What a first week of the season! The Milwaukee Bucks got underway with a statement win on the road against the reeling Boston Celtics, eliciting praise and raising the hopes of fans that the team would finally leap forward in a wide-open Eastern Conference.
Then they hosted the Cleveland Cavaliers, only to see them severely under-perform and reignite (well-founded) fears that the franchise was assuredly on the brink of total collapse. The mood of the fan base felt very much like what I imagine the public mood was like upon witnessing the Hidenburg Disaster in 1937; despair and anger abounded.
Thankfully, Giannis Antetokounmpo was determined to bring balance to all things Bucks, and did so with an emphatic 44 point, eight rebound, four assist and two steal performance against the Portland Trail Blazers that has Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the Midwest, the nation, and the globe abuzz this Monday morning.
If there was one thing that stood head and shoulders above all the other initial-season storylines it was clearly Giannis's sheer dominance against every opponent. Simply put, he's been playing at a historically unprecedented level:
SUPER early, but here's Giannis vs. single-season records:— FrankMadden (@fmaddenNBA) October 22, 2017
PER: 43.3 (Wilt 31.8)
BPM: +17.8 (Westbrook +15.6)
WS/48: .413 (Kareem .340)
Can he sustain such a level? Unlikely, though the command he's shown against all types of competitors signals he's reached a point where he can impose his will on a game at a whim. And he's still just 22 years old.
But, hey, this column isn't here to solely drool all over Giannis statlines. We gather every Monday morning to read the stories the national media is writing about the Bucks, and the first week brought some of the best long-form reads I've seen in a while. So without further ado:
Playing The Longer Game (ESPN)
The Bucks are, in today's NBA, an oddity. They're a small-market team with big personalities across the board. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the star player, head coach Jason Kidd the former Hall of Fame inductee, and the three-headed ownership group of Marc Lasry, Wes Edens, and Jamie Dinan your typical mix of egos from the NYC investment world.
At the same time, the uniqueness of the Bucks extends beyond personality. The team has, for close to five years, purposefully built its roster around the newest unproven commodity in basketball: Length.
Starting with John Henson and concluding most recently with DJ Wilson, the Bucks have gone out of their way to look for guys with as much wingspan for their size as possible. Once that physical attribute was virtually monopolized in Milwaukee, the next step was designing a scheme that made the most of the size on-hand.
And so the most infuriating defense in the NBA was born.
But maybe the deficiencies harped upon about the defense aren't as warranted as they seem. In coach Kidd's words, the team plays defense with one goal in mind: “We call it 'No fastballs.’” I'll let you read to find out what that means exactly, but the rationale certainly is intriguing and brings a new light to what we see on a nightly basis.
Not all is well in Buck-Land, however, with issues at the top both in team management and ownership. However, if Milwaukee can get past those problems, the core in place looks ready to compete in the NBA of today, tomorrow, and a decade from now.
Similar in theme to the ESPN piece above, the Ringer's Jonathon Tjarks sees great things in Milwaukee's future. Even better, all the ingredients needed to compete and win in an evolving NBA don't need to be collected; they're already in Milwaukee.
Giannis and his rising star is the obvious focal point, but it is easy to envision a future where Malcolm Brogdon, Thon Maker, Tony Snell, and Khris Middleton/Jabari Parker (contract situations pending for both) continue to gel as a unit on their way to continual playoff success. All have shown that their games can be shaped to fit together well enough to win at a decent rate against NBA-level competition. Time, and perhaps a future coaching change, could be the only additions missing to craft a truly deadly weapon out of a roster teeming with potential.
The one big speed bump, as also pointed out by ESPN, is the uncertain power politicking within an ownership group who has shown a knack for getting stuck at impasses at critical moments. How the contradictions of the current team governorship seat and possession of “veto” power get resolved could be the deciding factor in whether Milwaukee finds itself hoisting a Larry O’Brien trophy in the next decade or self-immolating in appalling fashion.
