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Roundtable: Season Review and Playoff Preview

Who’s gonna win it? The Bucks, the Bucks!

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t feed the pugs from the table, thanks. Today, we look back at the 2018-19 season, which was a fair bit different from last year’s campaign. The Milwaukee Bucks are the league’s top team, the East’s top seed, and Wisconsin sports fans’ best bet to win a championship this year (with the Milwaukee Brewers as a close second.)

Five years ago, the rebuild started as the Milwaukee Bucks won 15 games. This year, they won 60 games. It has been a transformation like few others, and is due to a near-complete renovation of the whole franchise. The only figures who were around for that dreadful 2013-14 campaign were Khris Middleton (in his second year), Giannis Antetokounmpo (in his rookie year), general manager Jon Horst (then Director of Basketball Operations) and...Ersan Ilyasova? That dude’s everywhere!

Sum up your feelings on the 2018-19 season in one word.

Kyle: Hype-Train (I’m making it one word, I don’t care.)

Adam: Carefree. What a delight to have worries wash away and enjoy things coming up Bucks.

Riley: Deserved. Seasons like this are exactly the reason why we as fans tune in night after night.

Mitchell: Sixty. The Bucks won sixty games this season. Sixty!

What will you remember most from this season?

Kyle: How Milwaukee went against every contender in the regular season, and had at least one game where they completely outplayed them, in all aspects. Golden State on the road, Denver at home, Boston on the road, the first Toronto game without Giannis, both Houston games, etc.

Riley: Giannis’s true arrival as the league’s acknowledged “next big thing”. It was a perfect confluence of events: Unheralded Greek son of immigrants who grew up in the quiet ecosystem of Milwaukee only to burst onto the scene just as the lords of the prior era were aging out of dominance. He’s edging ever closer to perfecting his unfinished game and plays in a way that 1) few can replicate and 2) inevitably draws ‘oohs’, ‘ahhs’, and eyeballs his way. That he seems so genuine is a cherry on top that makes him the perfect superstar to root for.

Adam: I’ll go recency bias and say the Philadelphia game. Rarely do I get to see this team in person anymore, but to see Giannis perform like that, on a national stage, in hostile territory, as a clapback to the Embiid’s Sixers taking it home in the Fiserv several weeks ago. That was special. That’s a game that showed why there’s still nothing quite compared to the fervor that comes with being in the building for moments like that.

Mitchell: It’s so hard to choose; everything came together for this team. I suppose the biggest takeaway for me is how well the scheme functioned. The Bucks went through ups-and-downs, like any team does, but their “thank you, next” approach to basketball allowed them to leverage their solid depth and avoid losing too much momentum. The shooting guard position is a great example: if it wasn’t Malcolm Brogdon, it was Tony Snell, or Pat Connaughton, or George Hill, or Sterling Brown. Things by and large just kept rolling, and that’s huge for a team that wants to be more than a flash in the pan.

What can’t you forget fast enough?

Kyle: Remember when after starting 7-0 the Bucks had an “OK” stretch of going 13-9, and fans were freaking out and thinking the sky was falling? That was really annoying. The Suns games are both honorable mentions.

Adam: My shame over abhorring the Donte DiVincenzo pick, only to have him quickly become one of my favorite watches on the team. The #RedHot fan club still welcoming me despite my past transgressions was so grateful. Big Ragu for life.

Riley: That one time a Bucks TV broadcaster (who will remain unnamed) joshed on social media about an opposing player’s inability to return to his homeland due to “difficulties” with the political regime there. Woof.

Mitchell: Freaking out about dropping games to lesser teams. Partly because every team is a “lesser” team now, and partly because it’s the NBA. Good teams lose to bad ones. It happens. The fact that the lowly Phoenix Suns beat the Bucks twice is annoying but does not worry me, and it shouldn’t worry you!

What was, in your view, the most important part of this year’s success?

Kyle: The team depth was crucial this season. Other than (surprisingly) Brook Lopez and Eric Bledsoe, who most would say are the most injury prone, each Bucks rotational player suffered some sort of injury that kept them on the shelf for a period of time. Lose Malcolm Brogdon for a few months? That’s fine, Sterling Brown and George Hill will step in. No Nikola Mirotic? That’s alright, D.J. Wilson and Ersan Ilyasova can hold down the fort. Last year, Brogdon got hurt and you could tell Milwaukee suffered, while now this team is twelve deep when healthy.

Riley: Having anyone other than Jason Kidd and his ilk retained at any level of the organization (sans coach Jordan Brady in Oshkosh). Mike Budenholzer has been a revelation, but a soggy piece of sourdough bread would have been able to make at least minor adjustments and get this team on the right track. Unscrupulous incompetence was allowed a seat at the decision-making table for far too long and was dangerously close to permanently poisioning Milwaukee’s well.

Adam: Mike Budenholzer. All the moves around the margin were integral, as was Giannis’ leap, but Bud inherited this team and came in with a clear, concise plan that washed away the muddled tactics of yesteryear. He devised a defensive scheme that accentuated strengths, mitigated weaknesses and flipped this franchise’s woeful defensive rebounding history on its head in just one season.

Mitchell: Giannis taking another Leap. He was already in the MVP conversation last year, and the fact that he’s a frontrunner (maybe even the odds-on favorite) for the award goes to show just how much he continued to work on everything in his game to reach the highest tier of play. All of the other moves were made specifically to enable Giannis’ unique skillset, but it was Giannis and his work ethic that pushed the team to this point.

What about this season are some fans overemphasizing?

Kyle: I am 100% guilty of doing this, but talking about how bad Ersan was. He had a stretch where he wasn’t that good, but Ersan turned it around and has been at least okay for most of the season. The contract still isn’t great and defensively there are still question marks, but Ersan’s slump combined with Mirotic’s arrival and Wilson’s emergence maybe made the view of Ersan lower than it should have been.

Adam: The Christian Wood saga. When D.J. Wilson emerged and this team started rolling, I had trouble getting up much of any enthusiasm regarding end of the roster moves, particularly for a player who seemed just fine. Ya, it may’ve been nice to keep him around, but plenty of players have put up empty stats on teams in disarray as the season closes. I wish him the best, but I doubt he had much future in Milwaukee regardless.

Riley: That “the media” haven’t been brought around to the staying power of a Milwaukee Bucks team helmed by Giannis. Yes, it is annoying that ill-informed or wilfully ignorant opinions are quickly rolled out to discount Milwaukee’s success this year. No, it really doesn’t matter even a lick in the grand scheme of things and will matter even less when the Bucks are cramming championships down the entire league’s throat year after year.

Mitchell: How “bad” it would be to sign Khris Middleton to a huge contract this summer. In his role, Middleton helps make everything work around Giannis; he’s just as crucial to the team’s success as the rest of the starters, and harder to replace than just about anybody.

Let’s have it: what is your official Bucks playoff prediction?

Kyle: First Round: Bucks in 4, Conference semi: Bucks in 6, ECF Bucks in 6, Finals Bucks in 7

Riley: First round Bucks sweep, semifinals Bucks win in six games, and a brutal East finals loss in seven games.

Adam: First round - Bucks in five. Semifinals - Bucks in 6. East Finals - Bucks in seven. Ditto for the NBA finals.

Mitchell: First round? Bucks in six. Conference semifinals? Bucks in six. East finals? Bucks in six. NBA Finals, with the Larry O’Brien trophy on the line? Bucks in six! That’s for the culture!