The Giannis Era (7/8/21)

Milwaukee Bucks: A 2021 New Year's resolution for each starter

This story begins on June 27th, 2013. 

The Milwaukee Bucks season ended two months earlier. After finishing with a 38-44 record, they were swept in the first round of the playoffs. Their roster was led by Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, and Ersan Ilyasova. Young Tobias Harris and John Henson were also on the team. 

Because they made the playoffs, the Bucks picked just outside the lottery. With that pick, they selected 18 year old prospect Giannis Antetokounmpo out of Greece. At the time, almost nobody knew who he was. He was selected because of his super high upside, but he also had bust potential. 

4 days later, the Bucks traded Brandon Jennings to the Detroit Pistons. In return, they got Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton. 

Brandon Knight (at the time) was pretty good. He was only 21, and was already a solid scorer. Khris Middleton was a second round pick coming off his rookie season where he only played 27 games (and averaged 6 points). He wasn’t really supposed to be anything at the time.

In the 2013-14 season, the Bucks sucked. They were 15-67. Khris Middleton played surprisingly well, averaging 12 points while shooting 41% from three. He played in all 82 games. Giannis averaged 7 points and 4 rebounds.

Milwaukee’s awful record earned them the second pick in the 2014 draft. With that pick, they selected Jabari Parker. Jabari was the guy at the time (besides Wiggins). He was a consensus All-American. He was going to be a star, and the second guy next to Giannis for the long term. 

Going into the 2014-15 season, the Bucks now had a young core of Giannis, Khris, Jabari, and Knight. Veterans like Ersan, OJ Mayo, Jared Dudley, and Jerryd Bayless were on the team. John Henson was still around. They didn’t have much expectation, but their roster was solid. 

24 games into that season, the Bucks were 12 and 12. Giannis was playing well, Jabari was playing well, and so was Khris. Then, in the 25th game of the season against the Phoenix Suns, Jabari Parker tore his ACL. It was a tough blow for the Bucks.

The Bucks finished the season 41-41, which landed them the sixth seed in the East. Despite shooting struggles from Giannis (37% FG on the series) and Khris (38% FG, 32% 3PT), they still managed to push the series to 6 games against a Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose led Bulls roster. 

The 2015-16 season was the first jump for Giannis. He had now put on almost 30 pounds of muscle since his rookie season. He averaged 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists (as well as a steal and a block). He was showing why he was selected in the first round back in 2013, but there was still more to come. 

Khris also had a solid 2015-16 season, averaging 18 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. The Bucks missed the playoffs, but with Giannis and Khris taking jumps, things were starting to look good. 

With his 2016 lottery pick, John Hammond selected Thon Maker. Thon was another Giannis type pick, a player with high upside and no guarantee he would hit it. With his second round pick, Hammond selected Malcolm Brogdon. He was a four year college player out of Virginia, and was regarded as a very smart player, and one of the best perimeter defenders in the draft class. People thought he would be solid.

The Bucks didn’t sign anybody important this offseason, but they did trade for Tony Snell. 

The 2016-17 season was Giannis’s big breakout. He averaged 23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks. Those numbers not only earned him most improved player, but also All-NBA 2nd team, All-Defensive 2nd team, and even 7th place in MVP voting. John Hammond’s risk back in 2013 had officially paid off. 

Khris Middleton’s numbers were down from the previous season, but it’s because he had to sacrifice shots to Jabari Parker. Jabari was having a great season, averaging 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 assists while shooting 36% from three (all career highs). 

Then he tore his ACL for the second time.

Jabari’s breakout year was cut short after 50 games with a second tear in the same ACL he injured in his rookie year. 

Jabari is the biggest what-if of the Giannis era (besides maybe “what if Eric Bledsoe was good at basketball”). He was that guy coming out of college, and it definitely seemed like he could have been an All-Star in the NBA. It’s really sad that he had to get injured. (By the way, if you weren’t aware, he’s still playing. After bouncing around a few teams, he got a deal with the Celtics this season, and was playing pretty decently as a role player. I’m happy for him.)

Even though he was the 10th overall pick, Thon Maker only played 10 minutes per game in the 2016-17 season. He averaged 4 points and 2 rebounds, while shooting 38% from three (which is solid, especially for a seven footer). 

