The year is 2001, A.D. After Deer. It’s early June, and the Milwaukee Bucks just took the Eastern Conference’s number one seed, the Philadelphia 76ers, to seven games, in the Eastern Conference Finals. Of course, the Bucks would go on to lose in a blowout and the 76ers would advance to the NBA Finals, where they would then get demolished in five games in the midst of the Los Angeles Lakers early 2000’s three-peat.
It shouldn’t have been this way. The Bucks were the ultimate “woulda, coulda, shoulda” team of the 2000-01 NBA season. This is also the last year this team was known as a title contender. I have been a Wisconsinite my whole life, but ever since I can remember, the Bucks have not been a title contender. They haven’t even been playoff contenders. Hell, it used to be something to cheer about if we beat a team with a winning record.
NOTE TO ALL THOSE LAMENTING ABOUT THE 1980’s DON NELSON RUN TEAMS: I was born in 1984, so really, I can only count the 1990’s and on.
I bring up the 2000-01 Milwaukee Bucks, because for the first time since I was in high school (and basically my whole life), we are title contenders once again. I know, I know, the Golden State Warriors are going to win a fourth title in five years, but at least we can say we have the chance to deny them that. At least we can say that we have a legit shot to be playing basketball deep into May (something that hasn’t really happened since 2001).
At least the Milwaukee Bucks have the city of Milwaukee believing in them again.
I’m writing this to quickly compare the 2018-19 and the 2000-01 teams. The season is early, absolutely, but this team just FEELS DIFFERENT. They look different. They play different. Hell, even their arena is different (the newly minted Fiserv Forum is amazing, by the way).
The similarities lay within the team, and its actual components, the players.
Before there was Lebron, Wade and Bosh. Even before there was Garnett, Pierce and Allen. Wait, Ray Allen? Former Bucks great, Ray Allen? Yep, he of the Bucks Big Three, Ray Allen. The 2000-01 Milwaukee Bucks had a big three in Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell. Glenn and Ray were legit, two time All Stars in Milwaukee, and Sam certainly could have been a third. I’m not even mentioning super 6th man-but-could-be-starting-on-every-team, Tim Thomas. Or the consummate professional, if offensively limited center, in Ervin Johnson. Every team has to have a bench mob (Scott Williams, Jason Caffey, Lindsey Hunter), and a guy that dunks awesome to get the crowd riled up (enter, Darvin Ham). This team was absolutely loaded.
Watch highlights on YouTube about the glory days of prime Glenn Robinson’s sweet, silky smooth shooting or the verocity of a young Ray Allen. Read about the advanced stats on Basketball Reference. To save you some time, the 2000-01 Bucks were number two overall in POINTS PER GAME SCORING (100.7) and number one overall in OFFENSIVE RATING (108.8). Out of 29 teams. Not the division. Not the conference. In the entire league. The game sure has changed, eh? These days, those numbers would seem like a bottom five team, but back then, defense was still a thing. Teams weren’t using the simple math formula in today’s game of 3 > 2. Long live the long two.
This year’s team features a bevy of stars as well. Anything worth their NBA or Milwaukee Bucks’ salt, knows of Giannis Antetokounmpo. He isn’t just the Bucks best player, he’s among the best in the entire NBA. Giannis is a walking, Greek talking version of a triple double. After 8 games this season, he is currently averaging 26.1 PPG, 13.7 RPG and 5.1 APG. Oh yeah, and he also averages a steal and block per game. MVP! MVP! MVP!
Khris Middleton should be a shoe-in for his first all star berth this year. He should have been last year, as well, but I digress. He is the Robin to Giannis’ Batman. A perfect compliment. An excellent shooting, floor spacing, hard nosed defensive player. In baseball there is the “5 tool player.” Khris Middleton is the NBA version of that.
Rounding out the trio is stat filling, point guard, Eric Bledsoe. Another version of what I like to call, a mini triple double. Averages of 13.1 PPG, 4.3 RPG and 6.9 APG. A playmaking point guard, a la Sam “I Am” Cassell. A player with grit and attitude. Sometimes it costs us, sometimes it saves us. Either way, this team is being driven by it’s MVP, but Bledsoe is the one who holds the keys to the vehicle. A necessary attribute toward success.
As we had Tim Thomas, so we have Malcolm Brogdon, a player who can play both guard positions and has rotated as a starter and 6th man in his few years in the league. Always the smart player, who hits shot after shot, and is a glue guy. An absolute need for a younger team that needs to learn how to win. The President, as he is known, was also the 2016-17 Rookie of the Year. As a second round pick. Tell me that isn’t a welcome addition.
