The Milwaukee Bucks are either totally fine or struggling to maintain altitude and avoid a tailspin. It depends on who you are or what games you’ve watched or whether the broadcast is national or not. Tonight, against the Washington Wizards on TNT, we should expect to see the Good Bucks.
Where We’re At
It’s not so much that I’ve given up on trying to understand this NBA season, but more that this NBA season has completely defied understanding. In the Eastern Conference, the top four teams are the Miami Heat (swept in Round One last year), the Chicago Bulls (missed the playoffs), the Philadelphia 76ers (upset in Round Two last year), and the Cleveland Cavaliers (also missed the playoffs). The Bucks are in fifth place, and January has been rough. An overall record of 7-8, with the sub-0.500 month secured by a 136-100 shellacking at the hands of the Denver Nuggets. What gives?
The Milwaukee Bucks are all out of sorts. They've been out of sorts for a little while, almost like they haven't been themselves for more than a few short stretches.— Mitchell Maurer (@Mitchell_NBA) January 31, 2022
In other news, Brook Lopez has played in exactly one (1) game this season. In October.
Related? Yeah, probably!
The Bucks have been steady when they’ve at least had Giannis, Khris, and Jrue active and playing, but lately even that trio hasn’t felt like enough to get on the right course. The defense has been indefensible, and hot shooting from opponents (and questionable decisions from a schematic standpoint) has lately been the culprit...but nothing has felt right this season, hasn’t it? And the Lopez-sized hole the Bucks have been trying to fill keeps leaking...meaning the prospects for Milwaukee’s chances at a repeat might boil down to a simple binary: either Brook is Back, or he’s not. Only 30 games left until the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Wizards are floundering after starting their season atop the standings, and injuries aren’t the main reason for it. Yes, Bradley Beal suffered a wrist injury and is out for this contest, but he’s also at the center of what makes the Wizards so...mediocre. From Bullets Forever:
The team has sent every public and private signal possible that they remain committed to Beal as the franchise cornerstone, that they’ll reject every trade overture, and that they’ll award him with the biggest possible contract they can the moment they’re able and he’s willing to accept.
This is a mistake, of course. Beal, even at his best, isn’t a franchise cornerstone, and he’s reached an age and stage of his career where he’s not going to make the leap from very good to franchise cornerstone. The Wizards’ genuflection to Beal seems classic #SoWizards. I see three possibilities:
1. They truly believe he’s a franchise cornerstone.
2. They’re making a show of commitment to Beal to drive up his trade value.
3. They recognize he’s very good but not elite, but they’re committed to him because he’s the closest they have to a franchise-level talent, he’s well-liked in the city, and they can ride him and a roster of mid to play-in contention two or three times over the five or six years.
The first of these options is delusion. The second seems kinda silly — they’ve likely already sped past the window of maximum trade value, and several of the contending teams that would want someone like Beal have already spent their draft resources. Like option one, the third is delusion, but with the addition of building a strategy on luck and wishful thinking.
Not only that, there’s other locker room drama. So things are going great in DC.
Player To Watch
Last time around, sophomore Deni Avdija wreaked havoc on the Bucks defensively. Milwaukee was without Khris Middleton, but in 27 minutes the Israeli forward mucked everything Milwaukee wanted up, and since this is the first rematch between the two teams it will be fascinating to see how the Bucks handle his activity this time around.
Game 53: Against Washington, the Bucks will...
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Win big (by 10 or more points)
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Lose big (by 10 or more points)