July 20, 2021 the Milwaukee Bucks are locked into a game six of the NBA finals against the Phoenix Suns. Up three games to two, the Bucks have the upper hand in the series. In their home arena fans wait in anticipation, yet to realize that history will be made. Giannis Antetokounmpo would take the Bucks, that had not won a championship in exactly 50 years, on his shoulder to their second NBA Title. Posting unimaginable numbers: 50 points, 14 Rebounds, and 5 astounding blocks.
After the win Giannis would do an interview with ESPNs Malika Andrews, and had some very intriguing thoughts. In his reflection he states, “Don’t call me MVP until I’m a champion.” Referencing his MVP awards in the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 seasons. Implying that the ultimate testament to his legacy is not an individual award, but hoisting the Larry O’Brien as a team.
Additionally, to go along with his past aspirations to be an NBA champion, he alludes to his drive to win more. He tells Andrews in their interview, “We just did it like a couple of hours ago and I’m already thinking about, How can I do it again.” The crazy thing is that he can do it again, he is constantly talking about his improvement for the betterment of the team. He is turning 28 in the middle of this upcoming season, fortunate for us as fans he has not even began to peak.
Yet, he did spark a debate that is still ever so present due to his comments about the way he won. The question that was given to him was, “Does it mean more to you to win here to win like this?” To his response, “I’d rather do it this way, win one this way, than go somewhere else in the superteam and win two or three.” Debate on if that 2021 Bucks team was a superteam continues to circulate at the mention of his comments. The fact that can not be debated is the loyalty of this Superstar to the small market he plays in. It almost seems as if his loyalty creates loyalty amongst the very fans that fill the seats on game night.
I pose just one question, what does Giannis have to do to win another championship?
A word that has been a part of sports for a long time, but has been brought up more as of recent is: Pedigree. In a way it can be the trajectory of your career based on where you have been. In most conversations of greatness, or what have you done for me lately, the first thing that is discussed is the number of championships. I believe that is the highest standard to determine the pedigree of an individual or an organization. Something I believe is rarely ever discussed are some of the major accomplishments that are made by a select few during their collegiate career. Those achievements by a select few help us as spectators understand the reason for an individuals success even though oftentimes they fall off our radar due to the learning curve.
It is extremely difficult to reach the NCAA Final Four, let alone win the entire tournament. That is why it is called March Madness, nobody ever in the history of the tournament has been able to calculate the outcome. Yet, this years NBA Free Agency saw two names get signed to multi year deals. Those two names being Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo. These two, along with Mikal Bridges were a part of the 2017-2018 Villanova Wildcat National Champion winning team. They were also a part of the 2015-2016 Villanova Wildcat team that won it all during the 2016 tournament. These players hoisted the Trophy twice in their collegiate career and are now in the spotlight as their rookie contracts come to expire.
Since the 2005-2006 NCAA Basketball season only three teams have won at least two championships with at least one player being on both of those teams. That is the aforementioned Villanova Wildcats, the 2011 and 2014 Uconn Huskies, and the 2006 and 2007 Florida Gators. In NBA Free Agency history we have only seen a total of four other players win multiple national championships and then enter free agency after their rookie contract. Of the seven total players only one could be considered a bust based on this formula; getting paid as a two time national champion. That player being Shabazz Napier from the Uconn Huskies. He would go on two be signed to small deals no more than 3 million dollars a year. He also lacked the one thing that most of the others have in common, defensive pedigree.
The other players not yet mentioned are Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer, and Al Horford; all from the University of Florida team that won back to back championships. Of all the names mention only Brunson and Napier are known mostly for their offense. Brunson was able to flip a switch late in the season this year which gave him the opportunity he has now, Napier was not able to adjust in the same way. All the others are either known for being defensive anchors, or have a defensive edge to their game that make them viable for at the very least a competent role player.
After their rookie contracts both Joakim Noah and Al Horford went on to sign rookie extensions of 5 years $60 million, Noah with the Bulls and Horford with the Atlanta Hawks. Corey Brewer would sign with the Dallas Mavericks for 3 years $9.2 million. Brewer won an NBA Title with the Mavericks during that contract. Both Brewer and Horford could be considered journeymen, but for sure all of them had long successful careers. Horford just recently held a primary role in the success of the Boston Celtics in this years playoff run.
Mikal Bridges did not enter free agency as he was a key piece to the Phoenix Suns NBA Finals run in 2021. In October of 2021 he signed a rookie extension for 4 years $90.9 million. Jalen Brunson just signed a 4 year $104 million deal with the New York Knicks. Donte DiVincenzo signed a 2 year $9.3 million deal with the Golden State Warriors, which may not seem like a lot. If you look at the career of someone like Corey Brewer this is a step in a long line of contract signings. With that said, DiVincenzo is already a NBA Champion from his contributions to the Milwaukee Bucks’ Mikal Bridges lost in the NBA Finals to DiVincenzo’s Milwaukee Bucks’ in the same series.
They have helped form a winning culture, which is now instilled in their frame of mind. If the formula is correct the future for these three young players is bright. At the very least these players will play more than 10 years in the league while contributing to the success of their teams. With one championship amongst this group of three, I would bet that they will see more success over the course of their career than the likes of Horford, Noah, and Brewer.
The Bucks championship aspirations were strained with Middleton’s MCL sprain. Was Middleton’s injury the reason for the Buck’s second round exit from the Playoffs?
It is fair to say that Khris Middleton is the Milwaukee Bucks second best player. For the sake of argument I will list him and Jrue Holiday at 2(a) and 2(b). Middleton averaged 20.1 points per game, 5.4 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 1.2 steals per game in the regular season.
After Middleton went down in the second game of the playoffs this year the Bucks were forced to scramble to find a rotation that would generate similar production to that of a fully healthy Middleton. During the 7 games series against Boston the Bucks figured a combination of Wesley Matthews and Grayson Allen would be the most likely to fill the shoes of the three time all-star. The combination of B. Lopez, J. Holiday, W. Matthews, and G. Antetokounmpo played a total of 92 minutes together, more than any other 4 player combination in the seven games. This combination had a +/- of -22 while on the court together. I truly believe Matthews was brought over after a one year stint with the Lakers to replace the loss of PJ Tucker. It is easy to say that Matthews is completely defensive minded with the ability to shoot the three ball around the mid 30 percent range.
Grayson Allen was also inserted in the lineup and saw his minutes increase after Middleton went down. The combination of B. Lopez, J. Holiday, G. Antetokounmpo, and G. Allen played 67 minutes during the 7 games against Boston. This combination did slightly better together, collectively contributing to a +/- of -18. Grayson Allen showed that he is productive on the Offensive side on the ball. Yet, the bucks become a bit compromised on the defensive end. The Celtics placed Allen in Pick and Roll situations to exploit his defensive struggles.
The pair of Allen and Matthews played together for 99 minutes over 7 games. They averaged 29.9 points per game on 41.1 percent shooting. They scored more points yes, but they were far less efficient than Middleton is. During the regular season Middleton shot 37.3 percent from three point range. Matthews and Allen while on the court together shot 27.3 percent from three point range. Additionally, they averaged 1.4 steals per game only .2 steals more than Middleton by himself.
The simple fact is this, in the 2021 Finals the Bucks averaged 111.7 points per game. In their loss to the Celtics this year they averaged 97.7 points per game. The Bucks shot at a higher clip at 46.7 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three point range with Middleton in the 2021 Finals, opposed to 41.4 percent from the field and 27.9 percent from three without him. If you just compare the numbers with Middleton and without it is clear to see the difference. Milwaukee for sure missed the 20 points per game that come with Middleton being in the line up.