The Milwaukee Bucks finished last season with the worst record in the NBA. As they prepare to open the 2014-2015 NBA season, there are a lot of questions still to be answered, but there is a lot of promise on their roster.
Basketball Insiders takes a look at the 2014-2015 Milwaukee Bucks.
Five Guys Think…
Getting a player like Jabari Parker is a turning point for an organization like the Milwaukee Bucks, who are only ever going to be perennially dominant if they land major stars in the draft. Giannis Antetokounmpo is another guy that will be undeniably exciting to watch as he enters his sophomore campaign, but getting a charismatic and talented leader like Parker is the start of what should be a seismic shift for this organization. Obviously, it won’t all happen at once, especially not when the two best teams in the Eastern Conference are in the Bucks’ division, but this year will be a step in the right direction for Milwaukee, who finally has the most important building blocks for its future.
5th Place – Central Division
It’s going to be awhile until the Bucks are ready to compete for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but it certainly seems like the franchise is heading in the right direction. New ownership is determined to field a winner and keep the team in Milwaukee, new head coach Jason Kidd is an upgrade over Larry Drew, and the team has one of the most promising young cores in the league with Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson, Brandon Knight and Larry Sanders among others. Parker seems like the frontrunner to win Rookie of the Year entering this season and is the face of the franchise that the Bucks needed. Parker has said that he wants to finish his career in Milwaukee, which is exactly what Bucks fans want to hear. Antetokounmpo, who is just 19 years old, has star potential as well and it’ll be exciting watching that one-two punch develop in the coming years.
5th Place – Central Division
– Alex Kennedy
Head coach Jason Kidd, along with lottery pick Jabari Parker, were the Milwaukee Bucks’ high profile additions during the offseason. Those additions should drive more fan excitement for a franchise who resided in the league’s basement last season. In his first year as a head coach Kidd led Brooklyn to the second round of the playoffs. Parker is projected to develop into a top flight scorer in due time. Emerging forward Giannis Antetokounmpo showed progress early last season before hitting the proverbial rookie wall down the stretch. Expect him to be better. Milwaukee won’t be in the playoff discussion this season, but they are starting to improve their overall talent level.
5th Place – Central Division
– Lang Greene
With the surprise wedding between Jason Kidd and the Milwaukee Bucks and the drafting of Jabari Parker with the second overall pick of last June’s draft, the Bucks will enter this coming season with somewhat of an identity and two building blocks for their future. With Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall amongst the new faces brought in, the Bucks are hoping that they can climb out of the doldrums after finishing with the league’s worst record last season of 15-67. If Larry Sanders can remain healthy and return to form, with their additions and Parker leading, the Bucks should certainly be an improved team over last season, but in an Eastern Conference that looks quite competitive and a super tough Central Division, there is no question that the Bucks will again be pulling up the rear.
5th place – Central Division
– Moke Hamilton
For a small market team like the Milwaukee Bucks to climb out of the cellar, the only way to really do so is by accumulating elite talent in the draft. They’ve done that in each of the last two years, selecting Jabari Parker second overall in this year’s draft and Giannis Antetokounmpo 15th overall in last year’s. The two of them very well could combine to help form the next Bucks playoff team, but there’s going to be some growing pains this upcoming season. They’re the kind of growing pains that should help fuel the team to make a major leap forward in 2015-16, though, especially with another high lottery pick in the fold. Even though the hiring process was not done properly by either side, Jason Kidd is the right head coach to mold this team and guide them back to relevance. Larry Sanders bouncing back is going to be critical for this team; they’re stuck with his contract, but if he can get back to being a consistent double-double threat and a solid rim protector, he’s worth it for the Bucks and won’t be a long-term burden. Playing in the same division as the two conference favorites and a team that would be in the mix as well as healthy pretty much puts a ceiling of fourth place on the Bucks’ potential this year, but even that is probably out of reach with the Pistons a little further along in their rebuilding process right now.
