Entering the season there was a giant group of new faces and new teams. LeBron James on the Lakers, Kawhi Leonard on the Raptors, and DeMar DeRozan on the Spurs to name a few. Yet, the team that made no change to their roster has found themselves atop the NBA. The Milwaukee Bucks have achieved their best start to a season since 1971. Their 7-0 record after years of mediocrity prompts multiple questions. Nobody expected them to be this good. Not even me. But, here they are. Still, the question remains: how did they improve so much without a big-time move?
The Milwaukee Bucks’ Small Signings
This offseason the Bucks’ lacked the cap space to chase any star free agent, but still managed to make important additions. The first of these is Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova has been an important addition due to his consistency. Their previous power forward, Jabari Parker, was a great young talent but lacked consistency. One game he would be great the next awful. Then, of course, was his injury issues. Unlike Parker, Ilyasova played 69+ games for the last 3 seasons. Additionally, Ilyasova may not be as talented as Parker but he plays his role extremely well. His 36.8% from three is great and he is averaging less than a turnover per game. Contrast this to Parker who only shot above 36.8% from three once in his career and has averaged 1.5+ turnovers per game every season. Although Parker is more talented Ilyasova’s veteran skillset is exactly what the Milwaukee Bucks needed.
Ilyasova has been good, but the more underrated signing that has made a huge impact is Brook Lopez. Milwaukee managed to snag Lopez on a one-year veterans minimum deal and he is now there starting center. Lopez has unlocked the team’s offense as when he is on the court their offensive rating jumps by 20 points. A big reason for this is his 3 point shooting. Currently, Lopez is second in threes made on the Bucks at 2.4 a game while shooting an efficient 39% from three. This finally gives Giannis Antetokounmpo the space to attack the paint that other centers, such as Tyler Zeller, John Henson, and Thon Maker, never provided. Giannis’ career-high 2-point percentage of 57.8% reflects how beneficial the increased spacing has been. Clearly, Lopez has been essential to this team’s success and, so far, has been an extremely underrated signing.
Welcome Coach Budenholzer
Ever since Jason Kidd took over it has been clear the Bucks needed a new coach. His firing finally came last season and the team has looked much better. The primary issue with Kidd was his defensive schemes. Although they worked in his first season, the Bucks failed to have an above average defense for the next three years. Despite having great athletes at every spot Kidd could not find a way to be an above average defense leading to many disappointing seasons. The defensive difference now that they have Budhenholzer at the helm is insane. The Bucks currently have the 2nd best defensive rating due to Budhenolzer’s new system. This year they have allowed the 22nd in opponent three-point attempts compared to 7th last year. It’s a clear impression of a cultural change that has set the groundwork for a special team.
Another Freakish Season
The Milwaukee Bucks can’t be mentioned without talking about their franchise superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is off to another hot start averaging 25 points per game on 51% shooting to go along with 14.2 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game. While Giannis has been great there is unfortunately little evidence of improvement from three-point range. The biggest knock against Giannis’ game is his three-point shooting, yet he hasn’t improved it at all. In fact, he is shooting a career-low 6% from three.
This lack of improvement may be disheartening to some, but at least he has improved in another category. Rebounding. The Bucks have been an awful rebounding team for years and Giannis, despite being listed at 6’11”, has never been a great rebounder. This season he has increased his rebounds per game by 4.2 and his team has gone from being dead last in rebounds last season to third best in the league. This improvement has allowed for his team to thrive and find themselves as the last of the undefeated in the NBA.