The October 26th home tilt against the Boston Celtics has been a hot ticket since the team announced months ago that it would mark the franchise's “Return to the MECCA”.
Luckily things don't stop at just playing in the team's former building (now known as the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena). They've contracted a design firm to take the scheme of the original MECCA floor, designed by Robert Indiana in 1977, and to replicate it for this one-off event. Once the game is finished the court will be sanded down and sent to Oshkosh for repainting and use by the Wisconsin Herd as their season approaches.
Getting a seat in the Bucks’s old stomping grounds is going to be tough, but for those fans who have been with the team for decades, whether at its inception or during some of its high-watermark years in the 80’s, the price of admission may be more than worth it for the experience.
Owners: Optimism for Milwaukee Bucks leads to success off the court (Milwaukee Business Journal)
We've all seen it or experienced it in person. It seems unlikely, but fans in and around Milwaukee can help create one of the most hostile road environments in the NBA time and time again.
All they're waiting for is a winner worth supporting.
At the heart of that wait are the ebbs and flows of seasonal attendance numbers. Last year the average nightly number of fans in the stands was reported at 15,828 (with the Bradley Center capacity at 18,717), an increase over 2015-2016’s 15,166. A strong final year could push that number to some of the highest averages the Bradley Center has seen in its existence; a fitting end for Milwaukee's home for nearly three decades.
What will be interesting to watch are attendance figures for the new arena both in its inaugural season and beyond. Between concerns about seat availability and increases in price for current season ticket holders and single-game buyers it isn't clear how solid current trends will be in the new arena.
For now, things are looking up at the Bradley Center, and a good start to the season will only bolster averages as we head through the lengthy NBA season.
And I'd like a pony.
In all honesty, the Bucks may be a bit hard-pressed to get the kind of numbers being reported for a naming deal for their new arena starting in 2018.
Orlando was able to secure a $40 million sponsorship with Amway for a 10-year period, and the Sacramento Kings got a $120 million, 20-year agreement for their new Golden 1 Center, but the Bucks think they can demand quite a bit more as the sole NBA team with a naming spot open at the moment. So, the $7-10 million a year figure emerges.
Word has been that the local dollars just aren't there at the amount the Bucks are interested in. That leaves out-of-market bids, including those from internationally-based firms, as the most likely path to a lucrative license.
Perhaps Foxconn, who is entering Wisconsin in the coming years to create a manufacturing base, is a likely choice. Either way, the announcement of an agreement should be out soon, so keep your eyes peeled!
From the Social Media Realm
Wait a minute, didn't Kareem force his way out of Milwaukee? I'll let him aboard the Bucks hype-train, but I'm left a little skeptical of “hashtag BucksPride”:
You were hoping for an eight-plus minute video of Giannis highlights from the first week of regular season play? We’ve got you covered:
And so the rise of Hoodie Giannis began:
Here's a TOTALLY NOT AT ALL CRYPTIC tweet from Jabari Parker hours after he and the Bucks were unable to reach an extension agreement:
It’s very easy to give up. Just remember that you can not grow if you don’t keep pushing. Never quit. You fall down, you get right back up.— Jabari Parker (@JabariParker) October 17, 2017
The Wisconsin Herd took part in the G-League Draft this past Saturday and look to have a training camp roster all set after signing Joel Bolomboy to the team's second two-way contract:
Not to brag too obnoxiously, but I've started the season off with a perfect 100% prediction record after pegging the Bucks to go 2-1 in their first three games. This week they start by hosting the Charlotte Hornets this evening, then hold their much-touted MECCA game against the Celtics on Thursday, and finish the week in Atlanta to face the Hawks on Sunday.
The Hornets are already going to be down a Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Cody Zeller, the MECCA game will be too amped-up an affair to lose, and the Hawks project to be abysmal this year. Write me down for a perfect 3-0 week and all the national adulation a 5-1 start will garner for the upstart Milwaukee Bucks.
Okay, I've taken up enough of your time. Hang in there at the office today; Milwaukee Bucks basketball is set to tip just hours from now, so sit tight and, as always: