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The Roar



Bucks fizzle: Clock ticking in Milwaukee as Giannis and Lillard struggle to make the grade in chemistry experiment

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24th February, 2024

It has been more than a decade since Milwaukee made one of the smartest draft picks in NBA history. 

Rolling the dice on a little-known Greek teenager who would not only get taller after being drafted 15th but become a giant on the NBA landscape was a game-changing move for the franchise. 

Prior to that, the most interesting thing about mil-e-wah-que” which is Algonquin for “the good land” was the fact that it’s the only major American city to have ever elected three socialist mayors. 

Party on. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo’s arrival in 2013 made the Bucks relevant for the first time in decades, culminating in their championship three years ago when they broke a half-century drought. 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - DECEMBER 07: Damian Lillard #0 and Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks wait for a teammate to shoot a free throw against the Indiana Pacers in the second half of the East semifinal game of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament at T-Mobile Arena on December 07, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Pacers defeated the Bucks 128-119. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

They could have potentially got there quicker if they took Joel Embiid with the No.2 pick instead of a talented college prospect in Jabari Parker who turned out to be a bust. 

Giannis is now 29 and in the middle of his prime. 


He is one of the top five players in the NBA and will be for several years. 

But whether he remains a Buck for the rest of his career is uncertain. 

He has extended his contract until the end of the 2027-28 season but the pressure is on Milwaukee to provide him with the supporting cast to challenge for trophies. 

This led to the trade before the start of the season with Portland for Damian Lillard. 

In theory it should have been an ideal combination – the point guard with elite perimeter shooting paired with the inside presence who can dominate the paint. 

But the Bucks have not hit their stride all season. 


They are 36-21 after a much-needed win over Minnesota, good for the seventh-best record in the league but based on their first 57 games, they won’t be able to compete with Boston or Philadelphia (if Embiid gets healthy) in the Eastern playoffs or have a prayer against Denver or the leading Western Conference contenders if they made it to the finals. 

Giannis is putting up another dazzling set of numbers at 30.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 6.4 assists while Lillard is nearly eight points per game down on his Portland output last season at 24.2. 

There was naturally going to be a drop-off after being a virtual one-man show at the Trail Blazers but his three-point shooting (34.1%) and makes per game (2.9) have not been this low for a decade. 

At 33 he’s still one of the best guards in the NBA but the gamble to bring him to the franchise will define what the next decade looks like for Milwaukee. 

If they can click, the Bucks can indeed challenge for this year’s title. 

But if Lillard can’t strike up the right chemistry with Giannis, there are no more bullets in the cylinder for the front office. 


They have traded away all their future draft stock – they still owe picks to New Orleans for the deal that brought in Jrue Holiday, who was sacrificed for Lillard. 

On a side note, Celtics fans couldn’t be happier with how that turned out as Holiday has been a key reason for their surge to the best record in the NBA and status as the main threat to the Nuggets going back to back. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks celebrates winning

(Photo: Getty Images)

Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton are not as effective as they used to be and there are few, if any, genuine prospects on the roster who could give Giannis some All-Star level support in the future. 

The Bucks’ big move to stem the tide was firing rookie coach Adrian Griffin mid-season after moving on from their championship mentor Mike Budenholzer after last year’s first-round playoff exit to eighth seed Miami. 

And in what is looking more like a panic move than a masterstroke, they tempted Doc Rivers out of the commentary chair despite a lengthy history of falling short in the playoffs at his last two stops at the Clippers and Philadelphia. 

He has been dining out on the 2008 title with Boston for a long time while taking talented teams to the playoffs but no further than the second round. 


Since he’s arrived in Milwaukee they’ve won just four of 11 matches, including some losses to lottery-bound strugglers, and admitted he didn’t want to take over the team before the All-Star break because the team had a tough road trip on the schedule. 

Does that sound like a coach who is motivated or one who wants a cushy ride?

His former long-time Clippers guard JJ Redick quite rightly pointed out Rivers was not great at taking accountability for his shortcomings. 

“Doc, we get it. Taking over a team in the middle of the season is hard … just like getting traded in the middle of the season is hard for a player,” Redick said on ESPN. “We get it. But it’s always an excuse. It’s always throwing your team under the bus.”

The vibes appear bad on a number of fronts at Milwaukee. Lillard was asked to name his dream starting five and chose Steph Curry, LeBron James and Kevin Durant as three teammates but his fourth was not Giannis but Miami big man Bam Adebayo. 

It’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things but why do it? Even if he doesn’t think Giannis merits a spot, say that he does because it’s created yet another headline the Bucks could do without. 


All this adds up to more speculation swirling in the future that Giannis will demand a trade if the current iteration of the Bucks peters out over the next season or two. 

Refreshingly he hasn’t pledged blind loyalty to Milwaukee, conceding a couple of times over the past few years that he may end up elsewhere if things turn sour. 

As a small market team that struggles to attract free agents, Milwaukee did extremely well to go all the way to a championship with Giannis after 50 years of mostly making up the numbers. 

But if they don’t manage to lift the trophy at least one more time during his tenure they will probably feel like they have not maximised their potential return after hitting the jackpot with their unexpected superstar.