Milwaukee Bucks: Why they can’t beat the New York Knicks

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images /

The Milwaukee Bucks have dominated the New York Knicks on the court in recent years. Even so, they will never become the more successful team.

The Milwaukee Bucks just waxed the New York Knicks in a home-and-home series. As the Christmas Day opening act, Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks went into Madison Square Garden and won by 14 points, before hosting New York Thursday night and winning by 16.

This continues a trend between the two teams where Milwaukee has dominated its recent head-to-head matchups. The Bucks have already won the season series against the Knicks, and have won eight of their last nine meetings overall.

That is a microcosm of their overall win-loss success as well. Milwaukee has made the postseason each of the past two seasons, averaging 43 wins per year. New York has not made the postseason since 2013, averaging just 30 wins the past two years.

This season the Bucks are at a scorching 24-10, tied for the fewest losses in the league. FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO forecast predicts them to finish 55-27, the third-highest prediction in the league. The 9-27 Knicks are tied for the most losses in the league, with a 20-62 projection that is likewise tied for the worst among all 30 NBA squads.

Yet even with the on-court product split in such a significant way, the Bucks will forever be at a disadvantage to the New York Knicks. That is not because of the players, the coaches or the general manager, but simply because the New York Knicks play at Madison Square Garden, and the Bucks are playing home games in Milwaukee.

No matter how well the Bucks execute from the top of their organization to the bottom, they will always be a small-market team looking up at the Knicks. Madison Square Garden basically prints money for owner James Dolan, and despite decades of moribund play on the court, the Knicks have millions of fans in New York City and beyond.

Milwaukee has nailed many of its recent basketball decisions. Drafting Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 15 was one of the greatest steals of modern NBA Draft history, and the Bucks have surrounded him with quality players. Malcolm Brogdon is a solid starter drafted in the second round, Brook Lopez was per-dollar the best signing of this past offseason, and the team gave up relatively little to add co-stars in Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe.

Comparing rosters blows the Knicks out of the water. With promising young big man Kristaps Porzingis still recovering from a torn ACL, the Bucks comfortably had the three or four best players on the court in their recent two games against the Knicks.

New York’s backcourt is a collection of discarded or unwanted guards, plus recent lottery pick Frank Ntilikina, who is currently riding the bench. Head coach David Fizdale would probably kill to have the wing depth Milwaukee has. The only place the Knicks can compete is at center, where Enes Kanter, Mitchell Robinson and Noah Vonleh are solid if unspectacular options.

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At the helm the Bucks have a more accomplished head coach in Mike Budenholzer. General manager Jon Horst hasn’t nailed every decision, but his track record is certainly better than New York’s Scott Perry. Even owner is an advantage for the Bucks; while their joint ownership group has had some moments of drama, few in the league can hold a candle to the dysfunction of the Knicks’ longtime owner James Dolan.

We could go down that path for days and amass a mountain of evidence that the Bucks are in every way a better team than the Knicks in every single basketball-related way. It will not matter, because no matter what happens on the court, the New York Knicks are going to be the more successful franchise.

Two seasons ago, ESPN obtained a copy of the league’s revenue report, and the Milwaukee Bucks — fresh off a strong season where they made the playoffs — were solidly in the red even after revenue sharing. The New York Knicks, on the other hand, made over $100 million from their local television deal alone, and were one of the league’s five most lucrative franchises in 2017.

Forbes publishes an annual valuation of all major sports franchises, including on each of the NBA’s 30 teams. Their report this past year tabbed the New York Knicks as the league’s most valued franchise, worth $3.6 billion. The aforementioned Dolan interview mentions offers the owner has received upwards of $5 billion. The franchise’s value has continued to skyrocket despite a complete lack of organizational plan or on-court success.

Milwaukee sits at the other end of the spectrum, valued at $1.075 billion, 26th in the league. In other words, the Knicks are over three times as valuable as the Bucks, and perhaps as much as five times. No matter what Milwaukee does, they cannot touch the Knicks in this regard.

The franchise has done what it can to try and close the gap. They opened a brand new arena this season, Fiserv Forum, where the Bucks have played home games in front of a sellout crowd of 17,500 fans. The Bucks’ owners are also working to develop the area around the arena to generate revenue through commercial establishments and real estate.

The newest arena in the league can’t scratch the surface of Madison Square Garden, however. 19,700-plus fans watched the teams’ Christmas Day showdown, and every night of the year, something spectacular is happening under that roof, from basketball to entertainment’s biggest stars.

When these two teams meet, the result is almost decided before the ball is even tipped. The Milwaukee Bucks have the superstar, they have the successful team, and they have every reason to think they have a shot at winning the Eastern Conference this season. The New York Knicks have an injured star, are already cycling past recent lottery picks and are placing their hopes as a fanbase on a college player they may not even have the opportunity to select.

None of this matters. The New York Knicks have everything a team could want from a business side except the on-court product, and that is why long-term their outlook is brighter than the Bucks’ or any small-market team.

Kevin Durant is rumored to go to the Knicks, not the Bucks. No college player is dreaming of playing 41 games at Fiserv Forum. When the checks are written at the end of the year, it’s the Knicks tossing some extra cash Milwaukee’s way to help keep them afloat.

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The Milwaukee Bucks could win a title this season, or multiple titles over the next few years. It still might not matter. They will continue to lose to the New York Knicks, whose dominance in popularity and revenue is untouchable by a team from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.