Milwaukee Bucks: Searching for a defined team culture

Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

The Milwaukee Bucks find themselves in the early stages of developing a culture — a situation they’ve been in for many years.

If a franchise is going to consistently compete deep into the playoffs, they need two things. A talented roster, and a consistent culture. In recent memory, the teams that consistently made a run for the NBA Finals have all had clear expectations.

LeBron James returned to a talented Cleveland Cavaliers roster in 2015, but the team was built with players that had never proven themselves in the postseason. They added to their talent pool by acquiring J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. The King used his status to set law.

In building a team, each player must understand their role on the floor, the intensity needed to win, and the team’s standing in the NBA world. Part of forming a good culture is simply believing you deserve the highest ground on the hill.

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No one knows what a set culture can do for a player more than J.R. Smith. The impact of LeBron, who essentially is the Cavaliers, did more for any talented player than I can remember. He left New York a punchline, and now he’s just playing his game, dancing shirtless on a bus. Outside of greeting Jason Terry, Smith is more locked in than ever. The Cavaliers are who they are because of the LeBron James’ culture.

Culture is largely based on the lead horse. In a study recently discussed on the Joe Rogan Experience (I’m not smart), biologist Robert Sapolsky studied a tribe of wild baboons. The baboon tribe was behaving like any other known wild baboon tribe.

The most aggressive ruled the roast, beating on smaller males, as well as the females.

Sapolsky discusses the tribe’s turn of fate in his book, A Primates Memoir .

"“Through a heartbreaking twist of fate, the most aggressive males in the Forest Troop were wiped out. The males, which had taken to foraging in an open garbage pit adjacent to a tourist lodge, had contracted bovine tuberculosis, and most died between 1983 and 1986. Their deaths drastically changed the gender composition of the troop, more than doubling the ratio of females to males, and by 1986 troop behavior had changed considerably as well; males were significantly less aggressive.”"

Much like a tribe, a basketball team’s culture can be changed. For instance, the Sacramento Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins at the trade deadline in an attempt to change the team’s culture. As talented as Cousins is, he was a grumpy alpha male who had lost faith in the team’s plan.

His departure made the Kings a worse team, but now they’re a young group with the fifth and 10th pick in the 2017 draft. The fresh faces will be able to grow together in a more positive manner. They aren’t pressured to make the playoffs next season, the young team can simply come together and chase their dream. They’ll have the chance to completely reset the culture, instead of joining a negative one.

As for the Milwaukee Bucks, they have exactly the type of young core to create a league-wide respected culture. The talents and personalities of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Khris Middleton, Thon Maker, and Malcolm Brogdon give the team a chance to build something very special. Not only are they a talented bunch of young players, but none of them put themselves before the team.

Marc Stein of ESPN reported that Chris Paul has serious interest in joining the San Antionio Spurs in free agency. The Spurs have become a small market icon/free agency destination behind their excellent culture.

It’s no secret that every small market team wants to take a page from the Spurs’ book, as they’ve won at least fifty games in 18 straight straight seasons. However, the Bucks are closer to the goal than most teams.

The lead Buck, Antetokounmpo, gives Milwaukee the chance to instil a culture that resembles both the San Antonio way, and LeBron’s reign. Giannis is the type of player who will both take over on the floor, yet always seem to have the team’s best interest at heart. He’s not forcing up shots, demanding the ball constantly, or falling asleep on the defensive end.

When your best player is 22, doing everything the right way, that does wonders for a young roster. Confidence grows as the team understands they have a real chance to compete alongside a generational talent, who will trust them to hit a corner three in the NBA finals.

LeBron trusted Kyle Korver in a big moment of Game Three, it didn’t work out, but the Cavaliers’ role players know they need to be locked in on every possession, even if it’s late in the game and their star is supposed to take the shot.

Giannis has the ability to have that same impression on the roster. Although he didn’t always get the ball during the final possessions of the game, that’s something I’d expect head coach Jason Kidd to implement during the 2017-18 season. Especially if Giannis is able to improve his shot further, something that seemed to be happening down the stretch of the season.

Giannis has the ability to hit the lane hard, force the defense to collapse, and find his man in the corner with a beautiful cross court jump pass. Add shot-making to his repertoire, and he has the skills needed to win games with the time running down.

The Bucks’ star also has the luxury of working with a group of men that just focus on working hard and winning games. This is where the San Antonio way comes into play.

If the Bucks are starting Brogdon-Middleton-Parker/Snell-Antetokounmpo-Maker, they’ll have the chance to create elite spacing. The offense can take a page from the Spurs/Rockets/Warriors by rotating the ball until they find an open jump shot or a gap to attack with the dribble.

Not only does this keep every weapon engaged, but it also takes some of the pressure off Giannis to impact every possession. His mere presence helps the team to get open looks. He doesn’t need to always bang his body to create spacing.

The Spurs also give consistent effort on the defensive end. Milwaukee was inconsistent on that end of the floor last season. They do have the tools to create a tough nosed defense that will at the very least provide effort. It’s just a matter of putting the players in the best situation to succeed on the floor.

A low ego team that shares the ball and wins games every year, will become a intriguing option for draft prospects, G-leaguers with potential, and free agents.

Not many teams have an unselfish, young generational star, along with several unselfish players with potential as complements. The Bucks could become something akin to the young Thunder team that became a huge threat to the Western Conference, without a lot of the ego that impaired that OKC team.

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Both the LeBron James effect and the San Antonio way currently attract free agents. If Milwaukee can create their own hybrid, they could walk into any agent’s office with confidence to pitch at any pre-draft workout or free agency meeting.