Bucks look back, ahead
The Milwaukee Bucks’ 2013-14 National Basketball Association season has been in our rear-view mirror for more than a month.
Some major changes have transpired within the organization since then.
Former Senator Herb Kohl, who had owned the team since 1985, announced April 16 that he had sold it to Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry.
The NBA Board of Governors approved the sale May 15.
On May 20, the 2014 NBA Draft Lottery was conducted in Brooklyn. Coming off a 15-67 campaign – the worst in their history and the worst in the league this season – the Bucks had the best odds of landing the No. 1 pick in the draft.
Milwaukee wound up with the No. 2 pick as the ping-pong balls bounced in favor of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the third time in four years.
The Bucks and their new ownership team emerged from the proceedings understandably excited over the prospect of adding one of the premier players in a talent-rich draft to their roster.
At the same time, three individuals who, as of this writing, figure to loom large in the organization’s quest to return to NBA prominence have acknowledged what needs to be done to make that happen.
One of the silver linings in an overcast 2013-14 Bucks season was the performance of Brandon Knight, whom the Bucks acquired from the Detroit Pistons on July 31, 2013, along with forwards Khris Middleton and Viacheslav Kravtsov in exchange for guard Brandon Jennings.
Knight enjoyed the most productive season in his three years as a pro, becoming only the second player in the franchise’s 46-year history to lead the team in scoring (1,291 points) and assists (352) during his first season with the team.
Following the Bucks’ 2013-14 season finale, Knight looked both backward and forward.
“I know I’ve gotten better,” Knight said. “My main goal last summer was to improve as a player. I know I did that. Now it’s just a matter of making our team better.
“I plan on working hard this summer to continue to improve. There’s not much I can do about the new ownership except sit and wait and see what their plans are. I don’t worry about any of that. The only thing I’m worried about is continuing to get better no matter what situation I’m in.”
Knight’s first season with Milwaukee hit an early detour when he sustained a hamstring injury in the Oct. 30 opener, limiting him to two minutes that night and forcing him to miss eight of the next 10 games.
But the 6-3 guard stayed the course and eventually set single-game career highs with 37 points Dec. 31 against the Los Angeles Lakers, 14 assists Dec. 23 against Charlotte and 14 rebounds against Cleveland on Dec. 20.
“I would say that initially, coming back from the hamstring, it took me about a month-and-a-half to get where I wanted to be,” Knight said. “It was never really 100 percent for that first month-and-a-half. I still felt it. I didn’t have my explosiveness, and not only that, but your mind isn’t there because you don’t want to take off and re-pull the hamstring. For that first month-and-a-half, I was kind of timid. I wasn’t 100 percent healed. Once I was, I felt pretty good.
“I know that when I am healthy, I can affect the game in a big way. Based on my play this year, I’ve taken steps forward, but I’m never satisfied. I’m going to continue to do whatever it takes to improve myself as a leader and as a player, in every aspect of my game. I’ll be working on everything.”
Giannis Antetokounmpo, whom Milwaukee selected with the 15th choice in the 2013 NBA Draft, surpassed the expectations of virtually everyone as the youngest player in the league.
Antetokounmpo, just 18 years old when the season began, saw his playing time escalate about a month into the campaign and responded by displaying impressive court savvy and aggressiveness.
He achieved his first NBA double-double before the calendar flipped to 2014, totaling 16 points and 10 rebounds at Brooklyn on Dec. 27.
Antetokounmpo, who grew 1 1/2 inches to 6-10 1/2 during his first few months in the United States, was selected to play in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge at NBA All-Star Weekend in New Orleans. He totaled nine points, two rebounds and two assists in the game.
Antetokounmpo finished his NBA rookie campaign with averages of 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game. He was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team.
Antetokounmpo played 77 games as an NBA rookie – 51 more than he played for Filathlitikos in Greece’s A2 second division the previous year.
His was an eye-opening experience, but he didn't flinch.
“I learned a lot,” Antetokounmpo said. “I learned what it means to play hard and give 100 percent. I played a lot more games than I ever had before. I’m really tired. But I still gave it everything I had on the court.
“I’m encouraged about next year. We struggled this year. We have a lot of young guys. We have to work hard during the summer and come back better to make sure a year like this year doesn’t happen again.”
Antetokounmpo said Bucks fans can expect him to be a better player in all areas of the game next season.
“I want to improve on everything – my shot, my dribbling, my body, learning the game,” he said. “I want to do everything I can to be the best I can be.”
John Henson, selected by Milwaukee with the 14th overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, averaged career bests of 11.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game during his second year as a pro in 2013-14.
Henson, 23, had a 25-point, 14-rebound, 6-block performance against the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 10. He posted 11 double-doubles, shot 53.8 percent from the field and became the only Buck in the last 25 years to record multiple games of 6-plus blocks (4) prior to his 23rd birthday.
Henson, like Antetokounmpo, said the 2013-14 season was an educational experience for him.
“I learned a lot,” Henson said. “I got a lot more experience. I played a lot more. It was a good year for me personally.
“It was humbling with the losses. I had a new coach. It was a rough year in a lot of ways, but at the same time, it was positive as well. You have to remember what’s gone on this year. There are things that have to change.”
Henson is excited about being part of the franchise as it enters a new era.
“I don’t know how much will change player personnel-wise, at least for the immediate future,” Henson said. “We do know there’s going to be new blood running the Bucks franchise. Maybe new life will be one of the things we need to really take off.
“It’s exciting, being here at a time like this. Hopefully I’ll be able to look back and say, ‘I remember the season when we only won 14 games. Now we’re winning 40, 50 games and fighting for playoff position. That ought to be a great feeling.”