Culture of Hoops

2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

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The Milwaukee Bucks get maligned by the NBA commentariat because of a perceived inability to be competitive or tear the team down and embark on a complete rebuild. This year’s edition of Milwaukee’s Best will go down with the relative smoothness of years past, but the locals are starting to tire of Old Milwaukee. The Bucks could make noise in the playoffs (albeit with a likely first-round exit) if a few key players play compelling basketball in the latter months of the season.

Most Important Player: Larry Sanders
Sanders received a four-year extension worth $44 million. The Bucks believe Sanders has high value and upside. If he proves them correct, this contract could be a steal compared to Sanders’ value on the open market.

X-Factor: O.J. Mayo
Mayo gets the chance to be “The Man.” If Mayo’s efficiency is similar or better to that of his last few months with the Dallas Mavericks, the Bucks could steal a sixth seed. Mayo’s attitude will determine the fate of the Bucks.

Rotations: The Bucks have size—lots of it. Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Zaza Pachulia and Ersan Ilyasova easily fill the 4 and 5. Ilyasova can play the 3 but would be exposed against great athletes at that position. There’s a lack of depth at the point, and the Bucks need to decide quickly if Brandon Knight should run the offense. A most interesting pairing would be Henson and Sanders at the 4 and 5—easily the most underrated frontcourt in the NBA.

What Needs To Go Right: Trading for Caron Butler was a cagey move. Veteran leadership is lacking and Butler fills the void. Mayo averages an efficient 20 points per game. Sanders vaults himself into the conversation of best center in the NBA. Henson’s freakish wingspan confounds opponents. Gary Neal hits clutch shots off the bench. And Pachulia puts in meaningful minutes behind Sanders.

It’s Really Bad If: Mayo, Sanders or Henson suffer a major injury. Also, if Mayo reverts to his pouty Memphis days, the Bucks are sunk as no one else has the ability to shoulder the scoring load.

Bold Prediction: Larry Sanders is the real deal, and John Henson wins the Most Improved Player Award. The Bucks win 41 games and take the Indiana Pacers to a seven-game series, eventually losing in the first round.


Giannis Antetokounmpo, SG
Strengths: A great unknown, supposedly an elite athlete.
Weaknesses: See above, inexperience.
Season Prediction: Antetokounmpo struggles in garbage time, is sent down to the D-League and begins to show flashes of ability toward the end of the season.

Caron Butler, SF
Strengths: Versatility, experience.
Weaknesses: Injury prone, minutes will probably have to be limited.
Season Prediction: Invigorated by playing in his home state, Butler embarks on a career-reviving 2013-14 campaign.

Carlos Delfino, SF
Strengths: Good scorer and shooter off the bench.
Weaknesses: Not an elite athlete.
Season Prediction: The Bucks lean too heavily on the Argentine, meaning their season is a hopeless endeavor.

John Henson, PF/C
Strengths: Rangy forward, streaky scorer, sneaky-good rebounder.
Weaknesses: Too streaky, realistically a few years away from being a game-changing player.
Season Prediction: Henson endures growing pains but solidifies his place starting at the 4, if for no other reason than no better option exists.

Ersan Ilyasova, PF
Strengths: Versatile, good range.
Weaknesses: Inconsistent, a tweener.
Season Prediction: Ilyasova’s minutes decline to roughly 22 per game but his production stays consistent.

Brandon Knight, PG
Strengths: Athletic, solid range on his jumper.
Weaknesses: Not a true point guard, not a true shooting guard.
Season Prediction: Knight struggles adjusting to the point guard role, but ends the season having a better grasp of the offense.

O.J. Mayo, SG
Strengths: Scoring, creating.
Weaknesses: Attitude, focus.
Season Prediction: Averages 23 points and 6 assists per game. Behaves well and gives this team a swagger.

Khris Middleton, SF
Strengths: Possible scorer off the bench.
Weaknesses: Inexperience, a tweener.
Season Prediction: His minutes increase, and his production almost has to.

Gary Neal, SG
Strengths: Good scorer off the bench.
Weaknesses: Undersized as a shooting guard, not a true point guard.
Season Prediction: Neal plays increasingly efficient basketball and keeps pressure on Mayo to elevate his game.

Zaza Pachulia, PF/C
Strengths: Size, grit.
Weaknesses: Injury prone, limited offensively.
Season Prediction: Fills in admirably for Sanders against opponents’ reserve units.

Miroslav Raduljica, C
Strengths: Experienced for a rookie (playing professionally since 2005).
Weaknesses: Ability to translate to the NBA game is completely unknown.
Season Prediction: Raduljica becomes a staple of garbage time in Milwaukee.

Luke Ridnour, PG
Strengths: Solid at both guard spots.
Weaknesses: Undersized.
Season Prediction: Ridnour plays important bench minutes and will at least threaten to take the starting point guard spot.

Larry Sanders, C
Strengths: Defensive presence, shot-blocker.
Weaknesses: Can’t get his own shot.
Season Prediction: His defensive prowess makes up for a lack of an offensive game, but Sanders is realistically a year or two away from putting up 15-18 points-per-game averages.

Ekpe Udoh, PF/C
Strengths: Solid defensive presence, can rebound and block shots.
Weaknesses: Not an offensive threat.
Season Prediction: A serviceable backup for Henson and Sanders, Udoh will help anchor a strong defensive second unit.

Nate Wolters, PG
Strengths: True point guard, good size.
Weaknesses: Limited athleticism.
Season Prediction: Fills the role of the team’s third point guard, running the offensively effectively in garbage time and as an emergency backup if Knight or Ridnour go down.

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