The Milwaukee Bucks are set to play in the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974 on Tuesday night. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton are the two biggest factors in what was able to get the Bucks to this point. The duo has been playing together since 2013 when Giannis was drafted by the Bucks. 8 years of hard work have brought them here in a moment that they’ve waited their entire careers for.
The first time we saw Antetokounmpo and Middleton on the floor together was 2013. In the 2013 off-season, the Bucks selected Giannis Antetokounmpo with the 15th overall pick in the NBA Draft. Seen as a project pick, the Bucks knew that Giannis wouldn’t play to his potential right away, but believed that they had a steal if he was able to live up to that in the future. Milwaukee followed up this move on July 31, 2013, when the Bucks traded Brandon Jennings to Detroit in exchange for Khris Middleton, Brandon Knight, and Viacheslav Kravtsov. At the time, Brandon Knight seemed like the biggest piece of this trade with Middleton and Kravtsov being “throw-ins”.
The Bucks have acquired Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton & Viacheslav Kravtsov from Detroit for Brandon Jennings – http://t.co/LyEtO99wsO
— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) July 31, 2013
The future All-Stars would see their first Bucks action on October 30, 2013 against the New York Knicks. In a game that the Bucks would go on to lose by a score of 90-83, the two would combine for just 3 points in their first game together. Things would only go up from there (besides the Bucks record), as both players were continuing to get better and show signs of their future potential with more experience. In his first Bucks season, Antetokounmpo would finish with averages 6.8 PPG/4.4 RPG/1.9 APG. Middleton would have 12.1 PPG/3.8 RPG/2.1 APG.
The Following Years
A year after going 15-67 and finishing with the worst record in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs in 2014-2015 by going 41-41. The Bucks selected Jabari Parker with the second pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. The team had hopes that he would be a part of a bright future in Milwaukee. However, injuries would plague Jabari during his time in Milwaukee. He would suffer two ACL tears before leaving in free agency in 2018. The Bucks battled through Parker’s first ACL injury in his rookie season and made the playoffs. It was their first year under Jason Kidd as head coach. The Bucks would go down 3-0 in their first round series vs. Chicago, but were able to avoid a sweep thanks to a Jerryd Bayless game-winner in Game 4.
After Milwaukee broke through and made the playoffs for the first time with the duo in 2015, they would see 3 more postseason appearances under Coach Kidd. There was never any luck in the playoff under Kidd, as the Bucks would lose in the first round all 3 times, including one year under interim head coach Joe Prunty after the Bucks had fired Kidd. Giannis and Khris had improved their numbers each year under Kidd, but were never able to improve their team record or playoff performance.
The Arrival of Bud
Although most Bucks fans have been incredibly critical of Mike Budenholzer, he deserves a lot of credit for where the Bucks are today. In Coach Bud’s first season as the head man in Milwaukee, the Bucks instantly became the best team in basketball. The Bucks went 60-22 in the 2018-2019 and finished with the top seed in the East. Giannis Antetokounmpo took home his first of back-to-back MVPs in the same season. Middleton starting having the best success of his career as well, being named to his first of back-to-back All-Star teams.
The regular season success of year one transitioned into year two under Bud. The Bucks once again earned the top seed and Giannis and Khris once again had the same accolades, but the Bucks came up short in the postseason again. Most of the Bucks playoff struggles last year can be reasonably dismissed by the fact that the players were in a bubble, which may be why the Bucks rolled with Budenholzer for another year despite the playoff disappointments.
The expectations for Coach Budenholzer and the Bucks this season were clear, championship or bust. The Bucks front-office proved that they were serious about wanting to be contenders when they acquired Jrue Holiday in the off-season. Holiday was a seen as a significant upgrade from previous Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe. Holiday could play just as good, if not better defense and had a more versatile offensive game. The other big thing for Milwaukee this off-season was signing Giannis to a supermax contract extension before the season started. The signing of Giannis took a lot of pressure off of the team, having their superstar locked in.
The Bucks knew going into the season that playoff success is what they would be judged off of. They were cautious about minutes and games played through the regular season to stay fresh for the playoffs. The Bucks rolled all over Miami in their first round playoff series, sweeping the Heat. The regular season rest would pay off against Brooklyn, where the Bucks would go through 7 hard fought games against the Nets. Milwaukee pulled off a thrilling overtime win in Game 7, thanks to fresher legs in the period. Giannis had the best playoff game of his career in Game 7, with 40 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Eastern Conference Finals- Getting Over The Hump
The Bucks made their second trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in 3 seasons this year. Milwaukee dropped Game 1 after Trae Young absolutely blew up for 48 points in an unbelievable performance. The Bucks responded in Game 2 with an annihilation of Atlanta where they led by as many as 41 points. In Game 3, Khris Middleton had 20 points in the 4th quarter and showed the Milwaukee’s loyalty to him was worth it. In Game 4, the Bucks suffered a tough blow as Giannis left the game with a left knee hyperextension. The team was unable to recover and the Bucks lost Game 4 and the series was tied at 2-2. The team responded nicely in Games 5 and 6, winning both, which included Middleton’s 23 point quarter in the closeout Game 6.
The duo of Giannis and Khris deserves this. They’ve stayed loyal to Milwaukee through the hard times at the beginning of their careers. They didn’t have to do that. There was nothing given. They went from raw prospects into star players from their own hard work. Now they are here. They have their chance. The chance that they have earned.
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