The once-promising Milwaukee Bucks find themselves in the midst of a late-season skid. Since a trade deadline shakeup that sent the resurgent Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns for a bevy of young, former first-round picks, the Bucks offense has collapsed. A team that once seemed a lock for the playoffs finds itself on shaky ground.
Yet none of it matters.
In a mere 68 games, Jason Kidd breathed life into a moribund franchise, doubling the team’s wins despite losing Jabari Parker, 2014’s number two pick, to a torn ACL, Kendall Marshall, a rejuvenated key bench cog, to a torn Achilles tendon, and Larry Sanders, his best rim protector, to sudden retirement.
No matter what players are lost and what new players enter the lineup, the Kidd-led Bucks have an identity. The team’s long-limbed, high-pressure defense remains one of the league’s stingiest; it actually improved slightly after the trade deadline with lanky Michael Carter-Williams in the fold, giving up 99.1 points 100 possessions compared to 99.4 points per 100 possessions before the break.
While Carter-Williams’s lack of shooting and high turnover percentage slammed the brakes on the Bucks offense,[note]Since the trade, the Bucks offense went from a middle-of-the-road 102.1 offensive rating to an abysmal 94.4, ranking 2nd worst in the league.[/note] he now falls under the tutelage of a point guard savant; Kidd helped salvage Shaun Livingston’s career, made Brandon Knight a near-All-Star, and molded journeyman Kendall Marshall into a post-up option. At the end of the bench sits the same coach, Eric Hughes, who made once-questionable shooter Jason Kidd into a three-point sniper.
So even if the offense remains a train wreck and the Bucks inexplicably miss the playoffs: next season top scorer and prospect Jabari Parker returns healthy, the raw Giannis Antetokounmpo gains a little more polish to his game, Kidd and Hughes have another year to work their magic into Carter-Williams, and a lottery pick is just icing on the cake.
If the Nets fail to make the playoffs, looking more likely by the day, it’s an abject disaster. The team’s roller-coaster season may be on its final descent after a dispiriting blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. A win against the Bucks is like popping a few Advil – the numbed pain is only temporary.
The Nets made a deadline move that gave the team a shot in the arm, dealing Kevin Garnett for Thaddeus Young. He brought many traits the Nets lacked: athleticism, defense and even some surprise three-point shooting. Since trading for Young, The Nets offense climbed out of the basement, ranking 11th in the league in points per possession during that period. But it hasn’t been enough: despite a defensive-minded coach, the defense hovers a few spots above the basement.
What they will be in ten games? It’s hard to say.
What we do know is this: If the Bucks fall out of the playoffs, they add another young player to their core. If the Nets stay out of the playoff picture, well, there just be a whole lot of happy fans in Atlanta (and probably Boston, too).
Right now, the Nets are the team playing slightly better. They’re 6-8 since the All Star Break compared to the 4-11 free-falling Bucks. Brooklyn’s -2.1 net rating trumps the Bucks’ abysmal -4.7 rating in that time.
So, if a potential win against Jason Kidd makes you happy, congratulations. Rub it in the old coach’s face. But the Bucks have a clear identity and a future. While the Nets gear for battle, Jason Kidd’s Bucks are winning the war.