Lillard transforms Milwaukee’s prospects

Lillard transforms Milwaukee’s prospects

The Bucks were big question marks heading into the 2023-24 season. They had a new head coach in Adrian Griffin, having let go of erstwhile mentor Mike Budenholzer following a disappointing first round exit. And wary of losing cornerstone Giannis Antetokounmpo to free agency following cryptic statements made in public, they swung for the fences and traded for Damian Lillard.

The move was not without risk; it cost them vital cogs Jrue Holiday and Grayson Allen, and made their roster more offense-heavy. That said, they did manage to subsequently secure a long-term commitment from the two-time Most Valuable Player awardee.

Fast forward to Christmas Day, and the Bucks have ample cause to rejoice. Although they did lose yesterday to the overachieving Knicks, they can reasonably argue that Lillard has been a boon to their campaign even as Antetokounmpo continues to put up MVP numbers.

Their 22-8 slate is good for second in the Eastern Conference and third in the league, reflective of the strength of their rotation. Khris Middleton seems to be coming along nicely after convalescing from right knee surgery, while Brook Lopez remains an anchor in the paint. And then there is do-it-all Bobby Portis, still effective off the bench.

It bears noting that, for all the Bucks’ competitiveness, there is room for improvement. Antetokounmpo and Lillard have yet to unlock their vast potential as pick-and-roll partners. Yesterday against the Knicks, for instance, the results in their two-man sequences left much to be desired.

Meanwhile, their individual brilliance comes with glaring minuses — perimeter shooting for the former and one-on-one coverage for the latter. Collectively, though, it’s clear that they’re all but unstoppable on offense. Outside of the run-and-gun Pacers, they have no peer in putting points on the board.

How the Bucks’ quest for their second title in four years will turn out is subject to conjecture. Clearly, however, they have the tools they need to succeed. Their growing esprit de corps through familiarity and repetition should serve them in good stead, and should prep them well for the playoffs. And because they have Antetokounmpo and Lillard on tap, they know they have a better than even chance to claim the hardware. It’s just a matter of execution in the crunch.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.