The best rookie on the Bucks that year was Malcolm Brogdon. He averaged 10 points, 4 assists, and shot 40% from three. Those numbers earned him Rookie of the Year, making him the lowest draft pick to ever win the award (he still is). 

The Bucks made the playoffs as the 6th seed, finishing with a 42-40 record. They lost in 6 games to the Raptors. Despite another early playoff exit, the Bucks core was still young. Giannis was just 22, Jabari was 21, Khris was 25, and Brogdon was 24. There was still plenty of room to grow. 

Just a few games into the 2017-18 season, the Bucks traded Greg Monroe and a 1st round pick for Eric Bledsoe from the Phoenix Suns. Bledsoe was a good defender, and also a guy who had averaged 20 points a few times in his career. This was a win-now move for the Bucks, as Bledsoe was supposed to become their new second best player. 

The Bucks finished the 2017-18 season with a 44-38 record, earning them the 7th seed. They had turned into a legitimate playoff team. Giannis improved again, averaging 27/10/5. He was blossoming into a superstar. Khris averaged 20 points for the first time in his career. Bledsoe averaged 18 points, 5 assists, and 2 steals in his first season with the Bucks. Brogdon averaged 13, now the fourth option on this team. 

After missing a large chunk of the season, Jabari Parker returned from his injury to play 31 games. He was moved to a bench role, where he averaged 12 points. 

In the playoffs, the Bucks and the Celtics had a competitive seven game series. The Bucks lost, but it was still a great series. I’ll remember it for two things. The first is Khris Middleton’s epic game-tying half court buzzer beater (he shot a sizzling 61% from three that series). The other is Terry Rozier just destroying Eric Bledsoe all series. This was the first sign that Bledsoe was not the guy for Milwaukee (and the first sign of how good Terry Rozier is). 

After the 2018 playoffs, the Bucks knew they were ready to go all in on winning. They made a number of moves in the 2018 offseason and the ‘18-19 season.

The first thing they did was draft Donte DiVincenzo. Donte was a winner in college, winning two championships in three seasons with Villanova. He was selected as more of a win-now type of rookie. 

The 2018 Bucks free agent class included Brook Lopez, Pat Connaughton, and Ersan Ilyasova. Brook was the big signing, as he was supposed to slide into the starting center role as a rim protector and floor stretcher. 

The Bucks also hired Mike Budenholzer to be their new head coach, and Jon Horst to be the new GM.  Budenholzer learned from Gregg Popovich as an assistant, and then was the head coach of Atlanta’s 60 win team. Horst had been with the team since 2008 as the head of basketball operations. 

The most notable part of the 2018 offseason for the Bucks was that they let Jabari Parker walk. He signed a 2 year, $40 million dollar deal with the Bulls. I think it made sense for the Bucks to do so. Paying $20 million dollars to a guy who at that point was kind of an uncertainty would not make sense for a team trying to win. It was just an unfortunate ending to Jabari’s time with the Bucks. 

The Bucks made a few midseason trades as well in 2018. One was to acquire George Hill to be the backup point guard. The other was for Nikola Mirotic. Both were solid veteran players that added depth to the Bucks roster. The Mirotic trade brought the end to Thon Maker’s time in Milwaukee. He hadn’t worked out like he was supposed to, so he had to go.

The Bucks were confident that they would be good, and they were. They won a league best 60 games. The Bucks had the top defense in the league. Giannis won his first MVP. Khris made his first All-Star game. Malcolm Brogdon joined the exclusive 50/40/90 club. Brook Lopez completed the reinvention of his game and became Splash Mountain. Eric Bledsoe made All-Defensive 1st team. 

The Bucks playoff run started off strong, taking care of the Pistons in a quick 4 games. Then they beat the Celtics in a quick five games. This was the deepest playoff run of the Giannis era. The Bucks were headed to the conference finals. 

The Bucks won the first two games against the Raptors, and one win was by 22 points. Things were looking good.

However, nobody was stopping Kawhi Leonard. The Raptors won four straight games and the series. Giannis was held to only 45% from the field in the series. Eric Bledsoe shot a woeful 29%. George Hill, however, was excellent off the bench in this series (and the playoffs in general). He shot 51% from the field and 42% from three, averaging 10 points, 5 rebounds, and 2 steals. 

The Bucks were going to have to come back stronger next year. 

