17.8 points per game, followed closely by Malcolm Brogdon (15.7), and Eric Bledsoe (15.1). Brogdon has taken yet another all-around step forward in his third year, and has amazingly only missed one free throw all season (81 for 82 on the year). Bledsoe has been slashing to the rim with regularity and showcasing savant-like defensive skill against some of the best guards in the league. Brook “Splash Mountain” Lopez is shooting more threes (and signing more microwaves) than any other frontcourt player in the league at nearly seven per game, and is also among the league leaders in blocks.
For a Finals contender, the Bucks have a fairly unique roster construction. Most teams atop the standings in this era feature multiple All-Stars teamed up to make a run for a ring, but the Bucks might not even feature a second All-Star after Giannis (Middleton would be the closest call, but a December shooting slump might have nixed his chances). Their starting five, though, is undeniably strong and their bench is starting to show some serious depth.
George Hill, acquired earlier this year in the trade that sent Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson to Cleveland, is a perfect fit as a third guard off the bench, as well as a veteran with playoff experience who can play both point guard and shooting guard, shoot threes and defend at a high level. Ersan Ilyasova is a cagey vet who finds success in weird ways like leading the league in charges drawn. Tony Snell is quietly making close to 40 percent of his threes and has great chemistry with Giannis. Sterling Brown (yep, him) has stepped up in a big way as of late as a valuable two-way contributor, showing more and more confidence, especially from three. D.J. Wilson, once disregarded as a failed first round draft pick, is having his breakout moment off the bench as an athletic impact player in the frontcourt (Brown and Wilson could play big roles in the team’s stretch run if they keep this up). Once every couple weeks, Thon Maker’s boundless energy will translate into a bounty of blocks and threes. They haven’t seen minutes as of late, but it’s doubtful that we’ve heard the last from Pat Connaughton or Donte DiVincenzo this season. There’s a lot here.
With the bench taking shape, there are a myriad of different looks the Bucks can throw at their opponents, and that flexibility could be key to real contention for a team with just one star (even if it’s a supernova megastar like Giannis).
This Bucks team is a real contender in the East. And if they manage to catch the conference-leading Raptors and hold off the Pacers, 76ers, and Celtics in the East standings, Milwaukee’s homecourt could prove to be a true advantage. Every game from here on out will be one that truly matters in a way it hasn’t in years (if not decades).
This is a truly special time to be a Milwaukee Bucks fan. This is also an unbelievably fun time in the trajectory of a great team. They’re figuring out just how good they can be. They’re not battling any oversized expectations put upon them from years past. They’re young and hungry and ready to see just how far they can push it.
The ground can shift quickly in the NBA. Contenders rise and fall before you realize what’s happened. And the Bucks, led by the brightest young star in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo, could be making the leap, right here, right now. If a few things break their way, they could be ready to ascend heights not seen in this town since the days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. This is going to be fun, Milwaukee. Enjoy it.