It’s not every season that the defending NBA champions fly under
the radar, but the Milwaukee Bucks have managed to do exactly
On the eve of the team taking its talents to New York to do
preseason battle with the Brooklyn Nets at Barclays Center, Giannis
Antetokounmpo’s name is not one that we’ve seen called very much
since the Bucks defeated the Phoenix Suns in the 2021 NBA
Perhaps it’s due to Antetokounmpo’s extended absence from his
on-court duties. The reigning Finals MVP only participated in his
first practice of the offseason on Wednesday, as he’s been
recovering from the knee injury he sustained in the Eastern
Conference Finals back in June.
Afterward, and before the team departed for New York,
Antetokounmpo offered that he’s “getting back healthy” and that he
is “feeling good.” If he does play at all in the preseason, it is
likely to only be for a cameo.
The Bucks, after all, can fully appreciate that being healthy in
the end is much more important than it is in the beginning.
They are the defending champs, after all, even if we seem to
have forgotten that.
Low key and working in stealth, it’s perhaps fitting for a team
that has been content flying under the radar for nearly the
entirety of its existence as a contender in the East, and even now
Milwaukee is steadfastly preparing for what it hopes will be a
successful title defense, and it’s easy to imagine that the team is
entering the 2021-22 season with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.
Las Vegas has installed the Los Angeles Lakers and Nets as the
betting favorites in their respective conferences, and a fair
amount of people believe that the Bucks wouldn’t have thwarted the
Nets in the conference semifinals last season had it not been for
the untimely injuries of both James Harden and Kyrie Irving.
Quietly, though, Milwaukee spent the offseason bolstering its
platoon, recovering from the loss of P.J. Tucker by re-signing
Bobby Portis and walking away from free agency with the services of
Rodney Hood, Semi Ojeleye and George Hill.
For Hill in particular, it will be his second stint with the
Bucks, and the veteran will provide a steady hand as a reserve
playing behind Jrue Holiday. The club was without Donte DiVincenzo
for all but three playoff games last season, so his return to the
lineup with only help Milwaukee in its title defense.
Aside from asking why nobody is talking about the Bucks, another
appropriate question is whether or not they’re a deeper team who
will be emboldened by last year’s successful title run.
For what it’s worth, NBA.com has undertaken the very interesting
exercise of polling the league’s general managers, and getting
their predictions on what will transpire over the course of the
coming season. In this year’s poll, 72% of the league’s GMs predicted that the Nets would
walk away with the Larry O’Brien trophy, while 17% predicted
that it would be the Lakers. The Bucks finished third with 10% of
Similarly, 83% of respondents predicted that the Nets would be
the East’s top team this coming season, with 17% believing that the
Bucks would earn that honor.
In MVP voting, Kevin Durant and Luka Doncic earned 37% and 33%
of the vote, respectively, with Giannis placing third at 13%.
Interestingly enough, the Bucks received a lot of love in the
survey when it came to their defensive prowess. Antetokounmpo, for
example, received the most votes for both the best defensive player
in the NBA, as well as the most versatile defender in the NBA. Jrue
Holiday was declared the best perimeter defender in the league,
while the Bucks also won the poll for being the best defensive team
It’s hard to argue with those conclusions, but also interesting
to note that — at least among the league’s general managers — being
the top defensive team in the league isn’t believed to be
That’s why they play the games, though, and as has become
commonplace under Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee will certainly
believe in its ability to defend its championship — even if nobody
Around the league, plenty of teams have become stronger. In the
East alone, Kyle Lowry’s addition to the Miami Heat will give the team another All-Star
caliber performer who is no stranger to big games and big
moments. The Chicago Bull have added the likes of Lonzo Ball, DeMar
DeRozan and Alex Caruso to what was already a promising young core.
The New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks and Boston Celtics will each be
looking to build upon last season’s success, and it’s fair to
conclude that the conference is getting stronger.
Despite that, though, as the reigning MVP boards his flight to
head back to Barclays Center for the first time since the Bucks
defeated the Nets in Game 7 of last postseason’s semifinal series,
Milwaukee is wiser, more steadfast and emboldened.
More importantly, they’re champions. And as we prepare for the
2021-22 season to begin and make predictions for what lies ahead,
we should all remember that fact.