Where Does the Buck Stop?

Photo Courtesy: @Bucks/Twitter

Author: Carter Thomson

The Milwaukee Bucks released earlier this week that star forward Jabari Parker will be returning this Friday from his second ACL surgery to play the New York Knicks at home, though he will most likely be limited in playing time when he returns.

This will be a rare sight for Milwaukee fans as the trio of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Parker and Khris Middleton take the floor at the same time for the first time in over two years. In fact, under the tenure of recently fired head coach Jason Kidd, in that four years that same trio played only 11% of the total minutes together. One of the push-backs for firing Kidd was he never had his three stars healthy at the same time. Nevertheless, without Kidd behind the wheel the Bucks have won four out of five and things are looking up. 

One thing to look at for this young Bucks team is they begin in a weaker Eastern Conference, so they start with the advantage of not having to go through a loaded Western Conference. The East is comprised of the Celtics at the top, followed by the Raptors, Cavaliers, Heat and Wizards, with the Bucks close behind.

The Wizards just lost star point guard John Wall for an extended period of time due to a left knee injury. The reigning conference champions Cleveland Cavaliers have been bleeding all season and recently lost All-Star forward Kevin Love to a broken hand injury to add on to all the misery. The Miami Heat are once again over-achieving with head coach Erik Spoelstra doing another phenomenal job with that team but there are doubts how the team could handle themselves in a seven-game series with any team.  Last year, the Bucks were beaten in a six-game series with the Toronto Raptors.

However, the Bucks were also without Parker and Middleton was recently returning from an injury only allowing him to play in 29 games. This year Milwaukee (cross you fingers) should have Giannis, Middleton, newly acquired Eric Bledsoe, and sophomore rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon all healthy when this year’s playoffs roll around.

Parker should also have around 30 games under his belt to get back into basketball shape and be comfortable to play near the level he was playing at last year before he was injured, which was 20 points per game with 6 rebounds. Giannis has vastly improved over last year.  After winning the award for the NBA’s most improved player of the year last season, he now is averaging nearly 29 points per game, up from 23 last season and has started to even knock down jump shots on a more consistent basis as of late, which could take his talents and game to a complete other level. To add on to that he is also averaging about 2 more rebounds per game and the same number of assists as last season.

Add to that a healthy Middleton, a rejuvenated and excited Bledsoe, a rookie of the year who has improved from last year and  the third piece of the Bucks core in  Parker. 

So, the question then becomes, what is the limit for the Bucks this season? Teams in the Eastern Conference seem to be suffering left and right whether it may be an injury pop up or team dysfunction, possibly both in some cases. Barring of course (again, cross those fingers) any catastrophic injuries to this Bucks roster they seem to be a legitimate threat to make some noise in the playoffs. Can they finally get that first playoff series win since all the way back in 2001? Can they get past the second round with this team and make a run at the conference championship series?

The Bucks don’t seem to be on the same level as the Boston Celtics with how excellently the Celtics are coached by Brad Stevens and some of the playoff experience they have on that team. If Cleveland ever does flip that switch that they have been able to do in past seasons, then it looks like another no-go for the Bucks to get past a hot LeBron James-led team.  We know anything can happen when you have the best player on the planet on your team, but if they can’t figure something out quickly then the Bucks could give them a very competitive series.

Toronto has improved slightly from last year, but Milwaukee has too, and I believe they have improved exponentially more than the Raptors have.  They’ve gotten players back from injury and gained some playoff experience, so they may have a better chance this year.  

If the Bucks can put it all together these last 30 games, a first round series win looks like at least the direction the team would be headed for, and this could give them confidence going into the next season to take another leap forward as a team.

We may be seeing what the fans have been saying all along. “Own the Future” may just become a thing of the past. It may be time for the Bucks to look at themselves and their situation and realize the opportunity that is showing itself to them in the present.