Giannis and the 2019-20 Bucks: reasons for a project in crisis

Anteto's Bucks set good records in a weak division, but in the playoffs they run into flaws in their own style. The future, uncertain.


A season that had the same beginning as it ended for the Bucks. At least from the point of view of the public, always sovereign but very given to being wrong and that, nevertheless, has succeeded with a team that nobody counted on and that has not ended up counting for anyone. Few were those who bet that the continuation of the project that crashed last year in the eastern end would have more luck in this, and the spectacular numbers of that being from another planet with the surname Antetokounmpo have even been overlooked for the sake of more interesting stories for the viewer, such as LeBron's crown, the arrival of Kawhi to the Clippers or even, in the East, the always controversial figure of Kyrie Irving or the structural crisis that the city suffers, from a basketball point of view from New York. All this has been part of a narrative that Damian Lillard, the Rockets or the Raptors, current champions, but that the Bucks have only starred through on tiptoe and always in relation to the highlights of Antetokounmpo or the team record, have passed through, that almost ceased to lose interest when what seemed improbable became impossible, that of which was spoken in whispers in the first three months of the season: that they reach 70 victories.

The coronavirus has prevented Milwaukee from displaying a more bulky record with the arrival of the playoffs, but the nine games that were ahead invited to think that they could surpass the 60 victories of last year, when they were also leaders of the League. In neither year have they carburated in the playoffs, although this year's loss to the fifth-ranked (the Heat are the third team in that position to reach the conference finals in the past 25 years) has been slightly more painful than the above, which has a misleading analysis: on the one hand, Milwaukee was two victories from the Finals, but on the other, they added four consecutive defeats after winning the inaugural duel to a limp team that had played seven games in the second round. The mismanagement of clutch time in the third (another classic) and the Canadian comeback in the sixth certified the elimination of a project that was going up but has come face to face with the reality of its own game, one-dimensional, personal and easy to play. predict in a playoffs in which the opponent spends more than a week thinking exclusively of you, in contrasts with a regular season in which 82 games are played and you play one night many times with your head on the next, with strenuous tours and assorted rivals.

But of course, many of them are in an impoverished Division and in low hours. Specifically the Central, one that (like all of them) has been evolving and that had a high dose of competitiveness a little over a decade ago, but now has come to nothing: Cavaliers, Bulls and Pistons share a Division with Milwaukee and face up to in four times with each of them. There are also the Pacers, the other theoretical strong rival, but there it stays. In total this season, a 13-1 record against this type of rivals, something that greatly enlarges the balance of a team that also adds 37-7 against rivals from the same Conference and 19-10 against Western teams. His style, based on Giannis and his constant penetrations, frees outside players and allows him to shoot a lot both on the outside and on the inside, being the fourth team that more shots from the field of the entire competition. In addition, the number of pitches Anteto makes in the zone allows the Bucks to be the best in shooting percentage of two, and their rebounding dominance (Anteto's 13.6, Middleton's 6.6 and six players between 4.2 and 4.8 rebounds on average), the highest in the league (the only ones with an average over 50) demonstrate the physique of a team that relies on its strength to overwhelm rivals during the regular season, in which they going to 118.7 points per game. The slogan is simple: we defend, rebound and run like the wind, something that is seen in the highest pace (pace of play) of the course with a difference of almost two points over the second, the Rockets.

Budenholzer and the Playoffs

So why does a team that dominates and runs like the Bucks do in the regular season fail in the playoffs? To begin with, it must be said that the franchise's downturn comes from far and that it has not corresponded only to the playoffs. Specifically, since a loss on March 2 against the Heat, in what was a prelude to what was to come and has finally arrived. In that clash, a genius like Spolestra organized a defensive network that prevented Milwaukee and Anteto from running. The Greek stayed in that game with 13 points (15 rebounds and 3 assists) with 6 of 18 in field goals and 0 of 4 in triples. That is where the deficiencies of a player are most visible, whose numbers can bring him his second consecutive MVP and be the third player to join that award with that of Best Defender in the same season, which has already been assigned to him. And it is already the fourth in history with both awards. An award that for many is too great if we take into account the defects that it still presents and that, on the way to 26 years, there is time to improve.

