In what feels like a blink of an eye, the 2021-2022 season is almost upon us. On July 20th, 2021 the Milwaukee Bucks won their first championship in 50 years. And less than three months later, the regular season will begin. While us Bucks fans have been celebrating, many other fan bases have been busy discrediting Milwaukee. Opposing fans and media alike have barely talked about the reigning champs. When they do, they’re often an afterthought to big market teams like the Nets and Lakers. Obviously the injuries to Kyrie Irving and Harden last year helped Milwaukee’s chances, but the Bucks had their own obstacles they overcame as well.
This past season was something we’ll never forget, but I believe this team is going to be just as hungry as before. I believe the Bucks can and will repeat as champs. Here are my top three reasons why.
For as well as Milwaukee played together last year, they should have even more chemistry this year. The big three of Giannis, Jrue and Middleton will have another full year to grow together on the court. Crowd favorites, Bobby Portis and Connaughton will have another year in Bud’s system. Plus any player not returning was only Milwaukee for a season or less. By the end of this year the Bucks overall will have had more time playing together than last year’s team.
Meanwhile, in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, they signed several new free agents. While it is important for franchises to acquire talent, I’d argue chemistry is almost as important. The Lakers have swapped out everyone from last year’s roster except for Lebron, AD, Taylor Horton-Tucker, and Wesley Matthews. They have added so many aging stars that it’s almost impossible to keep track of them all. The Nets aren’t much different either. Both teams are basically unrecognizable outside of their stars which I believe will hurt them this year. It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks, therefore adding several aging stars to a new team is going to take a lot of time to gel together.
As I mentioned earlier, the Bucks received some help last year by way of some Nets injuries in the playoffs. However, I would argue that is also a strength of this Bucks team. Aside from COVID-19, the only significant injury sustained last year was by Donte DiVincenzo. There were players missing games with “soreness” at times but that’s about it. Budenholzer knew when to rest guys during the regular season to keep their bodies fresh while not sacrificing too much in the win column. Aside from two fluke plays (Donte’s tendon ripping, Giannis’ knee bending), there were no injuries come crunch time. This is a testament both to the players for keeping themselves in shape, and the coaches for knowing how to keep them healthy.
On the flipside, the Lakers and Nets are both aging teams with history of injury issues in the not too distant past. Last season alone, Anthony Davis and Lebron both missed several games at the end of the regular season. Davis missed a couple playoff games as well. Lebron only played in 45 games and AD only played in 36! What’s even more worrisome for them how long they lingered. They missed much more time than typical players with their injuries would usually miss. Combine that with a supporting cast who are all older and I’m sure that they will deal with many injury issues this season.
As for the Nets, we all know about their stars. Durant just came back from an Achilles tear last year. Kyrie has had multiple injuries that have cost him long lengths of time dating back to his days in Boston. And Harden has a penchant for being out of shape at the beginning of the year. Harden hasn’t really been known for injuries in his career, but last year he only played 44 games! Similar to LA, the Nets have many older role players too that could be more likely to get hurt as well. I like the Bucks’ odds when it comes to being healthier come playoff time than the other main contenders.
The New Talent
This category is kind of generic but it’s very important. While the Bucks did not make a splashy free agent signing they did make some big moves. They turned what was a relatively thin bench once you got past Portis/Connaughton into a more than respectable one.
The biggest blow was losing PJ Tucker in free agency, but Milwaukee signed Semi Ojeleye who some view as a younger version of Tucker. They lost Bryn Forbes as well but he barely played after the Miami series and they added Rodney Hood who was a solid starter until he tore his Achilles two years ago. They signed George Hill again just one year after trading him in the package for Jrue Holiday. Plus they traded Sam Merrill for Grayson Allen which is a huge upgrade in pretty much every aspect. The Bucks bench went from having two or three guys who can play significant meaningful minutes to having five or six solid options to turn to. This isn’t even factoring in a potentially improved Jordan Nwora.
In addition to all of that, Giannis is STILL improving! As evidenced by his multiple heroic finals performances, the man was able to find another gear when it mattered most. He showed us an improved post and mid-range game on offense. And during Media Day, Giannis said one thing he hopes to carry from the finals to this season is the willingness to try to block everything. He brought up that there have been times in the past where he was maybe too careful or trying to conserve his energy. But in Game 6 he tried blocking everything near him and succeeded more often than not. While I don’t expect him to be able to literally try blocking everything in every game, I do expect to see him try blocking more often and instill fear into the opponent. Look for him to be a DPOY candidate again this year.
For many reasons, I believe this year’s Bucks team will be even better than last year’s. They’re deeper, more well balanced, and the main core will have another season of playing together to bolster their chemistry. Even if the other contenders remain healthy, I believe the Bucks have the roster to compete with anyone. Everyone in their locker room cares about nothing other than being the best teammate they can be. When you have a whole cast of players willing to sacrifice whatever it takes to become a champion, you have a great chance. Especially when that cast is lead by arguably the best player in the league.
Don’t be surprised to see Milwaukee hoisting up the Larry O’Brien again in 2022.
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