In 2019 free agency, there was a decision to be made. Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, and Brook Lopez all needed to be resigned. Because Eric Bledsoe got his extension mid-season, the Bucks could only afford two of the three free agents. 

Malcolm Brogdon was the one let go. He was signed, and then traded to Indiana for some picks. I think that was the right decision. Middleton had to stay, that wasn’t a question. Brook Lopez was also so valuable in his role that it would be hard to replace him. Ultimately, even though Brogdon was very good at what he did, a 3&D shooting guard was the easiest role to fill. (I would have taken Brogdon over Bledsoe any day, and I wish that Bledsoe was the one let go. On the other hand, the Bucks probably wouldn’t have gotten Jrue Holiday if we kept Brogdon, so I guess it all worked out.)

The Bucks added Wesley Matthews, Robin Lopez, Kyle Korver, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo in 2019 free agency. 

Going into the 2019-20 season, the Bucks were a favorite to win the championship. They had another great regular season, finishing as the one seed with a record of 56-17. Giannis had his best season yet, averaging 29 points, 14 rebounds, and 6 assists. He won his second MVP (back to back) and Defensive Player of the Year. Khris made his second All-Star game. George Hill’s playoff efficiency carried over, as he shot 52% from the field and 46% from three. Donte DiVicenzo became an important bench piece, and showed his defensive abilities. 

In the bubble playoffs, the Bucks took down the “home team” Orlando Magic in the first round. Giannis wreaked havoc on Gary Clark all series, averaging 30 points and 16 rebounds across 5 games. 

Then, the Bucks lost in 5 games to the Miami Heat in the second round. It was a very disappointing ending to such a good season for the Bucks. Giannis was held to just 22 points per game while being guarded by Bam Adebayo. Eric Bledsoe had another awful performance, shooting 33% from the field and 21% from three across the series. 

It was now time to make a significant change. The Bucks were great in the regular season, but just couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs. In my mind, and a lot of other peoples’, it was clear who needed to go. Jon Horst agreed. 

Eric Bledsoe (and George Hill, but not because he was bad) was out the door. Jrue Holiday (and Sam Merrill) were the newest Milwaukee Bucks.

Jrue is miles better than Bledsoe. He’s better on defense (Bledsoe is a really good defender, but Jrue is an elite one), but the big difference is the offense. Jrue is actually a good shooter. He’s also a better playmaker than Bled. I’m still amazed the Bucks were able to pull that deal off. 

Other offseason additions included Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes. Both were at the top of the league in three-point percentage this season. Bobby has become a fan favorite in Milwaukee. 

Midseason additions included P.J. Tucker and Jeff Teague. Tucker, despite being inconsistent on offense, has made a big impact on defense for the Bucks. Especially when he guarded Kevin Durant in the second round. Jeff Teague has also had a few playoff moments, like his three 3PM performance in game 6 against Atlanta. 

The Bucks went 46-26 this season, earning them the 3rd seed. They swept Miami in the first round, showing the league they weren’t playing around this year. Then they beat the Nets in a competitive 7 game series. Then they beat Atlanta in 6 games in the conference finals (and the last two wins were without Giannis).

The Bucks did it. They are in the Finals. It’s crazy. 

Time to give some shoutouts.

Shoutout Giannis, for improving every year and being loyal to his team (and for being an incredible basketball player). Shoutout Khris, for proving all of his doubters wrong this playoffs. Shoutout Jrue, for being better than Eric Bledsoe. Shoutout Bledsoe, because I still respect him. Shoutout Brook Lopez. Shoutout Bobby, for playing hard and making the city of Milwaukee fall in love with him. Shoutout Pat Connaughton, for working hard every game and making an impact off the bench. Shoutout the Bucks bench mob (Nwora, Sammy, Mamadi, Axel, Elijah, and Justin), I love you guys. Shoutout Thanasis for bringing incredible energy all the time. Shoutout Jeff Teague. Shoutout Jon Horst for being an excellent GM. Shoutout Malcolm Brogdon, I miss you. Shoutout Thon Maker. Shoutout Bucks legends Tony Snell and Sterling Brown. Shoutout D.J. Wilson. Shoutout Wes Matthews for being my favorite Buck last year. 

Ok fine, I’m done. 

So that was my messy recap of the Giannis era. Did you like reading it? Let me know! I think the come up of Giannis and the Bucks is a great story, and I hope I did a good job of touching on all the important parts. 

Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

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