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Work In Progress: Is Adding Talent Enough for the Milwaukee Bucks?

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After addressing one of their biggest flaws, the Milwaukee Bucks are still seeking their path to success.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Milwaukee Bucks Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Over the course of the summer, one of the major critiques of the Milwaukee Bucks was their depth at guard, particularly at point guard. Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova may have filled the role adequately, but their games each left something left to be desired.

As the 2017-18 season began, it became clear that the Bucks suffered from a wide talent gap; after superstar Giannis and the capable Khris Middleton, everyone else on the roster seemed to be playing a role at least one level higher than they probably should have. This problem was compounded by the strategies employed by Jason Kidd and his coaching staff, since the margin for error (particularly on defense) is thinner than Thon Maker. It became clear that the Bucks needed to take action somewhere in order to get the season back on track.

Enter Eric Bledsoe; the Bucks struck an advantageous deal with the flailing Phoenix Suns, and Bledsoe’s introduction to the roster immediately had an impact on several fronts. In fact, the team went on a four-game winning streak after adding the athletic point guard, and many fans opined that the Bucks had struck gold on a smart early-season gamble. Trading assets for Bledsoe (who still hasn’t fully come around), combined with the eventual return of Jabari Parker from his knee injury, put the Bucks in good position to compete in the talent battle on any given night going forward.

Those good vibes from the Mini LeBron-fueled win streak? They were erased almost completely by an abomination of a loss to the lowly Dallas Mavericks. Suddenly, by getting blown out in a game Milwaukee had no excuse losing, it felt like the schematic issues that have plagued the Bucks for years were insurmountable. Many Bucks fans, who had expressed their severe disappointment during the pre-Bledsoe four-game losing streak, were briefly muted during the undefeated four-game stretch, but quickly returned to their digital pulpits to preach the #FireKidd gospel.

This is a burden borne not just by Jason Kidd, but by coaches everywhere. When teams find success, the players deserve the credit; when teams struggle, it is more often than not the fault of those leading the players from the sidelines. After all, the team would win thanks to those talented players actually on the floor, if it weren’t for those danged coaches getting in the way!

To be clear, the players are not without fault during the struggles of this young season. Giannis has fallen in love with his midrange jumper too often, Middleton had a tortoise-slow start to his season, and while John Henson has been a pleasant surprise, Thon Maker has disappointed thus far. The defense has looked good when everybody is “on,” but it looks bad (or worse) when the team is lackadaisical. Just because the Bledsoe trade made the Bucks better does not automatically make them “good,” even though they ought to be.

(If you want more analysis of just how bad the Dallas loss was, be sure to check out today’s episode of Locked On Bucks.)

The obvious (and correct) counterpoint to any criticism of the players is to question what the players are being asked to do. The defense is supposed to generate turnovers, but at the expense of open threes and opportunities at the rim. You might block a shot on one possession, but you’ll struggle to maintain your position on the following two. And if the defensive scheme requires all of your energy and effort, how can you expect to have a dynamic offense instead of one that involves a ton of ball-watching? Can the defense only be run by programmed automatons that are incapable of making mistakes, and if so, is it simply asking too much of the Bucks’ players when pitted against other NBA talents?

These are the questions that are coming into the spotlight, even though a vocal contingent of Bucks fans have been asking them for a while now. Those out of the loop might ask why the criticism of Kidd seems so much more severe than other coaches. The answer to that is simple: Bucks fans have not had a superstar in decades, and we are not eager to see the Giannis Era disappoint.

Fear often rests at the base of sports fans’ concerns. In this case, Bucks fans are afraid that Giannis, the transcendent, omnipotent, irreplaceable Giannis Antetokounmpo, will have his pursuit of NBA success undermined by the hackneyed strategies imposed by Jason Kidd, and the only vaccine is to separate Kidd from the franchise as soon as possible.

These concerns are valid, but rushing to that solution is a flawed proposal. It might feel better to see the presumed “villain” fall by the wayside...but what then? As we hypothesized earlier in the month:

Of course, if you fire Jason Kidd now, the likely outcome is that one of his assistants (probably Joe Prunty) takes over, and very little actually changes. Or, you clean house entirely in November, and put any incoming staff in an untenable position: either install your system on the fly during the season (and probably lose), or work with the current team on something bland and easy until the summer (and probably lose).

For some, the side effects of the medicine might be worth it right now. For others, exercising patience is the more prudent approach. But one thing’s for sure: the number of Coach Kidd supporters dwindles by the day, and sooner or later the Milwaukee Bucks ownership group is going to have to confront that reality.

A few weeks ago, we laid out the Bucks’ issues across three fronts: talent, scheme, and coaching. The talent front has been addressed. If the Bucks continue to struggle tonight against Washington, there is only one significant direction to focus our attention, and that is towards the coaching staff of the Milwaukee Bucks. Whatever the root cause of the problem is, something isn’t working. It’s up to them to fix it, to make changes, or to make way for those who can try something else.