Alright folks, enough horsing around. We have to get serious. Yeah yeah yeah, it hasn’t been the most inspiring week of ball we’ve ever seen as the Bucks sort of burn time until the end of the season, but don’t let the on-court product fool you! Our freshest results are in from the team-specific and NBA-wide SB Nation Reactions polling data, and boy do I have some good news for you: We’re marginally more pleased with the team this week than we were a week ago!
Based on my perusal of the numbers, statistics, and databases, our Bucks-centric SB Nation Reacts survey shows 80 percent of Bucks fans confident in the direction the team is heading. Last week’s 78 percent and 50 percent from two weeks ago? No more.
Two whole percentage points. Wow.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Riley, moving from 78% confidence to 80% confidence isn’t a big deal.” And normally I’d say you’re right, but remember the context. On May 4th, the Bucks had just finished beating the Nets a second time and all we’ve seen since is a scraping-by of the Wizards, whatever a win against the Rockets counts as these days, a pantsing by the Spurs, and whatever a win against the Magic counts as these days. Not exactly inspired basketball, and yet there was enough good stuff in there for an uptick in confidence! Think of it this way — the difference between being a bottom five opponent 3P% team (like we are at 38.1%) and a top 10 opponent 3P% team (like the Sixers are at 36.1%) is only two percentage points. Think about that and tell me it “doesn’t mean much”.
I fully expect the confidence rating to crash through the floor to the 10 to 15% range once we find out we’re playing the Heat in round one.
Anyways, as the playoffs approach, the biggest surprise of the season is likely the success of the New York Knicks. For the first time since 2013, the Knicks have reached the postseason and they did so while still being the New York Knicks. Amazing.
Let’s go live to the scene to check in on those psychotic fans of theirs:
Good morning to absolutely nobody but the playoff-bound NEW YORK KNICKS pic.twitter.com/TO4n2Ft3RP— Knicks Videos (@sny_knicks) May 13, 2021
Basketball is objectively more fun when the delusional fanbases are in the mix.
What about the on-court stuff that got them the exalted, uh, sixth seed? Well they’ve got moxie, guts, and a head coach who is totally unafraid to run his best player for over 37 minutes a game in a pandemic-condensed season.
Let’s start with their star player, Julius Randle. 69 percent of fans around the league believe Randle should win the 2020-21 Most Improved Player award. The next closest player, Michael Porter Jr., sits at 11 percent of the vote.
There are two things working Randle’s favor here. One is the relatively low expectations I think most had for him as anything more than a big stats on a bad team bruiser type. To be fair, that’s sort of what he was during his early years in the league. The second is the undeniable jump in production across nearly every measurable stat: His scoring is up to 24.0 per game (on .459/.415(lol)/.810 shooting splits, the latter two being career-highs), he’s pushed his rebounding up to 10.3 rebounds a night, and he’s making plays with 5.9 assists a night on a comical 26.6% assist rate. He may never truly be a “superstar” in the R983 sense of the word, but given expectations it’s fair to say he’s stepped up in a big way.
(Also, Porter Jr. is technically in his sophomore season, something that normally precludes winning MIP. Jerami Grant and Christian Wood are stuck on absolute tire-fire teams, so the options for award finalists sorted themselves out).
And then the coach. 50 percent of national fans believe Thibodeau has earned the Coach of the Year award this season. Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams took 23 percent.
I’m a little surprised by this one, if only because the way things are working out in New York are the way things always work out with Tom Thibodeau, right? He shows up, screams a whole bunch and frightens even his worst players into composing at least a passable defense, and then rides his best players into the dirt until the ship hits the proverbial iceberg.
Monty Williams, on the other hand, while working with a higher level of talent, has had to navigate the balancing act of Chris Paul and Devin Booker while pushing what has long been a laughingstock franchise nearly atop the Western Conference. Not only that, but he succeeded in finding a way to scrounge for 18.6 minutes a night for former-Buck legend Torrey Craig. Anyone who can turn that guy into a plus-player has my vote for COTY.
I have a sneaking suspicion that there are a lot of Knicks fans contributing to these SB Nation Reacts polls...
Oh, regarding the number of participants polled that R983 wisely brought up on last week’s edition of SBNR? Well, I don’t have that information available to me, but I do know that you can certainly increase the sample size of voters by signing up to take part!
You can register to vote in the Reacts surveys right here. If you don’t? Well, you’ll miss out on all the fun of saying you’re -30% confident in the Bucks a week from today, and you wouldn’t want to do that.