Coach Treal | September 30th, 2018
The Milwaukee Bucks were 44-38 last season and came within a game of upsetting the Boston Celtics in the first round. They have one of the best players in the NBA and a new head coach. Will they improve and make it past the first round this season?
Recap of Last Season
To say it was an up-and-down season for the Bucks would be an understatement. The team decided to fire head coach Jason Kidd on January 22nd after a 23-22 start and handed the team over to assistant coach Joe Prunty who went on to lead the team to a 21-16 record and into the playoffs as the 7th seed. The Bucks decided not to give Prunty the full-time job and decided to hire Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer, a former NBA coach of the year. They faced the Boston Celtics in the 1st round and battled all the way to a 7th game which they lost. The season did provide another opportunity for those outside of Milwaukee to see the type of MVP-caliber player Giannis Antetokounmpo. Last season saw the 23-year-old Greek Freak set career highs across the board and even average a double-double with 27 ppg and 10 rpg. Giannis wasn’t the only bright spot for the team as Kris Middleton bounced back from injury the previous season and played all 82 games where he contributed 20 ppg and added 5 rpg. The other piece of the Bucks nucleus is Malcolm Brogdon, the 2017 Rookie of the Year whose sophomore campaign did not go as planned as he only played in 48 games due to injury. The Bucks also made an early-season trade for point guard Eric Bledsoe and he paid huge dividends for the team en route to averaging 18 ppg and 5 apg.
Having a new coach this season, it will be interesting to see how fast things gel for this team offensively. With some key additions this offseason, mainly starting center Brook Lopez, the Bucks offense should look different. Lopez has turned into a legit stretch-five man with his ability to spread the floor and while playing for the Lakers last season he shot a respectable 34% from three last season. But make no mistake about it, the engine, tires, and everything in-between for this Bucks car is Giannis the Greek Freak. Last season Giannis finished 6th in the entire league in win shares overall along with the same ranking in Offensive win shares. Which is what contributed to him making his second straight All-NBA 2nd Team appearance. The team overall averaged over 106 ppg which ranked 15th in the entire NBA. They should have solid offensive production from both the guards and bigs up front. Once Bledsoe got comfortable with his new surroundings he had more command of the offense. Having a full season plus training camp for Bledsoe hopefully pays huge dividends on the court this season. The changes to the starting lineup, moving Tony Snell to the bench and inserting Brogdan, should allow the Bucks to play a more uptempo brand of basketball with better ball movement. With new coach Budenholzer, it could mean a big season for Middleton who is already coming off a career year. The Bucks last season ranked 20th in the league in pace, something I think they have to improve on to give themselves more opportunities to score in transition with the talent they have on the roster.
What new center Lopez will bring to the Bucks on defense will provide the toughest challenge. He only averaged 4 rpg last season and for his career, he is close to 7 rpg and close to 2 bpg per game. Those numbers will have to increase for this team to have an impact on the defense. As is the case for the offensive end, this team’s success will live and die with Giannis being on the court and the impact he can provide. They will need more of a team effort on the defensive end to really maximize the style of play under new coach Budenholzer, who during his time with the Hawks consistently had a top 10 defense in the league. Injuries aside, Brogdan is a solid defender and should have no problem guarding either guard spot playing alongside Bledsoe. Middleton and Giannis have to improve on this end of the floor from last season along with capable wing defenders in Snell and more rim protection when John Henson or Thon Maker take the floor. With a new coach who is known for his defensive principles, it will something to keep an eye on to see how fast he can get his players up to speed and on the same page.
With some changes to the starting lineup in place, it looks as if Snell will join the bench to help things with his outside shooting and defense on the wing. The bench is something they will have to find a solid rotation with as most of the options are still very young. Matthew Dellavedova is back healthy after only playing in 38 games last season and should add a great veteran presence and championship pedigree to the team with the departure of Jason Terry. The biggest surprise for the team last season for me was 3-and-D wing Sterling Brown, who was a second-round pick and also spent time down in the G-League. He should see an increased role in his sophomore season. Something to follow is the play of first-round pick and National Champion from Villanova Donte DiVincenzo. Last season’s first-round pick DJ Wilson only appeared in 22 games. He had very little impact and will be trying to crack the rotation this season. It will be interesting to see if he can beat out someone for minutes in the crowded frontcourt. With Lopez starting at the center position, Henson and Maker will move to the bench to help bolster the frontcourt but it also creates a logjam for minutes. The team also made a solid free agent signing bringing back former Buck Ersan Ilyasova who played for three different teams last season and averaged 11 ppg. He should be a great addition to the team with his shooting and ability to guard multiple positions.
The Milwaukee Bucks should be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference this season. Even with losing former #2 overall pick Jabari Parker to their division rival Chicago Bulls, they have added enough depth to bolster their bench. I have the Bucks finishing with the 5th seed in the conference and again losing in the first round of the playoffs. Giannas has yet to make it out the 1st round, and I just don’t see this team as constructed being able to get over the hump yet. It will be key for one of the young players on the roster to make a huge jump and bring consistency to the team. Maker, for one, has all the tools to be a contributor game in and game out, but this season he has to turn the corner and show why he was a top-10 draft pick two seasons ago. Giannis will continue to lead this team and show the type of special all-around talent he is, but he will need help to finally get over the hump and out of the first round of the playoffs to fully make his claim as one of the league’s best players. He has help this season, and with a new coach, it will be very interesting to see how the Bucks come together. I know all of us basketball junkies will be watching closely.
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