The significant difference between the 2021 and 2022 Milwaukee Bucks

MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 08 (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 08 (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks are currently in a far different position right now than they were a year ago.

Entering 2021, they were still unproven after falling short in the previous two playoffs. Due to the consecutive failures, no one took them seriously. Giannis Antetokounmpo was viewed as a player who would never get the job done in Milwaukee and was criticized by many for opting to sign the supermax extension before the season. The question as to whether or not Khris Middleton could be good enough to be a second option on a championship team was still alive, with most leaning toward no due to his previous shortcomings. Jrue Holiday was viewed as a nice acquisition, but a player that the Bucks gave up far too much to get. Lastly, coach Mike Budenholzer was belittled by fans and analysts for his coaching style, which had him on the hot seat for most of the season.

It is safe to say that things certainly look different over a year later. Of course, the Bucks ended the 50-year title drought in Milwaukee, which shook things up mightily. Antetokounmpo silenced any doubt surrounding his greatness after he put together one of the best NBA Finals debuts in league history, taking home the Finals MVP. Meanwhile, Middleton proved that he could indeed be second fiddle on a title-winning team as he put together a number of performances for the Bucks on their way to victory, and Holiday proved to be worth every penny as he was the needle-tipper that the Bucks needed to get over the postseason hump. Budenholzer also earned himself a lucrative deal after the season to stick around in Milwaukee for the long haul.

Last season was about proving that this team was good enough to win a championship with the personnel they had in place after two consecutive years of failure. In the end, they did just that, which is why it felt so triumphant when they finally reached the mountain top in July. Though the goal of winning a title has not changed for the Bucks over a year later, this team has come a long way since this time last year.

Looking at key differences between the 2021 and 2022 Milwaukee Bucks

Obviously, the biggest difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is that the Bucks entered this season as the defending champions, which is as big of a confidence boost as any. The best way to describe it would be looking back at a quote from P.J. Tucker during Milwaukee’s title celebration. When Tucker was asked about how he helped change the mindset for this team in the run after coming aboard midseason, he said, “We already got dogs, they just don’t know how to be dogs.”

The Bucks have had a shot to win the title each time over the previous three years but fell short twice and got daringly close to suffering the same fate last season. However, each team over the past three seasons entered the postseason believing that they could win the championship. They certainly had the personnel to win a title in this span. Antetokounmpo was among the top players in the league with two MVPs, a Defensive Player of the Year, and more under his belt, his running mate in Middleton was a two-time All-Star with a max contract, and head coach Budenholzer was a two-time Coach of the Year. This team had all the tools to be great, but over the last three years, they did not know how to piece it all together… until they finally did.

They now know what it is like to win a title, having pushed through and finally got one after years of coming up short. Having that diamond ring on their finger should be an important boost in their confidence now compared to where they were last season. Rather than simply believing that they can win a championship, the Bucks now know that they can do it. They know how to be dogs after finally winning the championship. They say that the first one is the hardest because it allows the players and coaches to finally get the monkey off their back, which was undoubtedly the case with this Milwaukee roster.

It helps tremendously that the Bucks and the fanbase no longer have to listen to critics constantly saying that Antetokounmpo should leave the franchise if he ever wants to win. He’s doing just fine in Milwaukee, and the sky is the limit moving forward for the reigning NBA Finals MVP.

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That championship experience will come in handy when the Milwaukee Bucks gear up for the playoffs once again this season.