5th place – Central Division
Top Of The List
Top Offensive Player: Last year’s Milwaukee Bucks team didn’t have many players they could count on to score on a nightly basis. O.J. Mayo was a colossal disappointment and Ersan Ilyasova left a lot to be desired. Inconsistent individual play led to the team finishing 28th in points scored per game. However, one individual who was steady throughout the year was newly acquired guard Brandon Knight. The former Detroit Piston led the Bucks in scoring at 17.9 PPG and developed into the team’s go-to-guy as the season progressed. His three point percentage (32.5 percent) is one area he must work to improve on from last season. Although, to be fair, the burden fell on Knight to take the majority of the shots in late shot clock situations and that may caused the dip from his career average of 35.6 percent.
With the additions of Kendall Marshall and Jerryd Bayless, along with the growth of Nate Wolters, Knight figures to spend less time playing point guard and more time playing off the ball. This will allow Knight to focus on what he does best and that’s scoring the ball. Jabari Parker is expected to develop into the lead scorer at some point but until he is ready, Knight will be the Bucks’ most dangerous offensive threat.
Top Defensive Player: As bad as the Bucks’ offense was last season, their defense was even worse. The team finished with the worst defensive rating in league (111.8). A big factor in the team’s struggles on that end can be attributed to the absence of center Larry Sanders. Sanders, who missed the majority of this past season with injuries and off-court issues, will be back at full strength to start the upcoming season. He will be eager to bounce back and regain the form he displayed two seasons ago. When he is right, Sanders is an elite interior defender. In 2012-13, he finished second in the league in blocks per game (2.8) and sixth in defensive rating (98.5). He was a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate at that point. If Sanders can come back strong, there is no reason he can’t again be one of the top defensive bigs in the league.
Top Playmaker: The Bucks acquired one of the better young passers in the game this offseason in Kendall Marshall after he was waived by the Los Angeles Lakers. He will certainly create a number of opportunities for his new teammates and will be the favorite to lead the team in assists. However, in terms of making plays on both ends of the court, Giannis Antetokounmpo is in a class of his own. The young Greek, most recently nicknamed “Magic Giannison” flashed his unique playmaking ability on numerous occasions throughout his rookie season. His length, combined with his athleticism, make Antetokounmpo a constant threat as a help defender. Also, he relishes every transition opportunity created off a turnover or a long rebound and looks to push the tempo whenever the opportunity presents itself. His ability, not only to finish on the break but lead it too, makes him nightmare in the open court for defenders. Jason Kidd experimented with the 6’11 Antetokounmpo at point guard during summer league and will continue to do so in the regular season, which will be very interesting to watch.
Top Clutch Player: As you could imagine, there weren’t a whole lot of clutch plays to be made during this past season for the Bucks. During their march to 15 wins, the Bucks played in seven overtime games with little success, winning just one. Despite their struggles as a team, Brandon Knight repeatedly stepped up to the plate whenever a big shot needed to be taken. He may not have converted as often as he would have liked, but he proved he has that fearless mentality that you need to have in the clutch. Again, until Jabari Parker proves he is ready to be the guy, Knight will be the one with the ball in his hands in those high pressure situations.
Top Unheralded Player: This is a tough call between two young point guards. Both Kendall Marshall and Nate Wolters won’t receive much fanfare, but both will be counted on next season as they will likely handle the majority of the ball-handling duties. However, when you consider Marshall’s track record as a top assist man (averaging 8.8 per game last season) paired with the lack of fluidity in the Bucks’ offense last year, he figures to be the more important piece, so we’ll give him the nod here. Marshall will step right in and immediately become the Bucks’ best passer; he should be a steady contributor from day one.
