Eyes have been opening as the Milwaukee Bucks roared out of the gate with a 10-3 record. Look just a little deeper, though, and it becomes even more impressive.
Has anyone played a tougher schedule than the Bucks?
Look at the top of the Western Conference standings: Golden State, Portland, Denver. The top three teams. And the Bucks have played them all and beaten two of them — on the road. They’ve also played the Los Angeles Clippers and Sacramento Kings — both above .500.
Look at the top of the Eastern Conference standings: Toronto, Philadelphia, Indiana, Charlotte, Boston. The Bucks have beaten them all except for Boston, and it took a team-record 24 3-pointers for the Celtics to barely hold off the Bucks in Boston.
In some seasons a 10-3 start might consist of a patty-cake schedule. This 10-3 start has been built off a schedule of the league’s Murderer’s Row. The Bucks have posted a 3-0 record against teams under .500 (Orlando, Minnesota, New York). Just three games against sub .500 teams. Ten games against winning teams. And victories over the NBA’s top two teams thus far — Golden State and Toronto.
Toronto also has already ventured West for a tough road trip. The Raptors trip included a stop at friendly Phoenix (2-10). It did not include any of the top three teams — Golden State, Portland, Denver. Toronto’s 12-2 start included six games against teams under .500 (Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota, Dallas, Phoenix and New York) and another against Utah, which is right at .500.
Take that all into account, then realize the Bucks are first in the league in point differential at plus-11.9. Led by rising superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and top complementary players such as Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova, and playing under systems put in by new coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks have become a force.
Look at the schedule now. The Bucks’ next six games are at Fiserv Forum, where they’re 6-0 with an average margin of victory of 19.5 points
The raw numbers are impressive. Dig just a little deeper, and they become a whole lot more impressive. If this Bucks team can avoid the annoying habit of playing down to weaker opponents that plagued them in recent years, it may reveal itself as a true contender.