By playing an aesthetically pleasing brand of basketball on both offense and defense, the Bucks have become a respected force in the Eastern Conference and last season they hit new heights, as new Head Coach Mike Budenholzer implemented a system based on shooters and spacing. The result was the number one seed in the East and a franchise best 60 wins.
Budenholzer, a renowned player development coach, had positive impacts across the roster. Eric Bledsoe had one of his best seasons ever on the defensive end, Malcom Brogdon took a huge leap in terms of production and Giannis Antetokounmpo won his first Most Valuable Player award. But with Brogdon now gone and several other roster changes having taken place this offseason, Milwaukee’s reign of dominance at the top of the East isn’t quite as secure as it looked. Change however, can often lead to greater things.
Criminally underrated to start the season, the Bucks were considered outsiders in the race to reach the Eastern Conference finals. In part due to the coaching situation the team had found itself in the year prior, but also the lack of high-profile additions to the roster.
However, the addition of Brook Lopez turned out to be a master stroke. Subsequently, the team was positioned to be a threat from inside-out – a key element of coach Budenholzer’s philosophy. Milwaukee had been in desperate need of a big man capable of stretching the floor to allow Giannis room to operate in the lanes; in Lopez they got one of the best and it paid dividends almost immediately.
The roster still felt incomplete though, at times they looked vulnerable with Giannis off the floor and that provided the coaching staff with a conundrum on how best to manage his minutes, while keeping one eye on the play-offs.
Clearly still short on spacing, the Bucks began to make moves via trade, acquiring four players across three separate trades between October and the February trade deadline. All these players had one skill in common – their ability to shoot from deep. Whilst there was no notable upturn in results to begin with, these additions served as a catalyst once the playoffs started. George Hill and Nikola Mirotic both playing key roles in the team’s run to the Eastern Conference Finals, where the team ultimately fell to a Kawhi-led Raptors team.
Having lost key performers Malcom Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic during the free agency period, the Bucks have done well to pivot and re-tool their roster with even more firepower. They added sharp-shooter Kyle Korver, the serviceable Wesley Matthews and a project in Dragan Bender. They also paired the Lopez brothers together for the first time in their careers, picking up veteran big Robin in free agency.
Milwaukee are positioned to make another deep playoff run, while facing less resistance on their way. Having beaten the Sixers during their playoff matchup in the season just past, the Bucks seem to be the team who have improved their roster more, with the only exception being Philadelphia, who acquired Al Horford. Further improvement from Giannis will be enough to cement their status as a Eastern Conference powerhouse.
While the steady hand of Brogdon will be missed, the team has enough spacing and outside threat to allow Giannis to attack the seams and do damage on the fast break. If he has added a reliable outside jump-shot to his arsenal over the summer, he will be virtually unguardable, playing in a system specifically designed to maximise his talents on both ends of the court.
Having finished first in points per game and rebounds per game, second in blocks and three-pointers made last year. The Bucks have little room to show improvement, this is due to the cohesive unit they have in place where each player is working towards the larger goal, sacrificing where needed.
Don’t be surprised to see this team push their way to the NBA finals in June.
1.Giannis can’t be stopped
The reigning NBA MVP and force of nature that is Antetokounmpo holds the franchise’s future in his hands. Evidenced by his 31.1 percent usage rating last year, where he finished first in points per game and for points in the paint, the 24-year-old attacks the rim like no other. Watching Giannis drive is a joyous experience – unless you’re the guy tasked with stopping him.
His final stat line for last season ended with 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game, shooting 57.8 percent from the field and 72.9 percent from the free-throw line. If he can improve on his 25.6 percent from beyond the arc, he’ll become the NBA’s embodiment of the boogieman.
2.Brogdon will be missed
Only nine players have ever posted the coveted stat line of 50-40-90 – that is 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from deep and 90 percent from the free-throw line. Brogdon is the latest to join that illustrious club and for perspective, his peers in that group include the legendary Larry Bird and Reggie Miller.
A young player who has had his share of injury troubles during his short NBA career to-date, but when he is on the floor he provides his team with a reliable option as a scorer and playmaker. Replacing his output will not be an easy task – one which looks likely to fall on the shoulders of the incoming Wesley Matthews.
3.Chemistry will be everything
It’s always a risk, allowing established contributors from the previous year to leave and having to bed in their replacements. Everyone is different and that applies to each NBA player, whilst the skillsets may be similar, the personality most certainly will not be.
Contending at the highest level requires sacrifice, it demands comradery and a willingness to dig deep in the toughest moments. Poor chemistry can derail a team’s season before it gets off the ground, one look at last year’s Boston Celtics will confirm this. If the Bucks are to replicate or surpass last year’s success, then the team’s chemistry will be one of the most important factors as the season progresses.
Giannis Antetokounmpo | 27.7 ppg, 12.5 rpg, 5.9 apg
Having displayed improvements across almost every facet of his game last year, Giannis became one of the NBA’s premier talents. Opposing teams fear the sight of the 6’11” phenom running the floor, causing defenders to miss their rotations or forcing a double team. If he continues to show improvements on his few weaknesses, he could lead the Bucks to the promised land sooner, rather than later.
Khris Middleton | 18.3 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.3 apg
Middleton played in 77 games last year, providing a dangerous scoring option across the floor. A capable defender and playmaker from the wing, Middleton got his first All-Star selection this past season, which he and the Bucks hope will be the first of many.
Having logged pre-season reps during the FIBA World Cup, Middleton will be poised to hit the ground running this year. He has shot the three-ball at an above league average of 37.8 percent through his six years in the league, so the Bucks have a solid complimentary piece alongside Giannis.
Middleton’s performances this year will go a long way to determining how far this Bucks team truly goes.
Brook Lopez | 12.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.2 apg
One of the players to make a real difference last year, Lopez is one of the best shooting big men in the league. Providing spacing on offense while being a respectable piece on defense, his influence cannot be underestimated.
Lopez played in 81 regular season games and was an ever-present during the postseason. If he remains healthy throughout the upcoming year, his production should provide the team with a fulcrum to further enhance his peer’s production.
Eric Bledsoe | 15.9 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 5.5 apg
A shoot-first point-guard capable of putting his defender on skates, Bledsoe is the penetrator which make this system tick. Either finding holes in the defense or driving the lane, kicking the ball out to open teammates.
Prone to cold stretches on both ends of the floor, Bledsoe can occasionally become a liability. Last year he eradicated some of the issues which had plagued his game and if he can continue to showcase consistency moving forwards, he will be a force to be reckoned with.
With George Hill breathing down his neck for a starting spot following his playoff exploits, Bledsoe will have it all to prove this year.