Personal Anecdote: I've been a Bulls fan my whole life, but over the last three years I've grown a fondness for the Milwaukee Bucks. I started going to Bucks games a lot during the 2016-17 season as Milwaukee is only about an hour and a half drive from my hometown, and tickets are significantly cheaper than the Bulls; like $50 cheaper for nosebleeds seats. The highlight was Game 6 of the Eastern Conference first round when the Bucks played the Raptors. They fought back from a twenty-point third quarter deficit fueled by none other than Jason Terry. Giannis Antetokounmpo played 47 minutes and played his ass off. The Bucks ended up losing the game and getting eliminated, but I'd never seen the BMO Center going so crazy. It was a truly magical experience and hands down one of the best basketball games I've been to. Thanks to cheap tickets prices I've been able to see players like LeBron, James Harden, Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, DeMar DeRozan, and Paul George. During the time I've been going to Milwaukee, I've gotten to see Giannis and the team grow from fringe first round competitors into dark horse contenders this season.
The Bucks have been pretty damn good so far. They're currently 7-1, tied for first in the East with the Toronto Raptors. Until last night they were the only remaining undefeated team in the league but suffered a road loss to the Boston Celtics in a rematch of last year's first round. The Celtics won 117-113, but if anything this could be seen as an encouraging a loss. The Celtics are still a favorite to be in the Finals and there's no doubt it's tough for anyone to play in front of a rowdy Boston crowd. In an East that's already shaking up to be pretty shitty, the Bucks are taking advantage and already laying the groundwork for a top-three seed finish.
The root of this early dominance stems from Giannis, the new Vegas MVP favorite. After another summer of putting on muscle and training with Kobe Bryant (my all-time favorite player), Giannis is trying to prove that he's the best player in the East. In 7 games, he's averaging 26.1 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 5.1 assists, 1.4 blocks, and 1 steal on 51.2/5.9/71.0 shooting. Those numbers are insane, even if he is shooting about 6% from three. Giannis is just so big (6'11, 242 pounds) and has such long arms that he can do whatever he wants once he gets in the paint. It only takes him about a step and a half to get to the rim after a rebound, so nobody should be expected to stop him. He's just too damn good. Giannis knows that he can win MVP this season and eventually be an all-time great. Kobe has challenged him to win the MVP before, and after being able to pick his brain and have him as a mentor, it seems like the Mamba Mentality is getting ingrained in the Greek Freak's playstyle. Another full season and a playoff experience could end differently than it has before, especially if Giannis seems to be the clearcut MVP. If they get high seeding and a good groove heading into the playoffs, they'll almost certainly get out of the first round for the first time in the Giannis-era.
The rest of the starters and supporting case have also been key to the early success. New head coach Mike Budenholzer has allowed the team to thrive in his new offense, eliminating a lot of the standstill iso plays ran by Jason Kidd last year. There's a lot of similarities to Budenholzer's 2013-14 Atlanta Hawks team that went 60-22. Kris Middleton is averaging 20.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.5 steals through 8 games on 46.8/50.8/88.0 shooting. Middleton dealt with injuries last year limiting him to only 29 games, but this year has been a different story. He's making a strong case to make his first All Star appearance this year, and if he keeps up this production and the Bucks' record remains relatively high, getting voted in shouldn't be an issue. The team is also getting a lot of good play out of their guards, Eric Bledsoe and 2017 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon, who are averaging a combined 26.5, 8.2 rebounds, and 10.5 assists. Both are going to keep up the production in the new offense, and they'll both be integral parts of the team come playoffs.
This summer's new additions have been solid as well. Brook Lopez is playing solid on offense with 11.1 points a night and holding it down on defense with a team-leading 1.5 blocks. He's still somehow one of the worst rebounding big men, averaging 3.0 a game. It makes almost no sense, considering he's about seven feet tall. Ersan Ilyasova, in what seems like his eighth stint with Milwaukee, is providing 9.3 points and 6.6 rebounds a night off the bench on about 52% shooting. Ilyasova can really help stretch the floor with his ability to shoot the three and his playoff experience will come in handy. The Bucks' 2018 Draft pick, Dante DiVincenzo, is earning his spot in the rotation with 8.3 points and 4.1 rebounds. This is the deepest Bucks team in a while and having such depth around Giannis should be a scary thought for the rest of the league.
It's usually kind of hard for small market teams to really compete for championships unless they have superstars like Russell Westbrook, but the Bucks are looking to change that narrative. They're off to a scorching hot start along with Giannis' reign of terror on every rim, and have collected a victory against another East powerhouse in the Raptors. "It's early", but it really feels like this success is going to carry on. Giannis is deserving of being called the MVP favorite and he's going to put up a hell of a fight against other candidates like Steph Curry, Anthony Davis, and LeBron. This is going to be a fun team to follow the rest of the season; I can't wait to get to my first game.
Shoutout to my Bucks squad.
Note: I'm watching the Wizards/Thunder game right now and the Wizards are so fucking bad, wow.