The Milwaukee Bucks were the surprise team of the 2014-15 season, winning 41 games and making the playoffs as the sixth seed. This was an amazing turnaround, considering just one season before they had a league-worst 15 wins. Now, all signs point to Milwaukee continuing to improve due to internal development from their young core, the addition of free agent Greg Monroe and the return of a healthy Jabari Parker. Just how good could these young Bucks be this year?
Basketball Insiders previews the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2015-16 season.
Head coach Jason Kidd enjoyed a so-so campaign as a rookie head coach with the Brooklyn Nets in 2014. But Kidd found his stride in Milwaukee despite facing numerous obstacles such as Jabari Parker’s season-ending knee injury, Larry Sanders’ unexpected retirement and a trade deadline that swapped Brandon Knight (who had been the team’s most productive player) for Michael Carter-Williams. Those types of events typically derail teams, but Milwaukee persevered and made the playoffs. The Bucks’ addition of forward/center Greg Monroe via free agency adds the necessary firepower to expand on the team’s success. The return of Parker in the lineup gives Kidd even more flexibility. Milwaukee should flirt with 50 wins this season, if they can find some outside shooting to create spacing for their offense.
3rd Place – Central Division
I can’t wait to watch the Bucks this season. As if getting Jabari Parker back from injury wasn’t enough, the addition of Greg Monroe gives Milwaukee an even scarier young core. While I think the Bucks are still two or three years away from contending, there’s no question in my mind that this is a playoff team and they’ll continue to gain valuable experience in the postseason (just as they did in their closer-than-expected battle with the Chicago Bulls last year). The Bucks had the second-best defense in the entire NBA last year, and now they add Parker and Monroe to strengthen their offense. Right now, this is a very good team and, barring something unexpected, they will soon be great.
3rd Place — Central Division
A few weeks ago, I proclaimed that the Bucks will eventually win the Eastern Conference. Obviously, that depends on whether management continues to spend the requisite money to keep this team intact. But if they do, goodness gracious, look out. This coming season, the Bucks will find a more balanced offensive attack with the addition of Greg Monroe and we will get to see Jabari Parker continue to fulfill his immense potential. So long as Jason Kidd’s team continues on what seems to be a normal and natural progression, a return to the playoffs is a guarantee and this time, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bucks earned home-court advantage in the first round. And yes, they will win the East… just not this year.
3rd Place — Central Division
The Milwaukee Bucks quietly reached .500 last season and made the playoffs without making much noise. More impressively, they did this in spite of losing Jabari Parker to injury. This season, Parker will be back and the former second overall pick is poised to make an impact on this intriguing Bucks teams. They landed a big free agent signing this offseason in Greg Monroe, who gives them a dominant anchor in the middle. The Bucks have pieced together a talented young core with players in the early stages of their careers who can grow and improve as a unit. Michael Carter-Williams (23 years old) will be in his first full campaign with the Bucks after being traded from the Philadelphia 76ers last season; Giannis Antetokounmpo (20 years old) nearly doubled his scoring last season; and Khris Middleton (24 years old) averaged 16.8 points after the All-Star Break. Reaching the postseason is an accomplishment, maintaining playoff contention is a challenge. The Bucks will have to jell early with the new additions to prepare for the long haul of 82 games.
3rd Place — Central Division
Everybody is going to tout the Greg Monroe signing as the thing that ultimately pushes the Milwaukee Bucks to another level of success this year, but Jabari Parker’s return is likely to have just as much (if not more) to do with any imminent success. Parker and Monroe are two gifted offensive players who can consistently combine for 30-40 points a night, which is something the Bucks were sorely missing a year ago. Last year’s team had the defensive prowess, but not the offensive talent. This team has an insanely long starting lineup with plenty of athleticism (Monroe notwithstanding), but the bench is deep too. New ownership has re-energized this organization, and there is every expectation that the Bucks contend for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs next year.
3rd Place — Central Division
– Joel Brigham
Top of the List
Top Offensive Player: Jabari Parker
Assuming he’s back for opening night, as some reports suggest, Parker’s offensive influence on this team would be massive, as Milwaukee was a team last year that simply could not score the ball with any sort of consistency. Parker, meanwhile, has diverse skills and extended range and should, over the course of the season, work his way toward alpha dog status in Milwaukee, particularly on the offensive end. A minutes count at the start of the year could limit his output, but he’s still the most offensively talented player the Bucks have.
Top Defensive Player: John Henson
A player as tall as Henson can accomplish a lot with a 7’5 wingspan, and even though he’s still not a starter this season, he’ll get plenty of minutes protecting the rim for a squad that has had some frontcourt depth issues since Larry Sanders excused himself from the team and Ersan Ilyasova was traded. Last year, Henson held opposing big men to 37.9 percent field goal shooting and dropped their percentages 14.8 percent below league average inside of six feet. He played only a little over 18 minutes a game but still averaged a couple blocks per contest, all of which places him among the most interesting young big man defenders in the league. With more minutes this year, he should be even more effective.
Top Playmaker: Giannis Antetokounmpo
While the Antetokounmpo point guard experiment wasn’t exactly a successful one a year ago, the burgeoning Greek star has proven that his combination of size, length, speed, athleticism and handle is enough to allow him free passage to the cup almost whenever he wants it. Twenty more pounds of muscle would go a long way toward making him truly unstoppable, but he’s a playmaker if ever there was one. His specialty is tapping away a shot on defense and then sprinting down the court in what looks like four loping strides to stuff one home in transition. He makes his own opportunities, and he’s only getting better at doing it.
