On July 20th, 2021, the Milwaukee Bucks, led by NBA Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, delivered a championship to Milwaukee. It was the Bucks first NBA championship since 1971, with Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading the way. But despite now being on top of the NBA mountain, Milwaukee isn’t the favorite to repeat as champions next season. Due to the crazy offseason, the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers are getting the attention. But, it’s not a bad thing for the Bucks. In fact, they should be embracing it, which in the process, will be playing with house money. Here’s three reasons why.
First Reason: Pressure Is Now Off Of The Milwaukee Bucks Big Three
For the past three seasons, the Bucks had intense pressure on them to deliver in the postseason. And they delivered big time by reaching the NBA mountain after a 50 year wait. The pressure is off of Milwaukee next season, especially when it comes to their big three.
Some championship teams ascend the NBA mountain, they lose their edge. But they’re in a spot in which that edge won’t leave them. A big reason why they won’t have to worry about it is because Antetokounmpo will be able to play with more freedom than ever.
He culminated Milwaukee’s championship season with 50 points in game six, and dominated the Phoenix Suns on both ends of the floor. The performance itself for the Greek Freak was years of hard work that he put in. It also opened eyes and the argument for who the best player in the NBA is too. Antetokounmpo is definitely in that conversation, despite him saying that’s not what matters to him.
His free throw was something so many picked at, and they had valid points. But Antetokounmpo silenced those critics by shooting a scorching 17-19 from the free throw line (89.4%) in game six. The way he played on basketball’s biggest stage will take the pressure off of him knowing he’s capable of performances like that more often than not.
There’s been quite a few fans, media etc who have always viewed Khris Middleton as just another player. But like Antetokounmpo, Middleton also quieted the noise. He delivered late in games, proving he definitely earned the five-year, $177 million contract extension the Bucks gave him in 2019.
Middleton, like Antetokounmpo, will also have the weight off of his shoulders. He’ll simply be able to play his game without critics saying what he can’t do. The freedom to be himself on the floor is something Middleton will love when the 2021-22 NBA season begins. The Bucks organization doesn’t feel the pressure when it comes to him because they know if Antetokounmpo isn’t himself, or has an off game, Middleton is more than capable of closing games late. And that is why everyone involved will he able to breathe easier next season.
Antetokounmpo and Middleton garner quite a bit of attention, but Jrue Holiday shouldn’t be ignored. When the Bucks acquired him from the New Orleans Pelicans last offseason, it elevated their franchise. Holiday proved to be that missing piece the Bucks needed to have in their core group. But when the trade was completed, he had pressure on him to prove to everyone that he was worth it.
They gave up three future first round picks, and two additional draft pick swaps to the Pelicans, along with Eric Bledsoe and Sam Merrill. Quite a few thought the Bucks gave up a lot for a player who isn’t a superstar, but for this team, Holiday didn’t have to be. He proved that he was very much worth it, as he had the epic steal of Devin Booker in game 5 in Phoenix, which led to his alley oop pass to Antetokounmpo.
His defense, along with timely buckets, are what the Bucks needed from him, and he delivered. The deal in getting Holiday definitely played a role in Milwaukee keeping Antetokounmpo for the foreseeable future as well. And the pressure will be off of him to prove he can deliver and help the Bucks, which is a good thing.
Second Reason: Expectations For The Milwaukee Bucks Aren’t As High
This reason somewhat was stated, but the expectations for the Bucks aren’t as high due to the pressure the Nets and Lakers have on them. But that’s not a bad thing for Milwaukee. The Bucks have a championship after a 50 year wait, and if they were to make back to back Finals appearances, or win back to back titles, that’s an added bonus for them.
Some are wondering why that’s the case. It’s because historically in the NBA, small market teams aren’t able to have consistent success (outside of the San Antonio Spurs), while the big market teams trend upward. So the expectations for the Bucks won’t be as high due to some relying on “history” of small market teams repeating aren’t high. But if the Bucks were to repeat and outlast both the Nets and Lakers, that would truly exceed expectations in Milwaukee.
Third And Final Reason: The Milwaukee Bucks Love The Underdog Role
The final reason why the Bucks are playing with house money is they love being the underdog role. They were underdogs in their title run against the Nets and Suns and thrived in it. They’ll likely be underdogs again this year, with Brooklyn and the Lakers at full strength. That’s a blessing in disguise for Milwaukee, as Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Holiday, and their roster have been doubted before by so many.
They’re also low ego guys who are about team success, which helps them thrive in the underdog role. The fans at Fiserv Forum and at the Deer District embrace it as well. It’s no accident why the crowd was defeaning there and gave teams a hard time. The Nets, including the postseason, went 0-5 there. So in ways, the Bucks should thank the super heavyweights in the big markets. The summer developments have given them plenty of motivation, as they look to repeat as NBA champions next season.