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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, November 26, 2022
Rushad Machhi

Column: After years of malaise, Bucks ready to own the future

Whatever’s in the water in Milwaukee these days has certainly been working for the Bucks. After another exciting victory this past Sunday over the defending Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat, they moved to 5-5, a record that might seem pedestrian to an average observer.

But make no mistake, already having five wins before Thanksgiving seems like a miracle after last season’s 15-win debacle. While playing .500 ball the rest of the way out might be unrealistic (Milwaukee has had one of the easiest schedules so far), the high-flying Bucks should continue to be a joy to watch this season as they continue to provide hope for a bright future thanks to several bright young pieces.

The first cog in the Bucks’ improved machine is point guard Brandon Knight, who finally looks to have balanced his scoring and passing. Knight has shown an improved stroke from distance this season, swishing more than 40 percent of his triples.

However, his passing, arguably the weakest aspect of his game in years past, might be his biggest improvement. After failing to eclipse more than five assists per game in any of his first three seasons, thus far Knight is dishing out almost 6.5 per game.

Don’t trust per game stats? Fine, even the advanced ones indicate his growth as a point guard. His assist percentage, a stat that estimates the percentage of teammate’s field goals that player assisted on, has increased from 26.6 percent in 2013-’14 to 35.8 percent this season.

This would have put him between Ricky Rubio and Kyle Lowry, both point guards highly regarded for their passing ability. If Knight continues his borderline all-star play, it looks like Milwaukee has found its long-term solution at point, provided they will shell out some money to keep him for the next several years.

While the backcourt could still use another piece next to Brandon Knight for the future (apologies to Jerryd Bayless and O.J. Mayo), Milwaukee has one of the most promising, talented and young frontlines in the league. After Larry Sanders pretty much took last season off, he’s back and looks close to regaining his 2012-’13 form as a defensive enforcer.

Per Basketball-Reference.com, Sanders currently has the best individual defensive rating in the league, and his dominant shutdown of a red-hot Chris Bosh Sunday showed why he’s earned it.

The lone issue thus far with Sanders has been his propensity to get into foul trouble, resulting in him having to sit for large chunks of games. Currently he averages over four fouls per game, limiting him to just over 22 minutes per game. However, if he can reduce his foul rate to his 2012-’13 level of just 3.2 per game, the Bucks will have their reliable rim protector and defensive centerpiece back.

The ceiling on the Bucks is not infinitely high because of Sanders, but rather two young studs that go by Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker. Both have come out of the gate explosively, with Jabari having the fifth most dunks in the league, while Giannis sits a few spots behind at eighth, leading the Bucks to have the second most dunks total thus far per Basketball-Reference.com.

While both are known for their athleticism, other aspects of their games have also been really impressive so far. Jabari seems to be improving and getting more assertive with every game, as he continues to be in the right place in the right time for many easy baskets. He will also be a force to be reckoned with in transition for many years to come.

Giannis’ growth, both in terms of his literal height and his basketball game, have been utterly impressive so far. Now standing at a towering 6-foot-11 Giannis definitely improved his ball handling and court vision during the offseason, and it definitely shows.

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He has also figured out how to score in a variety of ways, posting up more, getting to the rim more, and as a result, getting to the foul line more as well. If his game continues to advance incrementally like this, he will become a 6-foot-11 ball handling nightmare.

While the sample size is definitely small, what I have seen from the Bucks thus far has me very excited. Do not get me wrong, I don’t expect Milwaukee to make the postseason (although it’s definitely possible in the awful Eastern Conference), and the players I have mentioned above still have lots of room for growth, such as outside shooting for both Giannis and Jabari, who have thus far underwhelmed from deep.

With continued development and the addition of one more young talented piece, maybe The Pandas Friend (the artist formerly known as Ron Artest) will be correct in his prediction that Milwaukee will be a championship contender in three to five years.

Have the Bucks finally gotten the right players to sustain success? Are Jabari and Giannis headed for stardom? Email machhi@wisc.edu and let him know your thoughts.

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