The Milwaukee Bucks are proving to the rest of the Association that their hot start is no fluke. With a 29-11 record, the Bucks own the best record in the NBA and are the best in the top-heavy Eastern Conference.
But coming into the year, people doubted the Bucks. Here’s how Milwaukee proved the doubters wrong with just one key acquisition.
The signing of Mike Budenholzer in June 2018 was a move that was overlooked around most of the NBA. Budenholzer was the coach of the Atlanta Hawks since 2013 and negotiated his release from the team following a miserable year. The Hawks had entered rebuild mode after realizing that they needed to tear it down in order to get better, and Budenholzer didn’t want to be a part of it.
In Budenholzer, the Bucks found a dependable coach. Compared to predecessors Jason Kidd, Joe Prunty, and Scott Skiles, Budenholzer is a proven coach. He was Gregg Popovich’s top assistant for years down in San Antonio and brings stability to a franchise that is the very definition of average.
The Bucks haven’t won more than 46 games since 2000. They do have eight playoff appearances in those 18 years, but each one has resulted in a first-round exit. The Bucks have a pattern of hiring former players in Kidd and Skiles who haven’t been able to take the team to the next level; Budenholzer might be the key to unlocking that.
The cornerstone of the Bucks is obviously Giannis Antetokounmpo, the ‘Greek Freak.’ Antetokounmpo has been steadily improving every year in the league, and this year is no different. He is averaging more rebounds, assists, and blocks in fewer minutes, and is just a shade under his points per game from last year. The Bucks offense is centered around Giannis, which is what is making him a bonafide MVP candidate halfway through the season.
The real strength of Budenholzer is with the team as a whole. The team ranked 18th in defensive rating last year, but that has skyrocketed to fourth this year, and it might be the biggest reason for the team’s success. They can make stops now unlike last year, and have the highest net rating in the league by a mile. The other big reason for the Bucks’ success? Rebounding. They are averaging a whopping ten more rebounds per game this year from last, going from dead last to the top of the league in rebounding.
Those improvements are coaching. They have largely the same cast as last year, only adding Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova through free agency and George Hill via a midseason trade. The Bucks have transformed from a fringe team centered around Antetokounmpo to a threat to the beasts of the East. All bets are off come playoff time, but the Bucks should make some noise deep into the summer.