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Bucks have underachieved despite win over Warriors

Struggling offensively, have they arrived -- or was it a fluke?

POSTED: Dec 14, 2015 8:35 PM ET
UPDATED: Dec 15, 2015 12:56 AM ET

By Shaun Powell

BY Shaun Powell

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Warriors vs. Bucks

Greg Monroe scores 28 points for the Bucks, who beat the defending NBA champions, snapping the Warriors' NBA-record start at 24 wins.

Sometimes when a young and developing team is anxious to climb in a hurry, taking that next step can be trickier than spelling "Antetokounmpo" after a few drinks.

So say hello to the Bucks and their world. A prime-time basketball audience that saw the Bucks last weekend -- only because the Bucks happened to be the next team standing between the Warriors and history -- perhaps wondered what has this fiesty and hungry team been doing since last spring in the playoffs. The answer? Not much.

The team that denied the Warriors a 25th straight win -- OK, took advantage of a tired Golden State team that played double OT the night before in Boston -- had been missing for much of this early season. The team that fought until the buzzer and made big plays and earned the roar of home fans wearing "24-1" t-shirts was coming off another losing streak.

The team that stared down Steph Curry and showed how, on potential, it can beat anyone was two weeks removed from taking a 24-point smackdown from the Magic.

Antetokounmpo's Triple-Double

Check out the highlights from Giannis Antetokounmpo who became the youngest player in Bucks history to record a triple-double (11 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists).

And so, who exactly are the Bucks at this point, and can their landmark regular season victory serve as smelling salts to a team that needs to wake the heck up?

There is never any great urgency in mid-December, although if the Bucks are indeed as intriguing as we were led to believe, then they should be prepared to start showing it. As of now, they're the biggest underachievers east of Houston and held back by underwhelming defense, poor outside shooting and a point guard situation that's surprisingly questionable. Jason Kidd did a terrific coaching job last season when he brought the kids along nicely and won 41 games, but the Bucks are just 10-15 as they begin a four-game West Coast trip and are somewhat removed from the up-and-comers who took the Bulls to six in the playoffs last spring.

"We have this road trip and another coming at the end of this month," Kidd said. "We have to come together. Coming together means playing together on the floor. These guys are starting to do that."

The perils of having a young core, and a new free agent addition, and a roster loaded with players of the same skill-set leads to a clumsy transition sometimes. That's the best way to describe the Bucks at this stage of their blueprint. The Bucks are built nicely on paper, but the roster is high on athletic players and low on quality shooters and set-up players. That's why they show flashes of being a solid team but can't seem to sustain anything positive for an entire game, or week, or month.

Until the last week and a half, they were atrocious defensively and rated near the bottom. Kidd managed to get them straight, before they fell much farther in the East.

"We can beat anyone if we play smart, play together and trust each other," said Michael Carter-Williams, which means the Bucks haven't always done all of the above.

Postgame: Greg Monroe

Greg Monroe talks postgame after the Bucks snap the Warriors season winning-streak at 24-games.

Speaking of Carter-Williams, he's at a curious crossroad in his career. A few years ago he was Rookie of the Year. Now he's backing up OJ Mayo, who nobody ever accused of being a point guard. In a weird twist, Carter-Williams has played well since the switch nine games ago and refused to pout or complain. Maybe he was told it was just temporary by Kidd, who's obviously trying to light a fire under MCW. Anyway, when the Bucks were able to pry Carter-Williams from the Sixers last year, which shocked many, the position was his to keep, it seemed. Especially when the Bucks decided to trade Brandon Knight rather than pay him as a free agent last summer.

Well. Knight is playing like an All-Star in Phoenix, and Carter-Williams is ... we're not sure where he is, exactly, other than being 24. Is he better now than he was as a rookie? Hasn't shown it yet, although it's not easy being a young point guard who's coached by an all-time great.

Also, and maybe because of spotty play at point guard, the Bucks remain an average offensive team, and that might be putting it kindly. They're averaging 95.5 points, just above the last-place Sixers, and like last year still haven't identified a certified bucket-getter. Maybe because they don't really have one. Yes, there's a beauty in being able to turn to three or four different guys a night -- seven Bucks average in double figures -- but just the same, no one player can be trusted to carry the load.

Greg Monroe isn't a volume scorer, neither is Khris Middleton, and they cost the Bucks a pretty penny last summer on the market. The other issue is the Bucks lack a true deep threat, and could actually use a few. They're near the bottom of the league in 3-pointers taken and made. Only Middleton, Mayo and Jerryd Bayless show the confidence to take threes, and Bayless is out with a bum ankle.

GameTime: Warriors Streak Snapped

Mike Fratello and Rick Fox break down the Bucks' win over the previously unbeaten, champion Warriors.

There was hope that Giannis Antetokounmpo would gradually blossom into a dependable scorer, or at least a better one, and in that sense he appears to be on his way, averaging 15.7 points and making half his shots (though most from 15 feet in). Hopefully the Bucks are done using him as a classroom project by sampling him at almost every position on the floor. News flash: He's not a point guard, probably not a 2-guard, and definitely not a center. Meanwhile, the Bucks have Monroe and John Henson at the power spots, which means Giannis should stay chained at small forward and learn to play that position better.

The big unknown is Jabari Parker. There are times when he makes a clever move or comes through big on a few possessions that make you understand why he was such a sure thing coming out of college two summers ago. Right now, a year removed from knee surgery, it's a matter of him becoming more comfortable in his skin and finding a role. Should he lose weight and be a small forward? Or use his quickness against bigger forwards? The fear is Parker might be stuck as a tweener. Again, he's just a rookie in a sense, and only 20.

The good news is the Bucks are not hurting for good young talent. It's just a matter of waiting for them to progress while trying to rise in the East, which is more competitive this season. For example, the Bucks sunk millions into Henson, Monroe and Middleton and will soon make additional big-money decisions on Giannis and Carter-Williams. Should they pay everybody, or use one or two as trade bait?

Being young, we have to understand that defense comes first.

– Jason Kidd

At the moment, they just want to bottle whatever they had against the Warriors and sip some on this trip.

"We moved the ball," Monroe said after the Warriors win, "and that's definitely something we have to stick with and use as a platform to get better."

Carter-Williams: "We have to play with the same intensity."

Kidd: "Being young, we have to understand that defense comes first."

The education of a possible future contender continues. And this Saturday we'll see how far the Bucks have come when they play in Oakland and face a team with a look of revenge.

Was that streak-stopping win over the Warriors more like a fluke? Or are the Bucks, here in December, finally ready to announce their arrival this season?

Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

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