Before their series against the Boston Celtics began, there was a considerable amount of intrigue surrounding the Milwaukee Bucks and whether or not they might actually be able to win the damn thing against a depleted Celtics roster. No Kyrie Irving. No Gordon Hayward. No Marcus Smart. The Celtics were an “over-seeded” two seed and the Bucks had twice as much healthy talent as Boston.
Now two games into the series, the Celtics have a commanding 2-0 series lead heading to Milwaukee and there are few signs, if any, that this Bucks team can overcome the deficit, much less win a game. There is no flow to their offense if Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t soaring down the lane trying to initiate some substance of an offensive gameplan. Interim head coach Joe Prunty has not done the Bucks any favors after taking over for the fired Jason Kidd. They haven’t been able to find any flow or rhythm outside of one, maybe two, stretches of Antetokounmpo or Khris Middleton taking over. Jabari Parker doesn’t fit on this team offensively or defensively and Eric Bledsoe has simply been, well, not even close to Eric Bledsoe.
The Bucks came into the 2017-18 season with a lot of hype surrounding their potential and a lot of it was earned. However, poor coaching had fettered any hope that they could be the top-four seed their talent suggested they could be. And their roster does suggest they should be better than a No. 7 seed and definitely better than a 44-win team. Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Bledsoe, Parker, Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, John Henson and Thon Maker is a fairly young core, but one that won’t be around forever. The Bucks need to capitalize as soon as possible on the team they’ve built and it starts with landing a sure-fire hit at head coach.
The Boston Celtics are going to win this series relying mostly on the coaching brilliance of Brad Stevens. When comparing the rosters, the youngsters of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier (along with Al Horford) can’t compete with what Milwaukee has. But the Bucks are being picked apart on offense and defense by a team that honestly isn’t playing all that great on offense, either. The Celtics desperately miss the scoring ability that they lost with Irving and they often go long stretches without adding much on the offensive side of the ball. Not because they aren’t executing plays, but mainly because they’re incredibly young and inexperienced in a playoff setting. Stevens has been great at controlling this team. It’s been unbelievable, quite frankly. Brown, Tatum and Rozier are playing well beyond their years. But watching the Bucks, you’d think they were playing preseason basketball.
This isn’t anything new for the Bucks either, in terms of their play this season. They’ve been a downright mess for the second half of the season, especially once March hit. There has never been a system set in place that works with this roster. If Antetokounmpo isn’t attacking every possession or Middleton isn’t on fire, the offense stalls. It’s also not good when the best offensive approach a team has is inefficient isolation sets (unless you’re the Houston Rockets or LeBron James). Anteotkounmpo is a really good player. He’s elite, even at age 23. But he can’t score on every possession and it’s playing right into Brad Stevens’ hands when he’s attacking Al Horford head-on for three straight possessions. He’s good, but not that good, at least not yet. The sad part is that Milwaukee can’t do anything about it. They don’t have the coaching staff that can make adjustments to beat the Celtics’ sound defense. Parker has been a ghost on defense. Same goes for Bledsoe on both sides of the ball, who is getting absolutely annihilated by the younger version of himself in Rozier and refuses to even remotely acknowledge it. The team is in a tailspin right now with not much time left to recover.
Now Milwaukee does have at least two home games to look forward to and they may even steal a game or two from Boston if they get lucky (or if Antetokunmpo and Middleton both drop 30), but this season is ultimately over for them. Prunty is almost assuredly not going to be the head coach for much longer once the season ends and the quicker the Bucks can figure out how they’re going to approach next season, the better.
There are coaching options available for the Bucks that can revitalize this seemingly unenthused team. Jerry Stackhouse has dominated the G League with the Raptors 905 squad. David Blatt continues to win in Europe and would probably do much better in a non-Lebron James environment. David Fizdale is a brilliant head coach with experience who was unfairly pushed out of Memphis. There are at least 50 different assistant coaches in San Antonio to choose from. The point is that there are options and Milwaukee needs to avoid the Mark Jacksons of the world.
The Bucks have the majority of their core under contract for at least one more season, besides Parker who will be a free agent this summer. Antetokounmpo is locked down until 2021. Outside of the 40-year old Jason Terry, they don’t even have an active player on their roster over the age of 30. The youth is there, the talent is there, now it’s time to put it all together before it’s too late. The Milwaukee Bucks are desperately in need of a culture reset and it starts with the person calling out the plays.