There's nothing better for the soul of a Bucks fan than getting to see your favorite team consistently beat lesser opponents. Normally, when Milwaukee would match up with, say, the Brooklyn Nets, a mucky slugfest was guaranteed. The Bucks would either pull out a three point win, or more likely than not, they'd inexplicably lose in dispiriting fashion.
That, as of the past two weeks, is no longer the case.
Since taking over the helm from Jason Kidd, head coach Joe Prunty has been able to guide his team to an encouraging 6-1 start with wins over the hapless Brooklyn Nets, New York Knicks, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, and Phoenix Suns. Those are wins a good team should expect to rack up, but this team historically struggled to get over the hump. The change is welcome, especially in such a tightly-contested Eastern Conference where ever victory could mean the difference between a top-four seed or a difficult first-round match-up.
In this morning's roundup, we'll try to keep the good feelings flowing with stories involving Jabari Parker's return, a series of articles discussing where the Bucks go from here the rest of the season, and FiveThirtyEight's eulogy for Milwaukee's old defensive scheme.
Milwaukee, Let’s Ride (Players’ Tribune)
Is this a player puff piece? Absolutely.
Did it get me hook, line, and sinker? Absolutely.
Nobody knows just how this upcoming off-season is going to go, nor whether the Bucks will end up retaining the services of Jabari Parker. That doesn't mean we can't block out the noise and enjoy everything Jabari will do the rest of the season. I'm ecstatic he's back, and if his first two appearances are any indication, we're in for a treat the rest of the year.
Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker is finally back – again (NBA.com)
Jabari's return last Friday had me feeling emotional for many reasons. Firstly, I was beyond happy for him: grinding through two year-long rehab processes, learning to trust a body that has failed him catastrophically on two separate occasions, feeling a sense of isolation from the highs and lows of his team with no ability to lend a hand; all of that had to be excruciatingly painful.
More importantly, I was angry with the hand fate dealt him. Angry to know we missed the chance to witness an offensive fireball go off night after night for nearly two years. When he puts his mind to it, Jabari can score with the best of them, and we were robbed of seeing him do just that.
Here's to no longer missing out, and here's to a clean bill of health for Parker the rest of his NBA career.
Can these Bucks be great? They’re running out of time to find out (ESPN)
Why is ESPN's Zach Lowe trying to mellow my vibe? Sure, the Bucks are stuck in the midst of salary cap hell, and sure, we don't know whether or not the core they have now will be enough to seriously compete for NBA championships, but why are you forcing me to confront the harsh reality of the situation?
Every off-season is a make-or-break opportunity for a franchise to make the leap from pretender to contender, but I can't help shake the feeling that decisions made at the upcoming trade deadline and this Summer have more import than any the Bucks have faced in years.
The Bucks’ Great Defensive Experiment Is Over (FiveThirtyEight)
Of all the words I'd choose to describe Milwaukee's dysfunctional defense, “great” probably wouldn't get near the top of the list. Negative associative feelings aside, Kyle Wagner over at 538 put together a comprehensive timeline of the Bucks’ defense under Jason Kidd.
Since Kidd's departure, the Bucks have seen their defensive ranking go through the roof, moving from one of the league's worst units to middle-of-the-pack. Part of that is thanks to a very easy schedule these past two weeks, but even having an average defense would do wonders for this team.
Meet Malcolm (M-Magazine)
The timing couldn't be much worse with Malcolm Brogdon ruled out for six to eight weeks with a partially torn quad, but it is always a pleasure getting a chance to know a bit more about players beyond basketball.
I'm always impressed by the number of achievements Malcolm has already reached at his age. He has his bachelor's in history and a graduate degree in public policy, made it to the NBA, put together a Rookie of the Year campaign, and has become an indispensable part of Milwaukee's short- and long-term plans.
And here I am eating tortilla chips with roasted garlic salsa on a February weekend. Come to think of it, Malcolm and I are a lot alike if you squint really hard.
Interim coach Joe Prunty tackles task of guiding Milwaukee Bucks’ path (NBA.com)
The first couple of games under Joe Prunty's watch have shown a lot of promise. The defense is showing signs of life, the offense is still humming with more and more options becoming available, and the wins are coming in bunches.
Will the Bucks maintain that success when they begin playing playoff-bound teams instead of those on the outside looking in? The answer to that question will go a long way to determining if Joe Prunty moves from peripheral candidate for the full-time coaching position to front-runner, especially if he guides the Bucks to a modicum of post-season success.
His 6-1 record may prove to be an anomaly, or it may prove to be the earliest signs of the right coach emerging at just the right time.
Inside the Bucks’ social media strategy that drew 2.5 million all-star votes for Giannis Antetokounmpo (SB Nation)
I'm curious just how much having an NBA team and All-World talent like Giannis Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee impacts name recognition globally. We, of course, have our legions of Aussie and Greek fans, but how many others know Milwaukee exists solely because the Bucks exist?
If the 2.5 million All-Star votes for Giannis are any indication, I think it safe to assume at least a few more people could name “Milwaukee, Wisconsin” today than they could a few months or years ago.
Can Milwaukee Bucks make push for East’s third seed? (NBA.com)
With the Cleveland Cavaliers in a serious slump, the Washington Wizards in the midst of finding themselves without John Wall, and the rest of the Eastern Conference sort of just “there”, the Bucks have a legitimate chance at making a run at the cream of the East.
Malcolm Brogdon's injury could hamper those efforts, but the return of Jabari offers the team a lot more firepower. The trade deadline could still shake a lot of things up for Milwaukee or those teams between them and the third seed, but you certainly can't rule that possibility out.
What a difference two weeks makes, eh?
From the Social Media Realm
I call this series of tweets “Sterling Brown's NBA Career in a Nutshell”:
Sterling Brown, certified MF-er— Greg Licht (@Greg_Licht) February 3, 2018
Sterling Brown is a certified MFer, not sure Porzingis knows that.— Dean Maniatt (@AllTheBucks) February 3, 2018
I love Sterling Brown so much. He’s such an agitator. Other teams’ fans will grow to hate him. It’s lovely.— Mitchell Maurer (@WhalesLarry) February 3, 2018
Give Sterling Brown the keys to the City— Elijah Price (@DavidDunn21) February 3, 2018
And this is one heck of a picture. pic.twitter.com/9h4kYUzllT— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) February 3, 2018
Michael Beasley - Certified member of The Resistance:
Asked about what it was like to play for Jason Kidd, Michael Beasley said. “I’m here now, so.”— Marc Berman (@NYPost_Berman) February 2, 2018
Godspeed, Greg Monroe. Best of luck to you (unless the Celtics play Milwaukee in the post-season):
Monroe will sign a one-year, $5M deal with Celtics, league sources tell ESPN. Pelicans could only offer $2.2M.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 2, 2018
And finally, here's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Matt Velasquez dropping Bucks dimes all over the place:
I had an illuminating conversation with #Bucks beat reporter @Matt_Velazquez about the Kidd firing and what has changed since: https://t.co/oXDI9UcgWt— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) February 2, 2018
The easy schedule of late will get a little more difficult for the Bucks. This week is just one long road-trip for Milwaukee, with the team staying in New York to play the Knicks on Tuesday before heading south to play the Miami Heat Friday. They'll finish the weekend in Florida on Saturday to play the much-awaited revenge game against John Hammond and the Orlando Magic.
I'll peg them for a loss against the Knicks for karmic reasons, but they'll hop right back to their winning ways with a critical victory over the Miami Heat and then a whooping on the Magic in Orlando.
If things go right for Milwaukee, they're going to be sitting very pretty at the All-Star break. It is the least we deserve.