Anteto is a marvelous physicist who knows how to penetrate, is very strong under the basket, makes spectacular dunks and runs all over the court, being also very frequent his higlights on the defensive side, in which he protects the area and reaches everything and everyone with its extraordinary size. However, it shows serious deficiencies in static: it does not know how to shoot from three (30% this year, only 25 last) or from the mid-range, that place that has become banned in the current game, in which only he scores from the zone and from the triple (the Rockets and their stuff). However Anteto only has one of those qualities (the zone), and his lack of fundamentals for penetration greatly hinders his ability to create his own shots when the attack is stopped. In addition, he is not a great passer (5.6 assists, but ...) and he does not enable his teammates in the ideal way or, many times, he does not see them. LeBron, a man who, saving the distance (for being infinitely better, of course), is able to penetrate and find his teammates alone in the triple (Spoelstra surrounded him with shooters in Miami) also sees his teammates on the inside (that Passing IQ) and is one of the best passers the NBA has seen. Comparing him with Anteto is a chimera, but the same penetration of one or the other does not end with the same assistance, and the difficulties of the Greek to pass from the outside in are notorious and prevent finding the members of the fourth team that shoots more than three in the NBA ... but 17th in 3-point percentage.

In the playoffs, the monosystem has made waters like last year, and Anteto has succumbed to double aids without knowing (or being able to) find his teammates and a defender at the level of Adebayo who, like Kawhi last year, has put in trouble. Against the Heat he has been healthy for three games, in which he has averaged 22.7 points (29.5 in regular season), with 45% shooting from the field (55%) and 15% in triples. Last year against Toronto he stayed, in six games, in exactly the same point average and less than 45% in the shot, in addition to adding more than 4 losses per game. And when Anteto doesn't work, it's impossible. He monopolizes the area and the ball, prevents others from approaching the basket and has turned Brook Lopez into a 2.13 3-point player who catches just 4.6 rebounds per game, shooting 4.8 times from outside (6.3 the year past, more than any other tall man). The Bucks have gone from 118.7 points in the regular season to 111 in a playoffs in which they have fired being eleventh in percentage of triples and fourteenth in free throws, another chimera that does not improve and that prevents them from closing many games . In addition to losing almost 15 balls per game, the fifth worst team in this classification during the final phase

Here comes the figure of Mike Budenholzer, who is the type of coach that his style represents. A good guy, didactic and trainer, a good individual coach who has known how to develop Anteto's maximum potential and exploit his virtues, has not been able (or known) to teach him to play differently and has fallen into the same thing that happened to him in the Hawks . And, this time, without having LeBron in front (4-0 in 2015). Budenholzer is a one-plan manager, and his matchmaking problems and lack of solutions in attack have made his playoff knockdown almost a tradition. Infinitely better than Kidd for the franchise (by little, he was going to improve things), he has turned the team into a game-winning machine during the year, but has not been able to take a step forward in the impoverished Eastern Conference or take it to his first Finals since 1974. For the ring, by the way, you have to look further back: 1971. The one they won with Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in such a distant time that not even Kareem was called Kareem yet. It was Lew Alcindor and he was the axis through which a small market moved that in the 80's had Sidney Moncrief on the court and Don Nelson on the bench, who came to play five semi-finals and three East finals in eight seasons.

None of that has managed to match Budenholzer, beyond leading the team to its first Conference finals since 2001 (George Karl, Ray Allen, Sam Cassell ...) and stumbling over the same stone for the umpteenth time with a team that, all It must be said, it does not give much more. Middleton is cool and in an out-of-playoff franchise he could average 30 points per game, but he dwarfs slightly (not quite, be careful) with Giannis on the side. The rest, role players: a George Hill who happens to him in the playoffs the same as his team, people far from his best days like a Marvin Williams already retired, a 32-year-old Brook Lopez ... Korver can not do more with 38 and then they have DiVincenzo (okay, but ...) and Wesley Matthews (okay, but ...). And to Eric Bledsoe, of course, a being impossible to square with Anteto and that many have already put as a piece of exchange for a guarantee base to arrive. Now we will talk about that. Of the future, of course. On the tactical side, little more remains to be noted, beyond the fact that the season has been long and the ability to keep your players focused throughout a campaign, something necessary (or indispensable, rather) to win a ring, conspicuous by its absence in Milwaukee, where the downturn always hits. Last year they finished the regular season 12-8 before beating the Pistons in the playoffs from a ghostly Griffin and in the semifinals to the farce that was the Celtics. This season, since that loss in Miami, the record has been 15-23 including the playoffs. And in that period, 0-5 without Anteto, when in the first part of the season the record was 5-1. Little more to add.

