OTG Team Awards: Milwaukee Bucks
USA Today Sports
What a year for the Milwaukee Bucks. After opening up a new state of the art arena, the team has proceeded to win the Central Division for the first time since 2001, gained home court advantage for the first time ever in their 30 plus years of being in the Eastern Conference, and won 60 games for the first time in almost 40 years. Needless to say, it has been a fun season of basketball in Milwaukee.
While injuries have hit the team hard since early March, the Bucks are slowly but surely getting back to full health as they head into the NBA’s second season. A team that has been bounced in the first round of the playoffs each of the last two years, there is a buzz around the Bucks that has not been felt in quite a while.
It took a lot to get to this point, with many different players from the Bucks deep roster contributing at certain points over the course of the season. Let’s take a look at some of the players who stood out with some regular season team awards.
Sixth Man of the Year: Pat Connaughton
With the Bucks deep roster, there are a lot of players who could be chosen for this award. If Nikola Mirotic had been on the team and healthy the entire season, he would likely win the award hands down. While the team doesn’t necessarily have a true sixth man, the player who has brought some of the best energy and biggest moments off the bench to impact games has been Pat Connaughton.
Connaughton began the season getting a lot of playing time but was used more sparingly after the Bucks acquired George Hill. Injuries after the all-star break have forced Connaughton back into action, where his effort, energy, and shooting have been a perfect fit for Coach Bud’s system. Connaughton has averaged a career high seven points and four rebounds a game, and those numbers translate to averages of 15 and seven per 100 possessions. He is a glue guy that every good team needs, and in addition to his scrappy and tough play, he is one heck of an athlete.
Most Improved Player: D.J. Wilson
There are several players who could be selected for this award, and Eric Bledsoe may be the choice for many. But those who have watched the Bucks throughout the entire season know the development and emergence of D.J. Wilson has been one of the most pleasant surprises this season.
The second-year man out of Michigan looked like a complete bust in year one under the Jason Kidd/Joe Prunty regime, leading to little or no expectations for him this season. However, coach Mike Budenholzer saw potential in Wilson right away in training camp, and he was thrust into action once he got healthy in December.
Wilson lost a bit of time when the Bucks acquired Nikola Mirotic and Pau Gasol, but injuries to each of those players have brought him more minutes once again. Wilson averages 11 points and nine rebounds per 36 minutes. They aren’t numbers that will jump off the page, but from where he was last year it is an amazing turnaround. He has gone from absolute bust to an intriguing piece of the Bucks future.
Newcomer of the Year: Brook Lopez
The Bucks have made some good acquisitions throughout the year, bringing in the likes of Gasol, Mirotic, and Hill. But it is their offseason signing of center Brook Lopez that may go down as one of the best moves of this past summer. Signed to just a one-year, $3.3 million contract, Lopez has been the center the Bucks have been searching for the past few years.
Lopez averages 12.5 points per game in a loaded Bucks starting lineup, but it has been his three point shooting which has made him a perfect fit in Coach Bud’s system. Lopez is taking and making more threes than he has at any point in his previous ten years in the league, shooting them at 37%. There is no doubt his ability to stretch the floor has been a huge help for Giannis offensively.
Perhaps more importantly, Lopez has helped the Bucks tremendously on the defensive end. The Bucks are the top team in the league in defensive rating, a vast improvement from the 19th they finished last year. A lot of that is thanks to Lopez, who averages over two blocks per game.
They have also gone from worst to first in total rebounding, much of which can also be attributed to the seven footer. Splash Mountain has brought experience and swagger to this Bucks team, giving fans many memorable moments, such as this game against the Bucks upcoming first round opponent.
Defensive Player of the Year: Giannis Antetokounmpo
This award could go a lot of different ways. As mentioned, Lopez has had a huge impact on the Bucks defensive efficiency. Khris Middleton guards the best wing the opposition has to offer most nights, and Eric Bledsoe has come into his own defensively this year. It has really been a team effort that has led to the defensive turnaround in Milwaukee.
But that turnaround would not be possible without Giannis. His steal and block numbers are right around his career averages, but its plays like this other teams don’t have the luxury of having a guy making.
Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
If you don’t agree that Giannis has been the most valuable player for the Bucks, you have not watched a game he has played this season. The sixth-year freak of an athlete from Greece has amazingly continued to improve in all facets of his game this season, and has a good chance at being named the most valuable player in the entire association.
Giannis is averaging a career high 27.7 points, while also averaging career highs in rebounds, assists, and field goal percentage. He has racked up an astounding 54 double-doubles, as well as five triple-doubles. The man makes plays constantly on both ends of the court and is starting to look like the world’s new best player. The recognition continues to pile in for the three time All-Star, capped off with Shaq’s recent comments.
The Bucks have a good team around the Greek Freak, but the numbers with and without him are still staggering. The Bucks are just 4-5 without Giannis (which includes losses against some lesser teams like Cleveland and Atlanta) compared to the 56-16 they are with him on the court. When he is on the court, the team’s offensive rating is up five and a half points, while their opponents’ rating goes down over three points.
Giannis has quickly become one of the NBA’s biggest stars, and the Bucks could not have made a better selection with the 15th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. He has brought the team up to championship contending levels in his best season yet, and gives the Bucks hope they will be able to contend in this league for a long time to come.
Statistics Courtesy of Basketball Reference