Top New Addition: While picking the top unheralded player was a bit of a dilemma, choosing the top new addition is a no-brainer. The Bucks couldn’t have been happier to see Andrew Wiggins taken first overall in the 2014 NBA Draft. New owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens were overjoyed to get Duke product Jabari Parker with the number two pick. Parker participated in the Las Vegas Summer League with the Bucks. He had his ups and downs, like most young players do, but offered a glimpse into the type of problems he can create for opposing defenses with his array of offensive skills. He finished the Summer League averaging 15.6 points and 8.2 rebounds on 41.9 percent shooting from the field. Expectations should be tempered as very few rookies can make the jump to the NBA and be great from the get go, but in time Parker has the chance to develop into a very good player.
– John Zitzler
Who We Like
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo: With one NBA season under his belt and the chance to play in the FIBA World Cup with a veteran Greek squad this summer, Antetokounmpo will have some great experience to draw from in his second year. Also, he has worked hard to add muscle to his thin frame and looked noticeably stronger when he appeared with the Bucks’ Summer League team and with the Greek national team. Even with the addition of Jabari Parker, Antetokounmpo remains the team’s most intriguing prospect. He has such a rare skill set for a player of his size. Bucks fan have every right to be very excited about Antetokounmpo.
2. Jabari Parker: What’s not to like about Parker? He has fully embraced the city of Milwaukee and said all the right things since being drafted. He has a tremendous work ethic and from all accounts is just as great of a guy off the court as he is on. He was arguably the most complete offensive player in the draft and has all the tools you look for in a go-to scorer. Parker and Antetokounmpo give the Bucks two supremely gifted young players who they will be able to build around for years to come.
3. John Henson: Henson is another good player in the Bucks’ collection of young talent. He progressed nicely in his second year as a pro and was one of the few bright spots on last year’s team. Henson started in just 23 games, but still managed to finish the year with the highest win shares (3.3) and efficiency rating (17.9) on the team. He did a great job blocking shots, averaging 1.7 rejections per game. At this stage of his career, Henson appears to be best suited playing behind Larry Sanders rather than alongside him due to his struggles shooting outside the paint. Together, the two tend to clog up the lane. Nevertheless, Henson is a valuable piece of the team’s young nucleus and gives the Bucks a talented big off the bench.
4. Brandon Knight: Knight, at only 22 years old, has quickly developed into the team’s most reliable scoring option. Knight appears to be more of a combo guard than a true point guard, where he played the majority of his minutes last season. Again, the addition of Kendall Marshall should prove to be very beneficial for Knight. He has looked more comfortable playing off the ball and should see more time in that role this upcoming season. General manager John Hammond has to be very happy with the returns the Bucks are seeing from the Brandon Jennings trade, as Knight has already proven to be a steady producer and Khris Middleton shot the ball well from three last year(41.4 percent).
5. Larry Sanders: After his breakout year in 2012-13, Sanders regressed significantly in 2013-14. Injuries certainly played a major factor in his downfall, as did his off the court issues, but even when he did play he just wasn’t the same player. This season will mark the first for Sanders playing under his new contract. The deal will pay Sanders $11 million per year for the next four seasons. It will be crucial for the Bucks that Sanders is much closer to the 2012-13 version of himself rather than what he showed last year if the team doesn’t want to be handcuffed by Sanders’ big deal for the next four years.
– John Zitzler
The Bucks are loaded with young, long, talented athletes. Offensively, they will be best in the open court, as the Bucks have a number of guys who will be able to run and finish on the break. On the defensive end, they have two great shot blockers in John Henson and Larry Sanders; their ability to protect the rim will help cover up some of the Bucks’ other shortcomings on that end. The group of young assets the Bucks have assembled has the chance to develop into a very good team. They may not be great next year, but fear not Bucks fans as the future is bright. If nothing else, this team has a number of young players that should be fun to watch while they grow.
– John Zitzler
While the team’s young assets may be the Bucks’ biggest strength in the long run, it will also be the team’s biggest weakness next season. The team will start the season with nine players under the age of 25. The inexperience of the group will lead to mistakes on both ends on court and will surely frustrate new head coach Jason Kidd, who will go from coaching a veteran-laden Brooklyn Nets team to this young Bucks squad. It’s inevitable that when you build a roster from the ground up, it’s going to take time.
