Should Milwaukee be at the top of the list? Probably.
The Milwaukee Bucks are officially past the one-year anniversary of their last title; a recent memory for most people but a virtual eternity on the NBA scale of time. They fell short last offseason, and the response from the team has been to (once again) embrace continuity. How does that affect their odds for taking the trophy next time around?
The Bucks are at least in the top-5 according to DraftKings at +700, where the oddsmakers have them behind Boston, the Clippers, and the defending champion Warriors. There’s a strong case to be made that the Bucks ought to have an edge over all three of those teams, and that it’s the betting markets that are wrong.
First off, let’s address the Los Angeles Clippers. This team finished 8th in the West last year and lost their spot in the postseason by fumbling the Play-In Tournament. The obvious caveat for this team is that Paul George played only 1000 minutes last year…which was 1000 more than Kawhi Leonard played. Regaining a pair of superstars will obviously up a team’s odds, and the Clippers were a solid team without them. But will their lack of on-court experience with each other undermine them in the postseason? Vegas might not agree, but I sure think that their odds are overblown.
Then we have the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors. Normally I wouldn’t quibble with last year’s title-holder earning this kind of attention, but there’s also some signs of erosion going on with their roster. The trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green played a combined 140 games last year (only about 57% of the available total), and it’s risky to assume that any future injuries to these three aging mainstays won’t affect their playoff availability. Should that come to pass, are the rest of the Warriors’ supporting cast going to step up again the same way they did last year? It’s possible, but not guaranteed. Golden State is certainly worthy of respect, but fear? I’m not sure I’m afraid, not from the Bucks’ perspective.
Last, but certainly not least, we have the Boston Celtics, the team that knocked Milwaukee out of the chase last postseason and sits atop the oddsmakers boards today. Boston has certainly gotten better, swapping some depth and draft capital to bring in Malcolm Brogdon and sign Danilo Gallinari. They had enough to get to the NBA Finals last season, and they certainly could have beaten a full-strength Bucks team. But it’s widely theorized that Milwaukee, with a healthy Khris Middleton, would have emerged victorious last time around, and the Celtics’ performance in the Finals (where Golden State thoroughly solved their offensive gameplan) did nothing to argue to the contrary. Counterfactuals are what they are, and nothing should take away from Boston’s past achievements. Still, considering them favorites right now seems premature from Milwaukee’s perspective. Maybe that’s why the Celtics are involved in the Kevin Durant saga?
No matter what way you look at it, the Bucks are getting the type of respect they deserve…even if it’s not sufficient for those with a pro-Bucks bias (including myself). It will be on them to use this summer to improve and prepare for the season, and show any doubters that they were wrong to bet against Milwaukee next season.