Way Too In Depth Milwaukee Bucks Preview
Part three of our Way Too In Depth NBA Preview. Staying in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference: The Milwaukee Bucks.
About Last Year:
While not a total failure, last year was certainly a season of some frustration and disappointment for the Bucks. Before the season and even in the early stages they were seen as a team who could make a big step towards becoming legit contenders, but instead, they stayed in the same space fighting at the back end of the playoffs. Giannis did get even better which was fun and they managed to take the Celtics to seven games in the first round of the playoffs which was also fun. Oh yeah, they fired Jason Kidd and traded Greg Monroe and got back Eric Bledsoe.
In the end, Giannis remained spectacular and Khris Middleton was excellent. But the rest of the roster left a lot of questions, Eric Bledsoe's fit with Giannis, lack of perimeter talent, lack of a proper big man to do big man stuff inside.
The big moves were the hiring of new coach Mike Budenholzer and allowing Jabari Parker to walk in free agency. It was clearly time for a new head coach last season and Budenholzer was probably the best available veteran coach on the market so good for them. Allowing Jabari to walk was the last chapter in the immensely disappointing and sad story of Jabari's time with the Bucks, him never really being healthy enough to find a rhythm and potentially become a killer running mate with Giannis will remain a big "what-if?".
As for additions, the Bucks didn't have much money to do stuff with so they made minor additions. Budenholzer, a long-time shooting zealot, getting them to sign Ersan Ilyasova was very predictable, and scooping up Brook Lopez was sneakily a really smart move for them. They drafted Donte DiVincenzo and Trevon Duval.
The Good News:
The Bucks have Giannis. I am a full believer of Giannis and have been for a couple of years, his offense may be a bit over-valued by some given that some of the more advanced tracking numbers suggest isn't actually that good a passer combined with his lack of shooting limiting his effectiveness off the ball. Even with that said, he is a high volume scorer on great efficiency, a good rebounder, and one of the more destructive defensive players in the NBA. No matter what happens, if the Bucks manage to hold onto him they will have a chance for it to work out.
After Giannis, the Bucks also still have a killer second option if Khris Middleton, another player I absolutely love. Middleton and Giannis make for a great yin and yang style duo. Giannis is the god-level athlete who prances and bruises his way to the hoop. Middleton is a sniper who's long and sports an old man game that is nearly unstoppable at times. Middleton's looming free agency is a big upcoming moment for the franchise this Summer, and if things go south this year he could become a super interesting trade piece, but for now, they have a great one-two punch.
Beyond those top two, it is a bit dicey but there's still plenty to like about the roster. I'm not a big Eric Bledsoe fan, but he can score in bunches, is a killer defender when he wants to be, and has worked his way towards being close to a league-average three-point shooter over the past three seasons. His fit with Giannis and Middleton is not as clean as I would like, there's an extent to which he is just a worse version of Giannis, but he's still a guy who does a lot of good things.
Malcolm Brogdon saw his star decline a bit with the arrival of Bledsoe, but he's still a rock-solid jack-of-all-trades type of player. Tony Snell is an accurate, but very low volume, shooter who can defend a little. Thon Maker is sometimes fun and provides a great veteran presence. Matthew Dellavedova can probably still do some decent things if he can stay healthy. Even if he's probably over-paid, Ersan Ilyasova is a lovely player who has been with the Bucks before.
The best news for the Bucks is probably coach Budenholzer, at least in terms of last season. The past three years the Bucks are a team that a lot of people thought under-achieved what their roster was capable of. With three-years it is possible that maybe it wasn't just the coach and the roster is more flawed than people thought, but Jason Kidd certainly wasn't helping. Budenholzer is a great system coach who will have the team playing fundamental basketball on both ends of the court, which could prove huge.