Now what?

The million dollar question for any franchisee in your situation. Middleton has $ 137 million guaranteed through 2023 and a player option for one more season. Brook Lopez, 52 million through 2023; Bledsoe, who would come up with the idea, until 2022 and extendable for one more year. And Wesley Mathews, Robin Lopez, Ilyasova, DJ Wilson, George Hill and DiVincenzo will apparently leave in 2021 (most have variations in their contracts and Hill and DiVincenzo a team option to continue another year). And Antetokounmpo, of course. Crown jewel. The man who is incessantly in the orbit of everything and everyone and who has sounded for Warriors, Mavericks, Heat and company. That is where the real dilemma for the Bucks is, whether to keep their star even at the risk of going free in 2021 or trade it and take part of a succulent loot in the form of another star or draft rounds, which can be infinite if they add in the lot (or in another movement) a Brook Lopez who will end his contract at 35 years and begins to lose light despite never having been a star, Bledsoe or even a 29-year-old Middleton to whom It still has a lot to collect and whose output could also report a lot for the future.

That is an option that Jon Horst, General Manager of the Bucks, is not currently considering. When you find a man who can change the fate of a franchise, you are carried away by the most immediate feelings and everything seems easier to build around an axis like the Greek than with draft rounds that nobody knows when or in what state. they will arrive. The certainty is the forward and the mystery what may come next, and the deficiencies that have been seen in the last two seasons and in FIBA basketball, with a horde of criticism included after the World Cup in China, are undeniable. But it is also true that he is 26 years old and has a brilliant projection, and that commercially it pays to have a player who sells jerseys, expands the boundaries of a League more international than ever and brings the brand of the franchise to the All Stars, in addition to collecting with him individual awards. The question then is, what to do for Anteto to stay? And that's the answer they are looking for in a city that, in keeping with the era of empowered players, raises its hand if its glorified star does. And if he leaves, they will end up hating him; But it is already known that, in the NBA, if you do not wake up hatred from time to time, you are doing it very badly. Every great player has been through that. As they would say out there, they are occupational hazards.

That is where they will have to decide and move. Anteto could be motivated by sharing a team with a Chris Paul whom Presti doesn't want in Oklahoma and who has shown he can perform at a high level despite being 35 years old. An experienced point guard who knows how to play (with and without the ball), create space for his teammates and defend and who can help Giannis develop his game and not dedicate himself to posting and pulling back every time he cannot run. Or that was the only resource that a Budenholzer in the spotlight was pulled from his sleeve and that could be another of those sacrificed, with some public reproaches from his star about his number of minutes. There are already six franchises without a coach in the NBA (Pelicans, Knicks, Bulls, Pacers, Sixers and Thunder) that could be seven (if Budenholzer comes out), and a huge number of candidates (Billy Donovan, Becky Hammond, Kenny Atkinson, Jason Kidd ?, Tyronn Lue ...) to occupy them. A correct decision in this regard could bring about the renewal (by the maximum, of course) of a player who has already said that he will not force the transfer. But of course, we already know how this is. And what one says today can stop thinking tomorrow. It's NBA rhythm.

There is the dilemma of the Bucks, a franchise with an increasingly distant successful past and a future that is too diffuse. The steps they take in the coming months will be key to the future of the franchise, with a course, 2020-21, which seems key and can mark a project that had an upward dynamic but has collided with its own defects, the of his star and those of his coaches (although Kidd is a separate case, of course). It will not take long for us to find out, but what has become clear is that, for the moment, Giannis Antetokounmpo remains. For now And what's to be taken for sure, too, is that LeBron, Kawhi, and even vilified Harden are still ahead of the Greek (in terms of talent and legacy), who collects uninspiring (for now) and slightly painful MVPs and eliminations. Anteto is a star, but he is not yet in that range, only reserved for a few. So yeah, Giannis Antetokounmpo is good. Very good. But maybe, just maybe, it's still not that good.

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