The bench mob and contributors alike, include a center revelation in Brook Lopez, who is everything this team has sorely needed since Larry Sanders went AWOL. A soft shooting center, who can stretch the floor and is a very willing passer. Surrounding Lebron James with shooters is a no brainer. Surrounding Giannis with shooters is also a no brainer. Why past Bucks teams kept trying to clog up the middle is beyond me. This year’s version of the Milwaukee Feer The Deer’s, finally get it. The NBA of today is an athletic, multi-positional, three point shooting world. Gone are the days of teams averaging 100 PPG and being considered an offense only team. Here are the days of teams averaging 110 PPG and being considered average. You need to score points to win the game.
John Henson, a frustrating player who can go on streaks of averaging a double double (10 PPG and 10 RPG, usually) and then suddenly disappear, scoring 3 points with 2 rebounds in the same amount of minutes, has suddenly begun shooting – AND HITTING- threes. Spread the floor, my antler friends, and good things will happen. Tony Snell, bang. Rookie contributor Donte DiVincenzo, bang. Former Buck, Ersan Ilyasova, bang. Even if Thon Maker puts it together and plays well long enough, that gives Milwaukee another athletic big who can space the floor and energize the crowd. Just ask the Boston Celtics about last year’s first round playoff deer in headlights blitzing. It almost worked. Woulda, coulda, shoulda.
The differences lay within the system, the one leading the charge. The head of the team, in, well, the head coach.
The strike shortened season in 1998-99 brought us a new coach in George Karl, he of the Seattle Supersonics (remember them?) fame. He instilled a winning attitude from the get go. Gone were the ho hum days, or maybe even dum dum days, of Mike Dunleavy and Chris Ford. By the 2000-01 NBA season, George Karl had the Milwaukee Bucks believing they could beat anyone. And they would. The Bucks had a losing record against only five teams, the Rockets, Knicks, Suns, Blazers and Sonics (naturally). Against the eventual NBA Champion Lakers? The Bucks went 2-0 against them that year. You can’t tell me they wouldn’t have put up a fight. Looking at you, David Stern >>>> Enough, said.
George wouldn’t last long, but he had a winning record with Milwaukee, albeit very demanding. He had a penchant for playing “his guys” and not going with talented rookies, like Michael Redd, even if they deserved a shot or were better than has beens like Anthony Mason, Danny Manning or Terrell Brandon. Jason Kidd was notorious for this as well. Even commentating less than a full year ago how, the Bucks are too young to learn, to contend, to win, to play the game of professional basketball, basically. Ego sometimes gets in the way of coaches, and it costs the teams and fans. But for one magical season, George Karl brought a belief to the city of Milwaukee, that we too, can win it all, and for that I am thankful. Jason Kidd, was just a name hire for a team needing attention and the owners looking for a splashy move. Plus, they just really, really wanted Kidd and not Larry Drew. Forever a Hall of Fame player, forever a terrible coach.
Our newest hire at the coaching helm is Mike Budenholzer. Formerly of the forever successful San Antonio Spurs coaching tree and previously the coach of the Atlanta Hawks. Hey, before you fans who just started watching the NBA this past year, laugh at “Bud” coaching the Hawks like it’s something great, take a look at his regular season record down in the Dirty South: 38-44, 60-22, 48-34, 43-39 and then 24-58. Like most teams in the East, the Hawks ran into LeBron during the playoffs and the rest is history. The last record is a byproduct of the team selling off all of its stars and jump starting the now popular trend of rebuilding through the draft and inserting a newer, younger coach.
Great hire, though. He has adapted to what today’s NBA is all about. Spacing. Three point shooting. Passing. Screens and hitting the cut man. Defense is more simplistic it seems, like switching and zones versus trying to find your man on man stopper. That just doesn’t exist, and Bud knows it.
The new coach is the same as the old Karl, in that he brings a winning attitude towards the team and is exactly what is needed at this point in time, for this exact team. I just hope this time, the result isn’t the same as the old result.
All the city of Milwaukee asks for, is a chance. A chance to do the unthinkable, and advance. The Brewers pulled it off and also came within one game of heading to the World Series, now it’s the Bucks’ turn. The time is now. The future is now. Own it. And of course…
FEAR THE DEER.
* All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference*
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