The Milwaukee Bucks have obviously been a hot team this season. It’s still early, but you could already pencil them in as Finals favorite out of the Eastern Conference and potentially champions of the 2019-20 season.
Milwaukee is coming off of a historic winning streak, putting together 18 wins before the Dallas Mavericks closed the door – sans Luka Doncic. A run that started clear back on Nov. 10 and lasted for more than a month puts the Bucks in elite company. For one, it is the longest streak since the 2014-15 Atlanta Hawks strung together 19 wins. As far as single-season runs, only eight teams in the history of the league have put together longer streaks.
So just how impressive was this streak? First, we should take a look at a few key statistics. Of the 18 games played, only seven occurred on the road. Of those seven opponents, only one had a winning record, the Indiana Pacers.
Of the 11 wins at home, just two came against teams with winning records — the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.
This isn’t to say that the 18 game streak wasn’t impressive – any stretch with that many victories in the NBA should be cheered – but the fact that only three of the 18 wins happened against winning teams shouldn’t be left in the dark. Seriously, just three games against – technically speaking – good teams? That’s just insane.
Despite this, the Bucks took care of business during the easy stretch and are on top of the conference with a record of 24-4. They have the reigning MVP, who is somehow playing better than the last season, and proceedings appear better than ever.
Just how good was Giannis Antetokounmpo during their run? Well, he averaged 32.1 points, 12.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.4 steals and a block. He did this on 55.9 percent from the field, 34.7 percent from three and a team-high plus-minus of 12.8. The last statistic is even more impressive when you add-on he was just 57 percent from the free-throw line on over 10 attempts per night. That is just outright dominance and no player in the history of the NBA has put up those numbers for an entire season.
Not saying Antetokounmpo will sustain that production over the final two-thirds of the season, but even an 18-game stretch with those statistics is crazy. Starting a few games into the streak up until now, Antetokounmpo scored 25 or more points in 12 consecutive games. Only Kevin Love, James Harden and Kevin Durant hold longer streaks, and Antetokunmpo’s streak is still alive.
Khris Middleton has definitely been second-fiddle to Giannis — but he was a huge part of Milwaukee’s streak, too. During the streak, he averaged 17.9 points on 53.4 percent from the field and 42.2 percent from three-point range. He was second on the team in plus-minus at 11.4.
Let’s now step back and take a look at the bigger picture: The Milwaukee Bucks are on top of the Eastern Conference. They have seven games left in the month of December, and just three of them are against worthy opponents – the Pacers, the Philadelphia 76ers and the red-hot Los Angeles Lakers. Worst case scenario, they would start the new year at 28-7.
Antetokounmpo currently has the highest plus-minus in the NBA with an average of 10.9 points. When factoring in his current points, rebounds and assists per game numbers, there’s never been another in the history of the NBA to reach that line. He was voted the Most Valuable Player last season — what reason would there be to not award him the same thing this season?
In reality, the 18-game win streak, while impressive, isn’t as attractive when you break down the actual numbers. Does this matter to the Bucks? It shouldn’t. They boast the league’s best defense and the second-best offense, obviously the best net rating, the highest true-shooting percentage and the fastest pace. Milwaukee is scoring the most points and rebounds per game, too, somehow.
There isn’t a single player on their roster, reserves included, that boasts a negative rating while on the court — only the Mavericks match that.
Sure, the Bucks could use some help, who couldn’t? They are 13th in the league for three-point percentage and 29th in free-throw percentage. The league’s second-worst free-throw percentage hurts worse when they’re fifth in the league for free-throw attempts. But they still have the highest plus-minus in the league, almost four full points over the second-best Lakers. Four full points! The gap between one and two is about as big as the Lakers over the ninth-best Pacers for some even more shocking context.
Letting Malcolm Brogdon walk seemed like a huge mistake in the offseason. It’s hard to believe they look just as good – if not much better – without him. It’s fair to believe letting him go was a mistake — because it likely was — but internal development, coupled with the acquisition of Wesley Matthews in the offseason, has this Bucks team humming.
Still, don’t be surprised if they look to upgrade their roster before the trade deadline. They have the assets to do so, both in draft-stock and active players on their roster. But the roster as-is absolutely has the talent to bring Milwaukee a championship. There are so few holes on the team and the sheer dominance at which their superstar has been playing is unparalleled.
Like previously mentioned, the schedule doesn’t necessarily get much harder for the Bucks. They still have the 76ers four times — and all of the contests with them should be a real test — but there’s little evidence out there to have anyone believe that the Bucks won’t be heading to the NBA Finals.
With Giannis at the head and a stellar supporting cast that meshes well and plays to their strengths, the Larry O’Brien is not just a possibility for Milwaukee — it could very well become a reality.
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