The Milwaukee Bucks, by virtue of having the fourth-best record in the NBA, could afford to take the gamble that is firing your coach midseason. Their position in the standings gives them the luxury of “having patience” with new skipper, same offense Doc Rivers, and if that means trading a few losses to implement a play style better suited for the postseason, so be it.

For video game nerds, it’s like finally deciding to try parrying after button mashing proved ineffective against a game’s bosses. And that’s essentially what Milwaukee was doing — scoring 124 points per outing and hoping their offensive prowess was enough to overcome structural deficiencies. When you have Damian Lillard on a roster with a bevy of short-ish two guards, there needs to be an emphasis on effort.

With Lillard getting back in transition like an overweight, hungover college kid at a Sunday morning rec league, aka pointing out streaking opponents for his teammates to pick up while he loafs back, that wasn’t happening. The thing is, Rivers is more Frank Vogel than Phil Jackson, and if the Bucks want to get the most out of this group, Dame needs to be more involved on offense.

Akin to other outlandish theories, like sex to save the friendship, letting Lillard cook more lessens Giannis Antetokuonmpo’s time in the kitchen. In turn, Antetokuonmpo can focus on cleaning up messes in the dining room.

The Freak is having a historically efficient offensive season largely because Lillard is a threat from everywhere. However, it’s not being reciprocated, as the former Trail Blazers star is arguably enduring his least productive campaign since his second or third year. (Outside of the 2021-22 campaign when Lillard played hurt for 29 games before having season-ending surgery.)

To be fair, it’s Antetokuonmpo’s team, he’s the best player, and has earned the lion’s share of touches. It’s just, is he the best offensive player on the Bucks? Lillard is more or less relegated to finding his own shot while playing decoy until crunch time when Antetokuonmpo gets tight and doesn’t want to spend 15 minutes at the free-throw line.

It’s not a bad strategy — Milwaukee is a league-best 18-7 in games decided by five points or fewer — but that’s not what Lillard, or NBA fans, had in mind when the blockbuster deal was announced. Dame is one of the most prolific scorers in NBA history, and was dropping 50 and 60 in games before the league turned the difficulty down to Rookie.

He’s an offense unto himself, but knows when to defer to the hot hand, which he’s been doing. The difference is he hasn’t been able to get going enough. Of the Bucks’ 47 games, Lillard has led the team in scoring only 11 times. Rivers can change defensive schemes all he wants, but his offenses have stagnated for years, relying too often on letting talent bail out his aimless strategies.

To that point, I’m done hearing about the Celtics 2008 title. A feckless ballboy could’ve won a title with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. It’s honestly an indictment of Rivers that he won only one title with that roster. Repentant Rivers super fan Bill Simmons has been calling the coach’s offense a clogged toilet for almost a decade.

Monday night’s 113-107 loss to the Denver Nuggets was Milwaukee’s fourth-lowest scoring output of the season. Antetokounmpo finished below his 30 PPG, 61 percent shooting Mendoza line, and Dame had another forgettable outing in a year full of them. If Lillard is only going to be your second option, that’s bad coaching.

Yoo-hoo, they didn’t get blasted on defense. While effort should be there every night, it’s certainly going to show up in a coach’s debut. My question is what is Rivers going to do to make this offense more friendly for a guard who has shown he can take over games, series, months?

The success of the Milwaukee Bucks is predicated on Lillard doing the heavy lifting on offense because his Achilles heel dictates that Antetokuonmpo must be extra special on defense. The Warriors were able to get stops with Steph Curry on the court because Draymond Green is (was?) a 6-foot-6 pterodactyl, who instinctively knows opponents’ sets. That’s the level of help defense required to win a title with Lillard, and Antetokounmpo is the only player on the Bucks capable of providing it.


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