Last Wednesday people were wondering whether or not the Milwaukee Bucks could win a playoff series this year. That was a question I was asked on the radio. That was a question my friends were starting to press me on with more frequency. Was it realistic to start getting hopes up about second round playoff basketball in Milwaukee? Expectations were beginning to build.
Then last Thursday happened.
By 5 PM Thursday evening people were wondering why Milwaukee would trade the guy that appeared to be its best player. Two of my most vocal Bucks following friends had an exchange with me that went like this, Friend one: “I think I liked Brandon Knight, but I can’t be sure. And I don’t think I like Michael Carter-Williams, but I can’t be sure.” Friend two: “I’m sure of both.” To them, the second round of the playoffs seemed very far away.
While they typically have a propensity for #HOTTAKES, they are probably right. The expectations you may have had about the rest of this season two weeks ago are no longer relevant. Your dreams no longer matter, but don’t get too down. A franchise that thinks long term is a good thing. And it doesn’t mean this season is totally lost either. The season ceiling dropping from possibly five playoff wins to maybe two playoff wins isn’t that big of a deal.
We’ve gone pretty deep on how last week’s trade made sense for the longer term future of the Milwaukee Bucks, but we didn’t look much into how it would impact this season, aside from assuming the Bucks were probably going to be a little bit worse. Through three games, we’ve seen a team that looks a fairly significant amount worse on offense, though the Bucks we’ve seen haven’t featured the centerpiece of the trade, MCW.
He’s expected to return Wednesday, but even with his addition, it’s fair to assume the Bucks will still be at least somewhat worse than they were over their incredible first 53 games. Worse doesn’t mean much though. A worse team playing a friendly schedule can outperform a better team playing a difficult schedule.
These slightly worse Bucks? They have a pretty friendly remaining schedule.
Look at all of the games against those I’ve dubbed members of the Bad East! The Bad East is Miami, Brooklyn, Detroit, Charlotte, Indiana, Orlando, Philly, New York and Boston. Against these teams this season, Milwaukee is 16-5. Of those five losses, two came to Charlotte and one came to the Pistons. Neither of those teams remain on Milwaukee’s schedule. Orlando and Indiana are the only Bad East teams that play the Bucks again and have taken a game this year from Milwaukee. It feels safe to assume the Bucks can take 75% of these games. Mark them down for eight wins right there.
Against the West this season, the Bucks are somehow 11-10, which is incredible, given that the Bucks have not had a winning record against the Western Conference since … since a long time ago. I was looking this up on ESPN.com and their conference records only go back to 2002-03, so just know it’s been a while and assume maybe it was that glorious year of 2001-02. The Bad West games left are against the Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets and Pelicans twice. Two wins seems fair. We’re up to 10, and we’re probably still awaiting a winning season against the West.
Against likely good playoff teams this season (playoff teams that are not Miami or Brooklyn), Milwaukee is 7-18, good for a 28% winning percentage. Let’s drop them down to 25% for the sake of ease and a penalty for the Knight trade and assume they’ll win two of those nine games against playoff teams the rest of the way. That’s 12 wins.
12 wins would bring Milwaukee to a 43-39 finish, which feels very Milwaukee Bucks, but is actually a record the Milwaukee Bucks have never had. Getting to 43 wins largely without Jabari Parker, heavily on the back of Giannis Antetokounmpo is probably a successful season in terms of results, but feels a bit incomplete in terms of development. We miss Jabari.
As far as the second round of the playoffs goes? Given Milwaukee’s record against playoff teams, recent performances against the Hawks and Bulls and my own personal suspicions about how effectively a Michael Carter-Williams led offense can operate, I’d say Milwaukeeans are probably free to start scheduling vacations as soon as the first round of the playoffs are over. Maybe the Bucks could have gotten a little bit better as the season went on and started proving themselves as a viable threat against playoff teams. Milwaukee had been playing its best basketball of the season over the past two months and Knight had even turned into a net positive from a plus/minus perspective lately.
But the Bucks sacrificed the possible small incremental growths of this season in favor of the hope of potential huge, obvious growth down the road. It’s the sort of move many have pleaded for, but it’s the sort of move that makes this season mean a little bit less. Enjoy the record over .500 and keep thinking about tomorrow.