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Essay: The Milwaukee Bucks And Perpetual Sorrow

For the fan who absorbs his team’s season through a panoramic prism, the ever-dueling emotions of hope and despair hover above wins and losses each and every night.

Both one win and one loss mean very little in the grand scheme of things, but string a few together and a more accurate picture is painted regarding the “look” a team has. Are they playing the game in a fundamentally correct way? Are young pieces re-tracking career expectations with either stellar  or ghastly performances? Is there an actual offensive and defensive philosophy? Do players appear to enjoy playing with one another? How about upper management and the coaching staff? How’s cap space look? Are aggressive signings made for the good of the team? Has an addiction to bargain basement hunting become a sad reality?

The whole point of cheering a team on is with hopes that one day they’ll win an NBA championship. The really good teams with the really good players find themselves competing in the now, while the really bad teams with the really bad players are rewarded for shoddy play with entry into the lottery. Both fan bases temper different styles of hope, but the Milwaukee Bucks fall outside the lines; empty-handed and alone.

Right now they’re an anti-optimism black hole of sorrow who’re steady in their unpredictable ways. For a less harsh description, of all 30 teams, a strong case can be made that the Bucks are furthest from climbing the ultimate mountain.  Whether it’s next season or 10 years down the line, a championship in Milwaukee is one of the most implausible scenarios in the NBA.

This franchise doesn’t have what I’d like to call “identifiable identity”. At the moment, the two most notable players on their roster are an Australian seven-footer whose best days are undoubtedly a thing of the past, and an inconsistent renegade running point, tallying more threes than assists per game. There’s just nothing to put your finger on when someone says to you, “So, who are the Milwaukee Bucks?”

Here’s some analysis of why they’re in trouble, and why the future looks just as dark as the present.

  • Right now the Bucks are 28th in net free-throw rate. They simply don’t value getting to the rim and don’t value stopping opponents from doing so on the other end.
  • Just a couple years ago they were a methodic, defensive minded team that struggled to score but were resilient in their persistent harassment. Right now they’re the 10th fastest team in the league giving up the 21st most points per possession. They’re a comedy that makes you angry; a George Clooney directed political thriller that doesn’t leave you befuddled.
  • Their leading scorer is a point guard who averages about five assists a game. Their former number one overall pick, and one time signal of true hope, Andrew Bogut, is probably a non-factor moving forward and would be the whale of trade chips if not for his offensive regression and inability to stay healthy. (Before going down with yet another serious injury, Bogut was Meryl Streeping a 2010-11 Brook Lopez.)
  • Their attendance is 25th out of 30 teams this season.
  • They’ve thrown nine different starting lineups out in the season’s first 30 games.
  • They’ve escaped the first round twice in the last 25 years.
  • In last year’s draft they sacrificed their first round pick (Jimmer Fredette—a player who at the very least would create short-term buzz) in order to shed the painful salaries of Corey Maggette and John Salmons. (Nobody’s fault but their own.)
  • Their lone title came on the back of a nippy, temperamental player who showed no visceral connection with the city he played in.
  • They haven’t had an All-Star since Michael Redd in 2004. The streak will continue this season.
  • Apart from Brandon Jennings, who’s probably one of the 15 best point guards in the league, there’s really no reason to watch them play. (A case can be made for Mbah a Moute’s valiant defense, but the casual fan laughs in the face of this reasoning.) They’ve positioned themselves in a dangerous situation, where in an attempt to raise public interest in the team, entertainment and style could be valued over unimaginative efficiency.
  • According to their record, the Milwaukee Bucks are the Eastern Conference’s 9th best team. They’ve blown a few leads, made a few comebacks, and midway through the season have revealed themselves to be a middle of the pack bore. They’ve slain the Heat and conquered the Lakers, but fell to the likes of Sacramento, Phoenix, and Charlotte. In the NBA you’re only as consistent as your best player, and when your best player is an inconsistent point guard well that probably means you aren’t a steady basketball team. Also, 2+2=4.
  • Since taking Bogut in 2005, the Bucks’ first round selections read like this: Yi Jianlian in 2007 (over Joakim Noah, Thaddeus Young, Arron Afflalo), Joe Alexander in 2008 (over Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert, Ryan Anderson, Darrell Arthur, Nicolas Batum, and every other breathing candidate who’s name was in the pool), Brandon Jennings in 2009 (solid pick, but could’ve had Jrue Holiday or Ty Lawson; two point guards who at this stage in their careers arguably bring more to the table than Jennings), Larry Sanders in 2010 (a 6′ 11″ man grabbing less than three boards a game), and Fredette/nothing in 2011. Those selections are so laughable, that if you rounded up Milwaukee’s second round picks from each of those years and had them play the first rounders in a pick up game, the second rounders would probably win. (Those second rounders are Ramon Sessions in 2007, Luc Mbah a Moute in 2008, Jodie Meeks in 2009, and Jon Leuer in 2011. Meeks is a heavy contributor towards Philadelphia’s surprise attack and one of the most potent three-point threats in the game, while Sessions is an underrated back up point guard who’s scored over 3000 points since entering the league.) So since the 2005 draft—when Milwaukee chose to build their franchise around Andrew Bogut instead of Deron Williams or Chris Paul—there’s been a lot of swinging and a ton of missing going on in Milwaukee.
  • If history tells us anything, Scott Skiles will be replaced sooner than later, but in the NBA a coaching change doesn’t necessitate a successful turnaround. This isn’t football, where schemes, strategy, and game preparation outweighs overall talent. In the NBA, players get credit and coaches get blamed, so there really isn’t any reason to believe the firing of Skiles will lead to any sort of resurgence.

In summation, Milwaukee isn’t disappointing and they don’t take your breath away. They’re in a cold purgatory that may outweigh that in which the likes of Charlotte or Toronto finds themselves in. Whether it be young talent, the lottery, a change in philosophy, or a combination of all three, almost every other team in the league has something to look forward to.

The Bucks have nothing. They’re just bad enough to miss the playoffs, and just good enough to miss the lottery. They have no financial flexibility, and nary a whiff of reason for any free agent to climb aboard. When it comes down to which team in the league might be making their fans the saddest, we’re left with asking how much longer before those who still cling to hope will elect to do so.

Categories: Essays
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