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D.J. Wilson: The Bucks’ Unlikely Hero

A rejuvenated D.J. Wilson has made a ginormous impact on this Milwaukee Bucks team the last few weeks.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks-Media Day Mike De Sisti-USA TODAY Sports

After a harrowing, frightening rookie season last year, second-year big man D.J. Wilson has quieted his naysayers by playing some tremendous basketball on both ends of the floor this season for the Milwaukee Bucks.

After missing nearly the first two months of the season nursing a hamstring injury, Wilson has been playing significant minutes since returning for the first time in his young NBA career. Last season, he only saw 71 minutes of action...he’s already played 165 minutes this season while averaging a career-high 18 minutes per game. Mind you, he’s only played in 8 games this season. This particular stat that jumped off the screen when analyzing D.J. Wilson’s numbers.

In his time on the floor last season, there were many doubts among Bucks fans that he was even an NBA caliber bench player. I remember there were a few games last season where it looked like Wilson didn’t even know how to dribble a basketball. This year, however, it’s like he took someone’s prowess a la Space Jam. I am certainly not complaining.

D.J. is averaging career-highs across the board so far, which includes 7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. However, one of his biggest improvements is his jumper. Wilson is up to 50% shooting overall and a white-hot 47.4% from deep on 2.4 attempts per game. His ability to space the floor and drag his defender away from the basket has played a huge part of Milwaukee’s torrid play this month.

Offensively, his court awareness has been very solid thus far. He seems to always be in the right place at the right time, and his anticipation is much improved from last season. Look at this play for may jump out at you, but instead of watching Khris Middleton get doubled in the corner, he brilliantly cuts to the basket after realizing that his man is not paying attention to him. This is something we’ve rarely seen from Wilson before. This play saved a turnover.

Gotta love the powerful finish with the left!

Not only is he cutting to the basket at a higher frequency, but head coach Mike Budenholzer has used him a handful in PnR’s the last few weeks. Last season, we often saw him get bullied offensively because of his lack of strength. However, that has not been the case this season. It looks like D.J. has bulked up a bit this season, and as a result, he’s finishing around the rim with better consistency. Look at how hard he cuts to the basket after setting a brush screen. He does throw up a wild shot, but he knew that he’s in the better position to corral the offensive rebound for a put-back. Persistence pays.

He dropped his first-career double-double on Thursday night against the New York Knicks (10 points and 14 rebounds).

On the defensive end of the floor, D.J. Wilson has seemingly shut down most everyone who he’s guarded. No more getting abused on the low block, save for a few Christmas bullies courtesy of Noah Vonleh. His footwork defensively has been fantastic, and as a byproduct, he has altered a bevy of shots and has been at the center of many forced turnovers. His ability to switch and defend multiple defenders has really elevated this Milwaukee Bucks already stingy defense. Look at this defensive sequence against the Miami Heat last week. Not only does he keep his footing, but he defends three Heat players AND contests the shot at the end of the shot clock. This alone might be the most impressive defensive sequence by a single Bucks player this year.

In Milwaukee’s last victory over the Knicks on Thursday, one specific defensive possession stood out to me. Knicks athletic big man Noah Vonleh gathered the ball and tried to back D.J. Wilson down in the post. Keyword, he tried. Wilson held his ground beautifully and showed fantastic patience defensively and as a reward, he blocked Vonleh’s attempt.

Let’s not forget that in his second game played of the season, he also put the clamps down on Pistons forward Blake Griffin down the stretch. That is certainly no easy feat. Even more astounding is the fact that D.J. Wilson is holding opponents to 44% shooting within 10 feet of the rim! For your information, the league average is 55.4 percent. D.J. the defensive stalwart?

These are the intangibles that we did not see at all from D.J. Wilson last season, but it’s clear that he’s motivated and eager to improve under a completely new coaching staff. Being 100 percent healthy has also helped, too. Bucks fans (myself included), were beyond ready to write him off last season. However, with his improved performance this season the “D.J Wilson Hype Train” (shout out to our social media savant, Kyle) is quickly filling up. I will gladly eat crow about being wrong on his abilities.