As the Milwaukee Bucks sit atop the NBA standings just past the halfway point of the season, it might be interesting to look back just one year ago.
Tuesday will be the one-year anniversary of new general manager Jon Horst firing coach Jason Kidd. A year ago, the Bucks were an underachieving disappointment. They were 23-22 and had gone 8-12 in their last 20 games. Whatever magic Kidd did in his first year as Bucks coach — turning a 15-67 team into a 41-41 team — had faded.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was developing into a major star, but his supporting cast wasn’t keeping pace with his growth.
Horst had made a notable trade in the first month of the season, acquiring Eric Bledsoe for Greg Monroe and protected first- and second-round draft picks. Bledsoe was playing fine, but the Bucks still foundered.
And speaking of draft picks, Horst’s first draft looked like a bust, as first-round pick D.J. Wilson looked clueless. Second-rounder Sterling Brown appeared to be the only salvageable part of the 2017 draft.
At that point in time, questioning the hiring of Horst and wondering if was in over his head seemed reasonable.
Now, a year later, Horst’s resume seems a lot stronger.
— Acquired Eric Bledsoe in a deal that also unloaded the contract of Greg Monroe;
— Hired Mike Budenholzer as the team’s coach;
— Signed free agents Brook Lopez, Ilyasova and Pat Connaughton;
— Drafted guard Donte DiVincenzo;
— Acquired veteran guard George Hill in a deal that also got rid of the contracts of Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson.
Those moves over the last eight months certainly seem to be working out well. Even better, the last five weeks have suddenly revealed Wilson to be a real and contributing NBA player.
The 6-10 forward missed the first two months with a hamstring injury. Budenholzer had raved about Wilson’s off-season and training camp, but few people were heeding his words. Observers expected nothing of Wilson, and nothing was what they were seeing.
Wilson’s season debut on Dec. 10 went well enough, but seven points in 13 minutes — mostly garbage time in an easy victory — was not about to change any minds.
But Wilson began opening eyes with nine points — important points — in a 107-104 road victory at Detroit Dec. 17. Two nights later he posted nine points and 10 rebounds in a 123-115 victory over a good New Orleans team. In Wednesday’s 111-101 victory at Memphis, Wilson entered the game in the third quarter when Antetokounmpo picked up his fourth foul. The Bucks immediately went on a 19-0 run that cinched the game.
In 16 games, Wilson has made 17 of 36 (47.6%) of his 3-pointers. He made a couple in Saturday’s 118-108 victory at Orlando
And it wasn’t just the numbers. Wilson was doing the “little things” that don’t necessarily show up in box scores. He was defending the opponent’s best players — Blake Griffin, Anthony Davis. Wilson was proving himself as a disruptive defender.
D.J. Wilson, it turns out, is a real player. And suddenly, Jon Horst’s resume as Bucks general manager is looking really good.