“Trading Baskets” is a weekly NBA column written by Reagan Griffin Jr. and Eddie Sun. The writers “hand off” each week’s installment, continuing an ongoing dialogue to challenge the way fans think about basketball. Click here to read last week’s edition.
I wanted it for y’all. I truly did.
I wanted it for the small-market city with the odds stacked against it. I wanted it for the humble, hard-working kid from Greece. I wanted it for the team that was on pace for 70+ wins, one of the most dominant regular seasons in NBA history, yet received little to no love from the mainstream media.
In the part of my heart that ignored my Lakers fanship, I wanted this year to belong to the Milwaukee Bucks.
But alas, it was a pipe dream. Few expected the Miami Heat to defeat Giannis and Co. as handily as they did (or even at all), but lo and behold, here we are. After reaching just the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Bucks have been booted from the bubble.
The slander came in droves. Giannis lacks skill. Khris Middleton isn’t a sufficient No. 2 option. Eric Bledsoe choked, yet again. Mike Budenholzer is too prideful to make in-game adjustments. Some of it was warranted, some wasn’t. Discussions definitely need to be had about the future of this team — this is two years in a row that it has failed to even reach the NBA Finals.
While it might be easy to keep kicking the Bucks while they’re down and criticize them for what they weren’t, however, I’m not here to do that. I want to praise them for what they were.
The best defensive team in recent memory. With three players making All-NBA defensive teams, one of which winning Defensive Player of the Year, the Bucks consistently shut down the opposition. Milwaukee committed to a bold strategy, allowing opponents more open threes in exchange for cutting off the easiest shot in basketball: the layup. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez proved to be an unbreakable wall between players driving the lane to the rim.
One of the most imposing teams to ever grace the hardwood. Milwaukee had the highest point differential in the league, beating teams by an average of 10.1 points per game. To put that in perspective, the next highest team was the Los Angeles Clippers… at 6.4. It’s one thing to know that Giannis was putting up 30 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists a night. It’s another to understand that he was doing it while hardly playing fourth-quarter minutes.
The Bucks were so absolutely dominant this year that most games were over by the end of the third.
The most impactful thing that the Milwaukee Bucks did this season, however, had nothing to do with basketball. In fact, it was the act of abstaining from a game that cemented this team’s legacy. Led by George Hill, the Bucks were the catalyst of a ripple effect that would see nearly every sports league to stop activity in the name of social justice. Faced with what was a legitimate shot at the NBA title, they had the guts to say “no more.”
Because of the way that its season ended, I fear that this team will ultimately be forgotten. But while that may be the case, the Milwaukee Bucks need not hang their heads in shame. Rather, they should be proud of what they were able to accomplish this year. They are one of the all-time great teams, championship or not.
Heads high, Deer. Heads high.