The Bad News:
There are two issues with the roster that is likely to continue. First off, they still do not have a lot of high-level playmaking. Giannis handles the ball a lot and his size gives him advantages in seeing the floor, but 4.8 assists against 3 turnovers per game last year is indicative of him not being a great distributor. Khris Middleton is a good passer for a guy who's more of an off-ball player but he certainly isn't a great facilitator and Eric Bledsoe's biggest blind spot has always been facilitation. Not to get all old-school up-hill-both-ways on you, but they really need a proper point-guard on the roster. Someone who is able to be on the floor as a facilitator first. Their top three guys pack a real scoring punch, but none of them are good enough facilitators to make the secondary players a whole lot better.
Budenholzer's scheme should help immensely in this area. It will emphasize spacing and off-ball movement which should help to make up the playmaking gap that they have, but it remains important to remember that the gap is there.
The second problem with the roster is the front line. Last season, especially in the post-Greg Monroe world, they were almost comically thin (literally) and soft up front. As a Pistons fan, I saw this very obviously first hand when Eric Moreland of all people swung games by destroying the Bucks on the offensive glass. The "Just play Giannis at the center!" cries will continue to ring out, and maybe that will end up being the answer given how much he's bulked up. But there remains the worry of putting too much on a guy, carrying his offensive load while doing dirty-work in the paint on both ends when you are, even after bulking, on the thin side for such jobs is not ideal. Brook Lopez could end up helping a great deal here, Lopez has never been a particularly bruising interior player or good rebounder but he is very large. Despite being so slow, his sheer size makes him a factor as a rim protector, and he is most diligent in boxing guys out even if he doesn't get a lot of the rebounds himself. It will be interesting to see what Lopez has in the tank after a weird season spent with the Lakers last year, but remember that he averaged 20 points per game the previous two seasons with the Nets and has managed to stay mostly healthy for four straight years now. That said, hoping Lopez has a bounce-back year is not the best way to hope to plug such an obvious hole.
What's the biggest wild-card this season?
I'm going to actually go with Lopez. Once again, he was legitimately awesome for the Nets for three seasons before the Lakers decided to just use him as a spot-up shooter last year and have at least some of the inside presence, on both ends, that the Bucks have sorely missed. His slow-feet are a problem on defense but he could stabilize the team in some ways that could be really big. On the same note, an honorable mention could probably go to Thon Maker, he's so small that I still doubt he can be an effective full-time center but (probably) young enough that he could put it together and start to become really good.
Best Case Scenario: 54-28
Giannis takes the early MVP hype he had last year but keeps it the whole season, Khris Middleton replicates last season, Eric Bledsoe looks more comfortable in his surroundings, whether it be Lopez, Maker, or something else they finally find some competency at center, and Mike Budenholzer's scheme proves more than capable of making up for their lack of playmaking and they actually run a coherent defensive scheme that works.
With Giannis completing his ascension to the top of the NBA, a good coach, and good supporting cast, the Bucks romp their way through the Eastern Conference before being sacrificed to the Warriors in the finals.
Worst Case Scenario: 41-41
Turns out that maybe Jason Kidd's coaching wasn't as much of a problem as people thought and the roster is actually just devoid of talent and ill-fitting. Giannis and Middleton are both so good that they keep the team from falling under .500 and they maybe snag a playoff spot but nothing really works. Bledsoe only looks more out of place and some of his old injury bugs come back, they still have no one to play center with any amount of competency, the supporting cast on the wings is weak, and Budenholzer is maybe not as good a coach as we thought. It's basically more of the same from the past couple of seasons and as Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe enter free agency, with Giannis' time coming not long after, it is officially time to worry about figuring it out.
So What's the verdict? Line is 46.5
I'm very split on this team. I've watched a pretty good amount of Bucks games over the past few seasons and I've often fluctuated between "This team is good but Jason Kidd is so comically clueless as a coach that they are held back" and "This roster is a disaster and they are going to waste Giannis' prime" and as of now I'm still not sure which one of those I believe. I think pretty highly of Budenholzer though, and I fully believe in Giannis. I'll hesitantly take the over. I'll ride with legit MVP contender with a good coach and hope it works out, but I do still have serious questions about the rest of the roster.