Don’t look now, but the Bucks are struggling. After hitting the ground running and torching the National Basketball Association with nine straight victories to start their 2022-23 campaign, they’ve suffered setbacks in four of their last six matches, including one to the otherwise-lowly Spurs. The other day, they even managed to snatch defeat from the throes of victory in the road against the supposedly struggling Sixers. It was a game they should have won, and not just because the hosts were undermanned; more importantly, they faced a predictable offense that, after having been down 13, found cause to rally and triumph pulling away.
The season’s early, of course, and it’s hard to pillory the Bucks when their record is still good for second in the league, a single game out of first place. And insofar as disappointments go, they’re back in line behind such notables as the Warriors, Suns, Mavericks, Nuggets — and, yes, even the Sixers and Nets. Just about all the contenders have concerns to tend and attend to, and with four-fifths of the schedule remaining, focusing on issues as if the end of the world is nigh borders on overreaction.
On the other hand, the Bucks do have significant items to address, and it’s best for them to do so early on so that no bad habits — or, just as crucially, no bad thoughts — develop. It’s why Antetokounmpo saw fit to linger at the Wells Fargo Center long after the loss to the Sixers to work on his free throw shooting. He canned only four of 15 attempts from the line, a cause for concern in light of his immediate past four-of-11 output. His lack of efficiency has made him and, by extension, the Bucks predictable, hence their uncharacteristic negative offensive rating.
Indeed, Antetokounmpo was visibly affected in the aftermath, leading to recorded kerfuffles with the Sixers’ Montrezl Harrell and with arena workers, and to a ladder forcibly pushed out of the way. He then felt that it was much ado over nothing. “I don’t know if I should apologize because I don’t feel like I did anything wrong, except the ladder just fell. I feel like it’s my right for me to work on my skills after a horrible night at the free throw line. I think anybody in my position that had a night like me would go out and work on his free throws. And if they didn’t they don’t really care about their game.”
Antetokounmpo’s on the mark, to be sure. So much of the Bucks’ fate hangs on his performances, and there’s a reason his shooting numbers have dropped to levels not seen in seven years. And unless and until he determines why, he’ll continue to search for answers, on the court and off.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.