Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

2017-18 Milwaukee Bucks


Projected Record: 46-36 (5th in East)

Over/Under: 47.5

2016: 42-40 (6th in East)


Key Additions:

  • F D.J. Wilson
  • G Sterling Brown
  • F James Young

Key Subtractions:

  • F Michael Beasley

Summary

Strengths:

  • Giannis is a superstar
  • Strong starting lineup

Weaknesses:

  • Health concerns with Middleton and Parker
  • Inexperience
  • Offensive consistency
  • Depth

A lot of the refrains about the Washington Wizards apply to the Milwaukee Bucks as well – they have a great starting lineup anchored by a legitimate star in Giannis Antetokoumpo, but the bench is going to be an issue when Giannis and the other starters need to rest. This team is just thin at every position, and legitimately might only have two particularly reliable bench options to open the season.

As Zach Lowe put it, Greg Monroe might be one of the most crucial reserves in basketball this season, as the lion’s share of minutes at the center position will be going to Monroe and 20-year-old Thon Maker. John Henson is still around, of course, but his play dropped off somewhat last season and the Bucks seem to want to get out of the last three years of his contract if they can.

Jabari Parker is still on the mend the torn ACL he suffered last season, and the Bucks are targeting a return for him around the All-Star Break. In the meantime, the Bucks will have to lean heavily on Antetokoumpo and reserve forwards like Mirza Teletovich and rookie D.J. Wilson to soak up those minutes at the four. The dark horse to start at power forward for this team at some point might be Wilson, an interesting, lanky forward who a lot of people liked as a sleeper pick in this year’s draft. Wilson isn’t much of a rebounder (Giannis probably leads this team in rebounding again this season), but he likes to operate out at the perimeter anyways. The Bucks got a major contribution from a rookie last year in Malcolm Brogdon, and Wilson could be the next in line.

Retaining Tony Snell was a huge relief, as he emerged into a quality offensive player off the bench last season with some defensive upside. Jason Terry can still hit some shots, and is a quality veteran presence on the bench. Teletovich has shown flashes of productive play, at least on offense, but Matthew Dellavedova has been a tragedy with Milwaukee thus far. This team seems like an especially precarious Jenga tower of basketball players, and the slightest nudge in the wrong direction could probably send the whole thing crashing down.

Giannis is a legitimate superstar and I always prefer to err on the side of star power when it comes to the NBA, but it won’t be easy. A full season of a healthy Khris Middleton will help, and Malcolm Brogdon is exactly the sort of steady, two-way point guard that this roster needs. I’d expect the Bucks to be inconsistent this year, but if Parker can contribute in some capacity when he returns, they could be a handful for the right playoff matchup.


Most Valuable Player: Giannis Antetokoumpo

Giannis led the Bucks in every single box score category last season: points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks. It’s a fact that seems more ridiculous to me every time I read it. He was 22 years old.

Giannis is so good, we might honestly be underrating him at this point, because the list of other players who can contribute in so many different ways to a franchise consists of basically just LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The Greek Freak can play any position, guard virtually any player, run the offense like a point guard, and score like a #1 option. He’s actually ludicrous. He’s a top-five – maybe top-three – MVP candidate for me this season, and if he starts canning three-points with consistency this season? He might just win it.

X Factor: Thon Maker

Thon Maker might be one of the most specific examples of an “X Factor” for a team in this entire preview, if we’re being honesty. He had a quiet but reasonable rookie season in which he only played about 10 minutes per game, but it was in the playoffs where he really made his mark as a prospect. With his playing time ticked up into the 20 minute range, Thon was a handful for the Raptors frontcourt, blocking shots, crashing the boards, and playing with hustle and energy. Like the rest of the Bucks, he slowed down late in the series as the Raptors put them away, but he’d given a clear example of the kind of player he could be for this Milwaukee franchise.

It’s entirely possible that, this time next season, we could be talking about Thon Maker the way we do “unicorn” big men like Kristaps Porzingis or Myles Turner. He’s a unique blend of size (7’1″), athleticism, and range, and the suggestions are there that he could be the kind of Porzingis-type player that can protect the rim while stretching the floor on the other end with his shooting. Prospects like that are worth drooling over.

Play time is over for Thon, though, because this team just doesn’t have a whole lot of bigs, so this 20-year-old looks to become their starting center. All the Bucks really need from him is a bit of rim protection, a bit of rebounding, and a lot of effort, but if he’s not ready for that kind of responsibility just yet, it could be a massive setback for a team trying to break into the East’s elite.


Conclusion

Much like the Wizards, the Bucks are an interesting team with a strong starting lineup and a standout, superstar talent leading the way, but with a bench that might undo a lot of the progress the starters make during games. The bench is so thin this season that losing Michael Beasley in free agency was a tough pill to swallow, as strange as that might be to say. Jabari Parker will miss at least half the season as he continues to recover from his ACL injury, and the Bucks will have to dig deep to find more contributors in his absence.

Despite all this, I still believe the Bucks will be a decently seeded playoff team for two reasons: Giannis’ star power and the Eastern Conference’s ineptitude. When healthy, Giannis, Middleton, and Brogdon are a comparable trio to Wall, Beal, and Porter in Washington for me, and the sheer impossibility of Giannis as a defensive assignment almost makes me want to give them the edge. As I have it now, the Wizards and Bucks will be tightly contesting one another for that fourth spot in the Eastern Conference.

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