Ever since the beginning of the 2018-2019 season, the Milwaukee Bucks have been the statistical best team in basketball. Through fantastic team defense, a modern offense and the MVP play of the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Cream City has been the home of the most prolific regular season team in the NBA in the last two years. But when they have reached the playoffs, Milwaukee has not kept up their strong performances as they were taken out in 2019 by the eventual champion Toronto Raptors in 6-games in the Eastern Conference Finals, and then were booted out of the bubble early by the upstart Miami Heat in 2020 in an embarrassing 5 game flameout.
So the question arises, what is this team missing? Well when you take a deeper look, the flaws of the Bucks can be seen. And for a team that is considered to be a championship contender, they are rather glaring.
Every championship team in the NBA is built around a superstar player. The Bucks have that in MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. But what they don’t have is a true second star, who plays to the needs of the team’s leader and compliments him adequately. Now don’t get me wrong, Khris Middleton is a very good basketball player. He has been an all star the last two years and is a vital 3 & D wing to the Bucks. But there is one big problem with Middleton being Giannis’ sidekick. He is not a big game player. Ever since the Bucks made the leap in 2019 to become a true contender, Middleton has not performed in the playoffs as in 2019 he had just 17 points with 5 rebounds and 4 assists with a weak .418% mark from the field. A year later, Middleton did up his game to 20 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds per game but the Bucks suffered an even earlier exit at the hands of the Miami Heat in the second round in a quick 5 game series. They do have phenomenal overall roster talent which is full of depth, another hue contributing factor to championship teams. The bottom line here is, every championship team needs a superstar. And every superstar needs a sidekick to produce on a high level both when he is and isn’t on the court. LeBron had Dwyane Wade. Kobe had Pau Gasol. Jordan had Pippen. Khris Middleton is not a good enough basketball talent to help Giannis and the Bucks win a championship. Now the Bucks should not trade Khris Middleton. He was paid a five-year supermax last season for a reason. But they need a better second star. And the opportunity has opened for them to get one.
Chris Paul is a 14 year NBA veteran, a 10x all star and one of the greatest point guards in the league’s history. After leading a new look Thunder team back to the playoffs and coming within 3 points of advancing to the second round, Paul can still ball. And with OKC not keeping coach Billy Donovan after such a successful season, the door seems open for Paul to be dealt. His contract is huge, as he is owed $41 million for the next 2 seasons. But the Bucks have the financial ability to acquire him, whom would completely transform the Bucks for the better. The most likely scenario that could get CP3 to Milwaukee would have to include at least Eric Bledsoe (who would be replaced by Paul anyway), Donte DiVincenzo, Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez. From there, another few million would need to be moved to satisfy financial trade rules, not to mention at least some draft picks and young assets going to Oklahoma for value purposes. If this hypothetical deal were to happen, it would mean the Bucks would field 3 all stars on their team and could still hold onto valuable role players such as veteran George Hill and while they lose some depth, they certainly won’t slip much in the standings.
If the Bucks decide to simply run it back with the same squad next year, there is a chance it could still work if they could have some better luck and fix their mistakes. When they were eliminated the past two seasons, they were knocked out by the hottest teams in basketball at the time. The Raptors were coming off a second round series in which they won it at the buzzer and kept that momentum rolling through Milwaukee despite going down to them 2-0 and eventually to a championship. In 2020, they got the wrong team at the wrong time again as the underdog Miami Heat took advantage of a hobbled Antetokounmpo and dominated the series in 5 games. While they haven’t had the best matchups, adjustments did not come from the Bucks coaching when they were backed up against the wall. Mike Budenholzer is a great NBA coach and deserves to lead this Milwaukee squad but once the Raptors started showing life in 2019 and the Heat jumped out on the Bucks in 2020, no significant lineup or matchup changes were made to counter their roadblocks. Milwaukee was so determined to run their offense through Antetokounmpo and rely on shooting outside from the rest of the team that when defenses adjusted, the Bucks offense would stall for long periods of time. And while they did have the top defensive ranking in the league and pretty much kept that up in the playoffs, without the buckets to back that up it was a losing effort.
The Bucks did battle in every game, but with it all being for nought, it raises the question on if they are good enough in the clutch to truly be a championship contender is serious. With these recent playoff shortcomings, rumors are now swirling of the team’s savior Giannis Antetokounmpo possibly on the way out as he is a 2021 free agent.
The Bucks have one more year to prove to the Greek Freak Milwaukee is a place to win and if the Bucks fall short of the finals again next season, we could be looking at a lost dynasty in the Cream City.
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