The Milwaukee Bucks are the best team in the National Basketball Association.
With three games left in the regular season, the Bucks (59-20) are not just the top team in the division, or the conference, but the entire league. They will enter the playoffs with the top seed in the East, and will maintain home court advantage against any and all opponents.
They have a top-flight offense. They have an elite defense. They have been built by a front office that has painstakingly retooled and rebranded after years of mediocrity, most notably upgrading the team’s coaching by swapping Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty for Mike Budenholzer (a Coach Of The Year candidate). He and Jon Horst (an Executive Of The Year candidate) have built a roster and a system that feed off of one another, spreading the floor when it counts and forcing opponents to play Milwaukee’s game, not their own.
Eric Bledsoe, acquired in a trade last season, has been a defensive stalwart and a refreshingly dynamic offensive player. Sure, maybe he has a temper, but you need an edge to stand out in this league.
George Hill, acquired in a trade this season, is a revelation for the second unit. He talks the talk and walks the walk, both coordinating the defense and smoothing out wrinkles in a starter-free offense.
Malcolm Brogdon, drafted in the second round three years ago, is a steady presence in the backcourt and, once recovered from a foot injury, should provide elite efficiency from the guard spots.
Sterling Brown, drafted in the second round two years ago, has built upon a promising rookie season and expanded his defense-first game into a fairly-effective corner-three based approach, but he’s flashed some handling ability as well.
Tony Snell, acquired in a trade three years ago for Michael Carter-Williams, is consistently quiet but consistently accurate from deep, as well as a sound positional defender.
Tim Frazier, signed after the waiver of fan-favorite Christian Wood, is very much a third-string NBA point guard, but is not lacking effort or floor vision.
Pat Connaughton, stolen out of the free agency bargain bin, is an electric athlete who has rediscovered his three-point shot, and can be trusted to defend most guards and wings.
Khris Middleton, acquired as a throw-in six years ago in the Trade of Brandons, is a throwback player who’s just skilled enough to keep up in the modern age. His defensive versatility, playmaking ability, and shooting from mid- and long-range have elevated him to All Star status, and he won’t be appreciated enough for how hard he worked to get here.
Ersan Ilyasova, once a Buck and signed in free agency this past summer, is a heady veteran stretch-big who takes all the charges. Literally, all the charges.
D.J. Wilson, drafted in the first round two years ago, has established himself as a legitimate NBA player and defensive difference-maker, a far departure from what most fans expected from him.
Brook Lopez, another steal in free agency this year, provides a unique combination of skills from the center position, but none more important than his extreme range as a jump shooter. His defensive presence and boxing-out are not far behind, but Splash Mountain is Splash Mountain for a reason.
Nikola Mirotic, acquired in a trade this year for Thon Maker and a load of second rounders, hasn’t had the most opportunities to contribute this season but will allow the Bucks to double-down on shooting, as he might be the only player willing to take – and able to make – the shots that Lopez takes.
Pau Gasol, signed midseason as a buyout player, doesn’t have anything left in the tank, but can provide invaluable experience and perspective on winning in the NBA at the highest levels.
Not to be forgotten, rookies Donte DiVincenzo and Bonzie Colson are along for the ride, and they’ll have their opportunity to break through next season.
But the engine of this team is Giannis Antetokounmpo, drafted fifteenth overall six years ago as a largely unknown overseas prospect. He does it all, and he does it well. He might not be considered the most valuable player in the NBA, but he is the league’s best player and projects to be the best for quite some time.
These are the players who will propel the Milwaukee Bucks forward in the playoffs. It will not be an easy path; there are other teams deserving of a chance to vie for the title. The Toronto Raptors will not back down without a fight. The Philadelphia 76ers will state their case. The Boston Celtics as well, and the Indiana Pacers too. The Bucks ought to be favorites against all comers, but they play the games for a reason. Upsets happen, and the Bucks are not immune to them.
And even if they get past all challengers in the East, there are more than enough equal contenders in the West. The Golden State Warriors, Denver Nuggets, and Houston Rockets are only three of the teams that could topple the Bucks’ budding dynasty in June, before it is established.
The Bucks can win against anybody. The Bucks will do their damndest to win against everybody. And even if victory is the final result of this season, there is still no guarantee that this level of success can be sustained. Hard decisions will be made, old friends may move on and new faces will need to replace them.
But as a wise man once said, now is the time to pay attention. Save the takes for later. Soak it all in while you can.