Team of Misfit Toys: How the Milwaukee Bucks Saved their Season

The Milwaukee Bucks gambled on the league's discarded players and are seeing the results. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
The Milwaukee Bucks gambled on the league's discarded players and are seeing the results. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports /

Forced to pivot following the injury to Khris Middleton, the Milwaukee Bucks saved their season by believing in players who others had given up on.

In the waning moments of an 11-point win against the I-94 rival Chicago Bulls, with the seconds ticking down before the final buzzer, the Milwaukee Bucks put the ball in the hands of former Bull Tony Snell.

It was a symbolic gesture, Chicago wasn’t playing the foul game and the finality of the score had settled in. But for Snell, it illustrated the trust that his new organization has given him and validation that he has indeed found a place in the NBA.

The much maligned Snell had a tumultuous career in the Windy City. As a rookie fresh out of The University of New Mexico, Snell impressed in his Summer League action and played in almost every game of his introductory season.

More from Bucks News

But Snell frustrated both fans and the coaching staff. For every team-leading scoring performance or glimpse of untapped potential, Snell would often look lost on offense and seemed to make boneheaded mistakes.

After his third year, the Bulls had seen enough and shipped him away for an equally disappointing player in Michael Carter-Williams. Carter-Williams fell out of favor after less than two turnover-ridden and poor shooting seasons in Milwaukee.

The Bucks, reeling from the loss of Khris Middleton, their leading-scorer and one-third of the “MAP to the Future,” took a gamble on a discarded player and made something out of seemingly nothing.

Like a train with square wheels, Snell just needed a little love. The Bucks demonstrated that some misfit players just need a fresh start and an organization to have their backs.

The Bucks opened their doors to a number of misfit toys this past offseason and it’s quietly paying off.

While Middleton’s production can’t be replaced, the Bucks managed to plug the dike with some of the league’s undervalued players.

Like Billy Beane trying to replace Jason Giambi, John Hammond and the Bucks staff acquired two underrated players to help spread the impact of losing one of the premier “3-and-D” players in the league.

The aforementioned Snell has already started 24 of a possible 24 games for Milwaukee. In that short time frame he’s made more three’s (37) than Carter-Williams made in his entire Bucks career (19). And while his 29 percent shooting behind the arc is far less than stellar, the coaching staff seems to believe there’s room for improvement. At the very least, opposing teams have to respect that he’s not afraid to pull up from deep. Snell’s taking 68 percent of his shots from downtown this season, the highest on the Bucks behind one-trick ponies like Mirza Teletovic and Jason Terry.

Snell’s also making a big impact as a defender. He won’t lock down an offensive player like Tony Allen or Kawhi Leonard, but he plays good team defense and doesn’t make mistakes on the defensive end. Most importantly though, he doesn’t try to do more than he can.

Michael Carter-Williams needed the ball in his hands to be effective, Snell doesn’t. Carter-Williams turned the ball over, Snell doesn’t even have the ball long enough to turn the ball over. For the first time in a long time for Snell, expectations are low and no one is calling for his head, except for a few bitter Bulls fans.

And while the Bulls front office claims to be happy with the results of the Snell-MCW trade, early returns show the Bucks came out on top. And national writers seem to agree.

Continuing the Island of Misfit Toys theme, perhaps no other player in the league fits that bill more than Michael Beasley.

The former second overall pick was once considered a franchise changing player. But fast forward just a few short years after being drafted by the Heat in 2008, and Beasley’s played for eight different teams, including three runs with the Heat and two stints in China. Just one year ago, Beasley was clowning on players as part of the Shandong Golden Stars. But like Snell, Beasley seems to have found a home in Milwaukee.

Beasley has been an offensive spark off the bench, made clutch shots and starred in some close fourth quarter contests while being a key cog in one of the league’s best bench units. His ability has never been doubted, it was always about motivation with Beasley. The Bucks took a gamble on Beasley and are reaping the rewards.

His offensive output isn’t far off from high-priced free agent signings like Evan Turner or Allen Crabbe or former Buck Jared Dudley, but Beasley is making a fraction of what those players make for similar production. Beasley has the fourth lowest salary on the team while scoring the fifth most points (tied with Snell.) Considering that Beasley was acquired straight-up for Tyler Ennis, the Bucks committed highway robbery. This season, Ennis is averaging career-lows in points per game and barely finding playing time.

Beasley has endeared himself to Milwaukee fans with his flamboyant style and Snapchat shenanigans. The Bucks might be the first team to embrace the oddity of Michael Beasley instead of trying to make him someone he’s not. Faith has rewarded the Bucks and may have resurrected a career.

By design, the Bucks have created a family-like culture in Milwaukee. Whether it’s giving big money to the formerly-unknown Greek superstar, preaching patience with Jabari Parker, keeping the big free agent signing around even when he doesn’t meet expectations or simply finding a role for players dismissed by other teams, the Bucks have found a formula that works. Cream City isn’t a hot destination for big name free agents, but just maybe players will give a second look to an organization that gives players a chance to prove their worth.

Khris Middleton can’t be replaced, but Snell and Beasley have dulled the pain of his loss and just may have saved the season. Their production, along with Malcolm Brogdon (another player who was criminally undervalued by the league), has put the Bucks in position for a real playoff run.

Next: Milwaukee Bucks: The Perils of Being Young, Good and Bad All at Once

So kudos to John Hammond, Justin Zanik and the rest of the Bucks front office for gaming the system. The expert acquisitions of Beasley and Snell almost make up for the awful Plumlee contract. Almost.