– John Zitzler
The Salary Cap
The Bucks recently made a deal with the Los Angeles Clippers to open a roster spot for point guard Kendall Marshall. Milwaukee still needs to cut a player before training camp, presumably Chris Wright and his non-guaranteed deal. The team could have up to $8.2 million in cap space, but the realistic figure is $7.3 million with Marshall. The Bucks might like to move out of a few contracts (O.J. Mayo and/or Ersan Ilyasova) but may also be willing to take on an unwanted expiring guaranteed contract via their cap space, with draft considerations the fee. If the Bucks climb to the cap, they’ll receive the $2.7 million Room Exception.
– Eric Pincus
On the surface, last year was an absolute disaster for a Bucks team with aspirations of playoff contention. Suffice to say the plan going in was not for Khris Middleton to lead the team in minutes. Ironically though, a Murphy’s Law season was almost exactly what the franchise needed in the long-term. Recall that at this time last year, the Bucks were pilloried for long-term contracts bestowed on O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia and Carlos Delfino in their effort to chase the eighth seed. But due to injuries and poor performances from nearly every established player on the roster, the 15-67 Bucks were in position to draft Jabari Parker.
Milwaukee is one of the better bets to improve on their record this season. To start with, the team was very unlucky last year, as even its terrible point differential would normally yield a 20-win season. The addition of Parker, a full season from Larry Sanders (who played only 23 games), expected growth from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brandon Knight and a return to form from Ersan Ilyasova could vault this team toward a win total in the 30s. Sanders in particular is key for a team that ranked last in defense by points per possession. Even in his diminished state last year, the Bucks defended near a league-average rate when he was on the floor. Meanwhile, the shooting at the four provided by Parker and potentially Ilyasova could boost the league’s 26th rated offense.
On the other hand, this is still a very young team without any solid defenders on the roster aside from Sanders. While Antetokounmpo has great tools on that end, the list of 19-year-olds who have played effective defense in the NBA is essentially nonexistent. He has already become a cult favorite, but he has a long way to go to be a solid offensive threat considering he shot only 16 for 86 on twos away from the basket and had a usage rate of 15 percent. While he is a great prospect, expecting him to contribute a ton to winning basketball games this year may be too much at this stage.
Best Case Scenario
Sanders returns to 2012-13 form as one of the best defenders in the NBA, Coach Kidd utilizes the same switching principles he used with the Nets to improve the scheme, Parker wins Rookie of the Year with a Carmelo Anthony-like performance, Antetokounmpo is ahead of schedule defensively and the shooting improves enough to boost the offense.
Worst Case Scenario
We see about as much of Sanders as we did last year, leading to a sieve-like Parker/Henson or Parker/Pachulia frontcourt. Ilyasova struggles again from outside and plays little, while nobody steps up to make outside shots and space the floor for Parker, who struggles with his weight and conditioning a bit and cannot get separation at the NBA level. Kidd spends much of the year pining for the mascot stylings of the late Brooklyn Knight, and Milwaukee struggles through another desultory campaign.
– Nate Duncan
The Burning Question
Is Jason Kidd the right coach to develop the talented young roster?
Jason Kidd will have a fresh start in Milwaukee after his falling out in Brooklyn. It will be his job to lead a group loaded with potential, and he will be tasked with converting that potential into production. His prolific playing career will resonate with both the young players and the veterans – it should go a long way in helping him quickly earn the respect of the roster. Also, being just recently removed from his playing days, relating to the players is something he shouldn’t have a problem with. He will have to be patient and live with the growing pains early on. If he can do that, he has the chance to see big dividends in the near future. All signs point to Kidd being the right guy to help the Bucks transition into a new era.
– John Zitzler
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