The Milwaukee Bucks are 52-9, on pace for a 70-win season, and outscoring opponents by 12.26 points per game, the second-biggest margin in NBA history. They have a 25-year-old superstar on his way to his second straight MVP award, the best defensive rating in the league, an All-Star small forward shooting 43% from three, and a center rotation made up of Disney-loving twin brothers who do elaborate pre-game professional wrestling routines. Despite having one of the most impressive team seasons in NBA history, Milwaukee somehow is still flying under the radar.
Why are people sleeping on the Bucks?
That small-market thing
Milwaukee ranks 27th among the league’s 30 media markets. There simply aren’t that many Bucks fans out there, certainly not as many as there are fans of Giannis Antetokounmpo –- he led the All-Star voting in the East for the second straight year. Before last season, exactly one Bucks team won a playoff series ... in 30 years. Their best player of that era was Ray Allen, and they traded him in his prime because he didn’t get along with George Karl, whom they fired five months later. You can forgive most NBA fans for not "Fearing the Deer" come playoff time.
They haven’t proved their greatness in the playoffs
After what happened to the 2016 Warriors, who lost in the NBA Finals after 73 wins in the regular season, fans may be doubtful of the Bucks' success, no matter how impressive. Milwaukee won 60 games last season and got the top seed in the East, then lost to Toronto in the conference finals, which convinced some people the Bucks were a fraud. But in hindsight, that series doesn’t look like much of an upset. The Raptors were only two games worse than the Bucks even with Kawhi Leonard missing 22 games, and Marc Gasol only joined Toronto in February. Then the Raptors beat the defending champion Warriors in the Finals.
Speaking of Golden State, it had won a single playoff series (and then been knocked out by Kawhi) before it won its first title. The Spurs bounced back from a horrendous playoff defeat to win it all in 2014. Kyle Lowry and the Raptors were known for their playoff failures before last season. The 2011 Mavericks had four straight playoff flops until they won it all. Past playoff failures don’t necessarily predict future ones ... unless you’re James Harden or Karl Malone.
They’re so good and so boring
The Bucks are blowing teams out, a great sign of dominance that doesn’t lead to compelling games. And in their rare losses, they tend to get worked; four of their past five losses were by double digits -- including Monday's night 105-89 loss at Miami.
And there’s also real lack of rivals in the East. It should be the Raptors, but they’re not the same without Kawhi. Toronto managed to shut down Giannis as much as anyone can last week, but he still went for 19 and 19, and the Bucks won by double digits.
Philly embarrassed Milwaukee on Christmas Day; Milwaukee has beat them twice since then. There was a tense series with Boston in 2018, somehow centered on Terry Rozier and Drew Bledsoe, but Milwaukee whipped the Celtics, 4-1, last last season's playoffs. The Bucks don't have any historic rivalries because Milwaukee was rarely really good in the past 30 years.
Plus, the Bucks aren’t quite good enough to threaten the wins record, and ESPN isn’t going to run any features about their quest for 70 wins.
The MVP argument isn’t really an argument
There was a healthy debate last season about whether James Harden or Giannis was the MVP, which led to some hard feelings when the Rockets’ official team account complained about the award on Twitter. This season we had a light serving of beef when Giannis made fun of Harden during the All-Star draft, and Harden took a shot at Giannis, saying he wished he “could just be 7 feet, run and just dunk. Like that takes no skill at all..” Giannis refused to fire back, saying, “It hasn’t been a back and forth. I’m not that type of guy, never try to take stabs at somebody.” That’s healthy for a team trying to win a title, but it doesn’t help him lead SportsCenter.
People like awards arguments, but honestly, no one is rising to the bait on the Harden vs. LeBron vs. Giannis arguments this season because there’s no case for anyone but the Greek Freak. He’s putting up 29.6 points, 13.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.1 blocks a game. He's the best player on the team with the most wins. Case closed.
They’re too stable
The NBA is obsessed with transactions more than any other league, with superstar reporters affectionately known as “Woj” and “Shams,” who reach demigod status during the trade deadline and the first day of free agency. What was Milwaukee’s big move at the deadline? Signing 15-year veteran Marvin Williams. Useful? Yes. Exciting? Not really. What did they do this summer? Re-signed most of their own free agents, and traded Malcolm Brogdon for picks. They also reunited the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, which has made their pregame celebrations and mascot encounters more exciting. But that doesn’t contribute to the NBA’s running soap opera.
The roster continuity that helps make the Bucks so good also keeps them out of the rumor mills. Giannis and Khris Middleton have been teammates for seven years. This is Eric Bledsoe’s third season in Milwaukee, and he hasn’t tweeted from a hair salon once in that time.
People talk a lot about Giannis ... leaving
Because of the transaction obsessions, and because stars are willing to jump teams more than ever, there’s almost as much talk about Giannis’ future as there is about his team’s 70-win pace. Will he sign a supermax extension this summer? Will the Bucks try to trade him if he doesn’t? Does he want to play for Masai Ujiri, or alongside Steph Curry? No one knows the answers except Giannis, but that doesn’t stop the speculation.
Look, it would be terrible for the Bucks if Giannis left, and it’s not out of the question –- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wanted out of Milwaukee, too -– but perhaps we could wait until that actually happens, since he’s signed for another year. Yes, LeBron left two teams after going to the Finals, and yes, Kawhi left Toronto after winning Finals MVP. But there’s no reason to think Giannis has wandering eyes. He spent the summer of 2018 reviewing corn dogs and funnel cake on his Twitter account, which seems to us like a guy who loves the Midwest.
They’re not the Lakers
Teams in Los Angeles are always going to get a lot of coverage, especially with ESPN having a studio a few hundred feet away from Staples Center. But this season has been unusually eventful for the Lakers, with the Brow’s arrival, Kobe Bryant’s tragic death, Caruso Mania, Taco Tuesdays, and Dwight Howard’s comeback. Plus, the nature of any LeBron team is that it's in the market for every trade and buyout candidate in the league, so the Lakers feed the trade rumor beast constantly. Has there ever been more ink spilled about a retired backup point guard than there was this season with Darren Collison, simply because he sat near the court at one Lakers game?
The Bucks are fun as hell. They score more points than anyone in the league and play faster than anyone in the league. The Lopez twins are hilarious. Middleton, an All-Star, is the league’s most underrated sidekick. Bledsoe was first-team All-Defensive last season. Pat Connaughton is the best Caucasian dunker of his generation. Donte DiVincenzo is known as “the Michael Jordan of Delaware.” Ersan Ilyasova might secretly be a 35-year-old Uzbek named “Arsen Ilyasov,” but he’ll probably drain threes until he’s 50.
There’s a lot to like about this team, and it’s a shame that people are missing out. But don’t worry, Bucks fans. Milwaukee will get plenty of coverage when the Bucks win the NBA title in June.
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