The long-armed, oversized Milwaukee Bucks are all grown up, and they want blood. The most surprising team in the NBA, equipped with a modernized offense, new head coach, the rarest of unicorns in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and a fresh look on the game of basketball just slew the dragon in its own keep.
It’s time to believe in the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks entered Golden State’s Oracle Arena on Thursday night with the league’s second-best offense and defense, and proved how real that was in a 23-point road win over the Warriors. Sure, Draymond Green didn’t play with a sprained toe, but he wouldn’t have made that large a difference. Milwaukee didn’t just out-offense the reigning champions, it held them in check. This game was over in three quarters.
It’s early in the season, but this team might be the one to beat in the East — and could pose a challenge to the West. Here’s why.
When Eric Bledsoe is on, he’s one of the best two-way guards in the league
When Bledsoe “didn’t wanna be here,” Milwaukee made a home for him among a sea of other misfits with unreal wingspans. For the past few years, the Bucks have stockpiled length (Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Thon Maker) to achieve a dream of forming top-tier defense. Jason Kidd couldn’t bring that to fruition, but finally it’s all fitting together under Budenholzer, and Bledsoe is the anchor.
Matched up with Steph Curry, Bledsoe held the NBA’s leading scorer to just 10 points on 14 shots, forcing the ball out of his hands as much as possible. Bledsoe’s ability to hound Curry, yet not lose him off the bounce, put him in a category of few who’ve been able to contain the 31-points-per-night scorer. He chased Curry off screens and shadowed him as he ran circles around the baseline. This was full-on effort and smarts from the Bucks’ guard.
And Bledsoe balanced that act on the other end, too, scoring 26 points on 10-of-12 shooting while sinking 2-of-3 threes. His scoring might not be there every night, but his defense can be. Few teams have a player with his defensive abilities playing the point.
Antetokounmpo can be the best player on the floor at any moment
It’s no longer in spurts or rare occasions. Antetokounmpo is a top-five player in the league — just ask Malcolm Brogdon. In the win over the Warriors, he was better than Curry, and entirely out-dueled Kevin Durant on both ends. (He scored 24 points on 16 shots to KD’s 17 on 15.)
Antetokounmpo is taking games over routinely on both ends at 23 years old, which should terrify the league. He’s learned how to use his length to finish above the rim, to get into passing lanes, and to get to the bucket on long strides. He’s arguably the most unique physical marvel in a league full of them.
The Bucks aren’t just winning. They’re destroying.
There’s some merit to a team’s ability to pull out close games, but way more in absolutely dominating in blowout fashion. The latter is how the Milwaukee Bucks are winning, more times than not. The 23-point road win against the best team in the world was the Bucks’ eighth by double-digits out of nine victories.
The cause of death for most opponents has been the three-point shot. The Bucks shoot the second-most shots from distance per game (40.3), converting at the sixth-best rate (37 percent).
Milwaukee has shown that it isn’t just slightly better than its top opponents, it’s a full head above. Maybe that won’t be the case in May or June, but right now it’s pretty tough to deny they’re the best team in the NBA. They have as good a chance as bringing home a title as any team outside of Oracle — and proved they even have a chance at doing the unthinkable.