There’s a new favorite in snowy Milwaukee.
Is it MVP-favorite, leading East All-Star vote-getting, part human part Zeus lightning bolt, Giannis Antetokounmpo? Surprisingly, no.
Maybe it’s new coach, Mike Budenholzer, for crafting the Bucks roster into a cohesive dominating force? Nope.
Slick-shooting, 2018 playoff hero, Khris Middleton? It’s a charming thought, but no.
Feast your eyes. This is the player you’re looking for.
Self-proclaimed “Lanky Smoove”—D.J. Wilson. If you can’t believe it, don’t worry, because if you asked Bucks Nation a month ago they wouldn’t believe it either.
Wilson splashed onto the scene with a breakout performance against the Pistons in December and hasn’t looked back since. In just one month, he has evolved from 1st-round whiff to cult superstar. The Bucks subreddit even produced a heartfelt (and very funny) apology thread for having given up on Wilson.
To be clear, when I say “breakout performance,” I do not mean he detonated for a monster stat line; in fact, he posted a pedestrian 9/3/3. And to be even clearer, it felt a lot less like a superhero finally flexing his powers, and a lot more like that scene in Hoosiers when Ollie miraculously makes two granny-shot free throws to send the Hoosiers to the State Championship.
But as most things in life, expectation shapes perspective. As recently as December 16, D.J. Wilson was a forgotten man: a regular DNP, his only game time coming from G-League stints. And with meaningful contributions from fellow 2017-draftee Sterling Brown and rookie Donte Divincenzo, fans weren’t thinking about when Wilson might finally break through.
Frankly, fans weren’t thinking much of anything about him.
They had long moved on, the wounds of a wasted 1st-round draft pick promptly mended by a scorching 20-9 start to the season. Besides, no amount of 1st-round misses could sour drafting a wiry, unproven 19-year old from Greece, only to have him eventually power blend the entire league into his personal dunk smoothie.
Still, it’s hard not to get excited at the potential Wilson is suddenly flashing. Since December, he’s posting a staggering defensive rating of 100, shooting the deep ball at a 44% clip, and cleaning the glass with authority. He’s finally looking like the long, athletic asset that the Bucks foresaw two summers ago.
Wilson still has some trouble fitting in on offense, especially in the half court. He’s not a skilled enough ball-handler to create his own offense and has a slow release. Fortunately for him, it’s not his offense that’s vaulted his unexpected popularity, it’s the intangibles—the “eye test.” He’s not just ripping down rebounds, he’s quickly finding the outlet and sprinting down to get to his spot. He’s flying around the court on defense, contesting anything that his 7’3 wingspan can disrupt. He’s making confident, smart basketball plays, and those are the things that win fans over.
It’s truly endearing the way Bucks fans have embraced Wilson’s recent success. It’s the kind of momentum and energy that bonds team and city. And the Bucks adding yet another solid contributor to their already deep rotation is the kind of thing that spells trouble for other contenders.
It’s since been removed, but Wilson recently posted a photo with the caption, “turned a nightmare into a dream.” It’s way too early to tell, but his resurgence may have just cast that nightmare onto the rest of the league—yet another thing for Bucks fans to cheer for.