NBA TEAM PREVIEWS
Atlantic: Boston Celtics | Brooklyn Nets | New York Knicks | Philadelphia 76ers | Toronto Raptors
Central: Chicago Bulls | Cleveland Cavaliers | Detroit Pistons | Indiana Pacers | Milwaukee Bucks
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Pacific: Golden State Warriors | Los Angeles Clippers | Los Angeles Lakers | Phoenix Suns | Sacramento Kings
Northwest: Denver Nuggets | Minnesota Timberwolves | Oklahoma City Thunder | Portland Trail Blazers | Utah Jazz
Southwest: Dallas Mavericks | Houston Rockets | Memphis Grizzlies | New Orleans Pelicans | San Antonio Spurs
Presenting an NBA preview of the Milwaukee Bucks that looks at the potential highs and lows for this coming 2016-17 NBA season.
It has been two steps forward, one step back in the first two seasons of the Jason Kidd era. After making the playoffs in his first season the team finished 12th in the conference. Their season highlight was being the team to beat the 73-win Golden State Warriors first. Other than that, there was not much to talk about other than the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
This season Giannis will be the main story. The team and their star reached an agreement on a 4-year contract worth $100 million. Handing the keys over to the 21-year-old means two things–everything they do will be based off of him and winning will take a backseat this season. Let’s see what else Bucks fans have to look forward to this season.
What’s Good… Versatility: Most of teams in the league are getting smaller and looking to chuck up threes until their arms hurt, the Bucks are taking a different approach. They figure they cannot play like that given their roster so they went in the opposite direction. Instead of going small, they’ve gone big. The projected starting lineup was Matthew Dellavedova (6’4), Khris Middleton (6’8, Middleton is expected to miss at least six months after successful hamstring surgery and possibly the whole season), Giannis Antetokounmpo (7’0), Jabari Parker (6’8), and Greg Monroe (6’11). With Khris possibly lost for the season Carter-Williams (6’6) seems like the most likely replacement in the lineup. They also used the eleventh pick of the draft to select international man of mystery Thon Maker who stands 7-foot-1.
Last season the Bucks were the first team to beat the Warriors and they did it with their length and athleticism. What makes them so effective on defense is that they can switch of virtually anything even when the bench is in. Only two players on their roster (free agents Jason Terry and Matthew Dellavedova) are under 6’5. On most nights they will always have a height advantage in the backcourt especially if head coach Jason Kidd does the right thing and bumps Giannis to point guard. They can use that length to suffocate opposing offenses and make every pass as difficult as possible.
What’s Bad… Perimeter Shooting: The tradeoff of playing big is typically perimeter shooting. That is the situation here, but not at the positions you would think. Parker and Monroe have a good shooting touch. Giannis and Carter-Williams are a different story. If either settles for a jump shot you’re quietly pumping your fist. Both shot about 25-percent from three (26-percent for Giannis and 27-percent for MCW), not a pretty sight. As a team the Bucks hit 34-percent from downtown last season, good for 21st in the league.
It appears the Bucks already know what they have to do. They tried to land Ben McLemore from the Kings in exchange for Carter-Williams and even they said no. If Vlade Divac can’t even be fooled you know there is a problem. Why exactly did the Bucks get themselves in this situation to begin with is beyond common sense. The back up plan seems to be to fill the bench with players who can shoot— Jason Terry, Mirza Teletovic, Rashad Vaughn, and Malcom Brogdon—from deep. Will it be enough? Probably not.
X-Factor… Thon Maker: Who is this guy exactly? Is he really 19 years old? Is his name really Thon Maker? I don’t know. What I do know is that he can ball. Maker impressed in the Summer League showing a wide array of skills. He can roll to the rim, put the ball on the floor, protect the rim, and shoot. If his Vegas showcase was not a magic act and more so a look to the future then the Bucks can have the perfect weapon.
The hope is that Maker turns into a starter and if he does that would give the Bucks one of the most unique lineups in the league. He would be the perfect center for their version of the ‘death lineup’. He still has a lot to learn—his main concern coming into the draft was experience—but under Kidd he can turn into a beast front court player to complement the duo of Giannis and Jabari.
Bet On… Giannis Antetokounmpo taking “the leap”: So what exactly is “the leap”. Is it just sports writing jargon? Probably, but that doesn’t mean it’s not real. It is the intersection of public expectation and a player’s skill. Someone taking “the leap” realizes what their game is and how to best execute. Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler did it last year. Stephen Curry made his emphatic jump during the 2013 playoffs. You start to see the talent gap between the given player and the rest. This year Giannis will be one of those guys.
He is officially a 100 million dollar man, signing his extension a couple weeks ago (4yrs/$100 million) stamping him the franchise guy. Whatever the Bucks do from here on out will be based on him and he is now aware of that. He’s made quantum leaps since he came into the league as seven feet of raw talent. His field goal percentage has steadily rose as has his rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. If that trend continues Giannis will average 17-20 points, pull down 7-8 rebounds, and notch 4-6 assists while defending the opposing team’s best player. The Bucks know what they have and seem ready to let him loose on the league.
Crystal Ball Says… Bucks hit the rebuild button: The organizations that succeed in this league are the ones that know who they are. Last season the Bucks fooled themselves into thinking they were contenders, leading to an ill-advised signing of Greg Monroe. This season they seem to be making more calculated signings, with their biggest signing being Dellavedova at $9.5 million a year (4yrs/$38 million). They have a strong foundation to be good, but the sooner they know this isn’t their year the better they will be next season.
The 2017 draft class is supposedly stockpiled with talent. Even if Giannis and Jabari have amazing years the Bucks aren’t getting past the second round. They’re closer to a lottery pick than a NBA title and unlike the big city teams like New York, Chicago, or Miami they cannot recruit free agents and turn things around in months. They’re in Milwaukee. A great place I’m sure, but let’s just say no is booking vacations there. For them to win they have to do it throw the draft and player development. I think they realize that and shop Greg Monroe, Michael-Carter Williams and any player not named Giannis, Jabari, or Khris and build for next year.