Top Clutch Player: Khris Middleton
In March of last year, Middleton had this great last-second three-pointer to beat the Miami HEAT, but that wasn’t his only big shot of the year. He had another great one against Phoenix back in December and certainly hit his fair share of shots in big moments beyond those two game winners. He’s proven he can rise to the occasion in big moments, and until Parker establishes himself as “The Man” in Milwaukee, the ball feels very safe in Middleton’s hands at the end of big games.
Top Unheralded Player: Greivis Vasquez
Vasquez is an absolutely perfect fit for the Bucks as a reserve this season, not only because they really needed a competent and consistent backup point guard behind the shaky and offensively-challenge Michael Carter-Williams, but also because the Bucks are a little thin in terms of reserves at the wing positions and Vasquez can play both the two and the three, as well. He’s a good three-point shooter, too, and has enough experience to help supplement all of the youth currently on the roster. He’s going to fit in nicely, and should be a huge help both in terms of veteran presence and on-court ability.
Top New Addition: Greg Monroe
The way Detroit is talking about how much the loss of Monroe is going to help their spacing and offense, one would think he were an absolute albatross eating up the paint and ruining everybody’s lives, but make no mistake; Monroe is a great fit in Milwaukee and should help bring some consistency on offense. While he’s not among the league’s elite defenders by a long shot, he plays on a good defensive team that can mask that weakness, and it’s not as if Carter-Williams needs the lane clear to be effective. Monroe posting up and knocking down high-percentage shots is a good thing for this group, and they’ll go as far as he can take them this year. Without question, Monroe was one of the better free agency signings of the summer.
Who We Like
Giannis Antetokounmpo – He’s still really young, and it certainly does seem that people are expecting more out of him than he’s capable of, but there’s no denying the fact that Antetokounmpo is one of the most exciting and physically imposing presences in the NBA. While still rail thin, he’s a small forward with a 7’4 wingspan, which explains why he’s so disruptive defensively and so quick to the bucket on offense. He has a long ways to go, but so far there haven’t been any missteps in his development. Expect another giant leap in 2015-2016.
Jabari Parker – The Bucks played as well as they did last year without their franchise savior, who tore his ACL early in the season and really wasn’t able to contribute to the organizational growth they experienced. Still, the idea always has been for him to become the face of the franchise, and this should be the year where he starts to take on that role. He’s really only got about a quarter of an NBA season under his belt, but he’s a tough, skilled kid with plenty of room to grow. This should be a good year for him to get his footing and start planting his roots in as the leader in Milwaukee.
Greg Monroe – Usually it requires some kind of trade to bring in a seven-footer who averages 15.9 PPG and 10.2 RPG but all the Bucks had to give up to bring in Greg Monroe was money. It was lots of money, but still, Wisconsin never has been much of a free agency destination and landing a fish that big was a testament to the quality of work the front office and coaching staff are doing in Milwaukee. Only 25 years old, Monroe is just entering his prime, and he’s doing it alongside a similarly tall and talented Bucks starting lineup.
John Henson – With Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova gone, this frontcourt has gone from loaded to relatively barren. The only players behind Parker and Monroe at the four and five spots are Johnny O’Bryant III, Miles Plumlee and John Henson, with Henson clearly the best bench option they have to spell either starter. He’s a defensive stalwart whose coach knows how to use him relatively effectively on offense, and that is good considering the uptick in minutes he’s due to play this coming season. Eighteen ticks a night is a thing of the past; Henson officially is a much bigger part of this team.
Khris Middleton – On the one hand, $70 million feels like a lot for a player that nobody has ever come even close to discussing as a potential All-Star, but he was a player who averaged over 13 PPG last year and shot over 40 percent from deep. He’s only 23 years old and really developed some chemistry with Antetokounmpo toward the end of the last year, so he always was going to be a keeper. Milwaukee never even thought twice about keeping him around. Now it’s just a matter of seeing how the scoring hierarchy shakes out with Parker back, Monroe in and Middleton a year wiser. It’s a good problem to have.
So much has been made of the height and length of the Bucks’ starting lineup, but it’s impossible to ignore since there really isn’t a lineup even remotely like it in today’s NBA. Monroe and Antetokounmpo are both 6’11, Parker is 6’8, Middleton is 6’7 and Carter-Williams is 6’6, and that’s not even mentioning wingspans, which are equally impressive. Parker and Middleton both have a 6’11 reach, Carter-Williams has a 6’7 reach, and both Antetokounmpo and Henson have a 7’5 reach. This shows why they’ll be such a dominant team defensively, because long arms disrupt passing lanes and block a ton of shots. Last season they were 8th in the league in points allowed with 97.8 and 5th in opponents’ field goal percentage. They also were first in team steals and 11th in team blocks, and there’s nothing that has happened in the offseason to suggest that much of that will change.
Frankly, the Bucks are an incredibly young team, with their six best players ranging between 20 and 25 years old. Even the “veterans” on this team, O.J. Mayo and Greivis Vasquez, don’t have much by way of deep playoff experience under their belts, and that could prove quite a roadblock for a team looking to mature and blossom in a season with high expectations. Veteran leadership is important for a young group like this, and for the most part it doesn’t look they have it right now.
The Burning Question
Are the Bucks really ready to make the leap?
With a strong showing in the playoffs last season, the return of Jabari Parker, the addition of Greg Monroe and the further development of the team’s talented young core, there are a lot of really smart basketball people pegging Milwaukee for a huge year and a real shot at postseason success come May of 2016. But are the Bucks really ready to crack 50 wins? Are they really ready to win a playoff series or two? Inexperience and lack of familiarity with each other could ultimately trump length, athleticism and seemingly unlimited potential. Whether this is the year they make a huge jump or not, the Bucks are on the right track, and success almost certainly is right around the corner.
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