The Bucks May Make Big Changes
Last season, the Milwaukee Bucks were one of the league’s biggest surprises. After winning an NBA-worst 15 games during the 2013-14 season, they managed to go 41-41 last year and capture the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed. And not only did this promising young team sneak into the playoffs, they gave the third-seeded Chicago Bulls a hell of a fight before losing the first-round series in six games.
Entering this year, expectations were extremely high in Milwaukee due to Jabari Parker coming back from injury, Greg Monroe joining the team as a free agent, Khris Middleton re-signing and the team’s cornerstones furthering their development. The young core now had some postseason experience, a ton of confidence and a style of play that proved to be effective. They finished the 2014-15 campaign with the NBA’s second-best defense, allowing 99.3 points per 100 possessions. The Bucks hoped that their stingy defense coupled with an improved offense (thanks, in large part, to the production of Parker and Monroe) would take the team to new heights in a wide open East.
Well, things haven’t quite gone as planned for the Bucks this season. The team has drastically underachieved, as they sit at 20-31. That’s the third-worst record in the conference, behind only the awful Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.
The team’s offense hasn’t improved nearly as much as everyone within the organization hoped: their league ranking climbed just three spots (from 25th to 22nd) and they’re scoring just 1.2 more points per 100 possessions compared to last season.
However, the most concerning thing about their 2015-16 campaign is the way their defense has struggled. The defense that was second behind only the champion Golden State Warriors last year now ranks 27th in the NBA (allowing 106.5 points per 100 possessions).
This isn’t a team going through a slump or playing slightly worse. Milwaukee literally went from one end of the defensive spectrum to the other, from truly elite to utterly awful. The Bucks may have expected a slight defensive decline due to the increased presence of offensive-oriented players like Parker and Monroe, but there’s no way they could have anticipated this kind of collapse. And while it’s easy to single out Parker and Monroe, there’s plenty of blame to go around for the team’s issues on that end.
The young core that was once believed to be among the best in the NBA is now surrounded by a cloud of uncertainty. Suddenly, trade rumors are surfacing and it’s not clear who is safe.
The team has plenty of attractive assets. Ten of their players are 25 years old or younger, including every starter: Giannis Antetokounmpo (21), Jabari Parker (20), Khris Middleton (24), Michael Carter-Williams (24) and Greg Monroe (25).
According to a report by Gery Woelfel of the Journal Times, the Bucks may be looking to make big changes prior to the Feb. 18 trade deadline, and virtually everyone could be had if the right offer comes along.
“From what I’m hearing, they are willing to trade anybody not named Parker, Antetokounmpo or Middleton,” an NBA executive told Woelfel. “I even heard they’d listen [to offers] for Parker and Middleton, but it would have to be some crazy offer.
“They want to do something; they know they have to do something. That group they have isn’t working.’’
Notice that Carter-Williams and Monroe weren’t listed on that list of virtual untouchables. Since Woelfel released his report, other reporters have come over top to confirm that Milwaukee has gauged interest in the point guard and big man.
Woelfel zeroed in on a possible Carter-Williams deal specifically in his article, stating that the team hasn’t been the same since he came to Milwaukee in a three-team trade last February.
In that three-team deal, the Bucks acquired Carter-Williams, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis, the Phoenix Suns acquired Brandon Knight and the Philadelphia 76ers acquired the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2016 first-round pick that’s only top-three protected.
“Since [Jason] Kidd moved Knight, the Bucks are 18 games under .500,” writes Woelfel. “The chemistry of the team is horrendous, and the intensity and desire exhibited last season has surfaced only sporadically this season.”
This season, the former Rookie of the Year Carter-Williams has been incredibly inconsistent, although he is averaging a respectable 11.5 points, 5.6 rebounds, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 31.7 percent from three-point range.
Monroe, who was one of the most coveted free agents of last offseason, has averaged 16.6 points, 9.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, .9 blocks and .9 steals while shooting 52.1 percent from the field. However, that hasn’t translated to more wins for the Bucks, which is why they’re weighing all of their options at this point.
While there are plenty of issues and questions in Milwaukee right now, one thing is certain: The Bucks are definitely a team to keep an eye on as the trade deadline approaches because they appear to be open for business.
Dragic Defends His Production in Miami
In Goran Dragic’s final season with the Phoenix Suns, the veteran point guard averaged 20.3 points and 5.9 assists while shooting a career-high 40.8 percent three-point range. This earned him an All-NBA Third Team selection and the league’s Most Improved Player award.
However, since being traded from the Suns to the Miami HEAT at last year’s trade deadline, he has seen his stats decrease significantly. This year, his numbers are down to 12.1 points and 5.1 assists while shooting 32.5 percent from three-point range.
To land Dragic last year, Miami gave up two first-round picks as well as four players (Danny Granger, Norris Cole, Shawne Williams and Justin Hamilton) in a three-team deal that also involved the New Orleans Pelicans.
The 29-year-old, who signed a five-year contract worth $85 million last offseason, has received some criticism for his drop in production. However, he’s trying to block out those doubters and is confident that he’s been doing what is best for the team.
“I’m not even paying attention to those people who say, ‘Oh, he used to average 20,’” Dragic said, according to Jason Lieser of the Palm Beach Post. “You know, they don’t know a lot about basketball. This is a team sport.
“We’ve got two All-Star players in D-Wade and Chris Bosh. We’ve got Hassan. We have so many guys that can score, and I’m a point guard. I cannot take 18 or 20 shots every game. I need to involve everybody. Some games I’m going to score 20 and some games less, but that’s fine with me.”
When asked if playing efficiently and taking what the defense gives him – even if he’s not matching his previous production statistically – is enough, Dragic responded: “Yeah, absolutely.”
“And every game’s going to be different,” he added. “One game they were double-teaming D-Wade on the pick-and-roll and he said, ‘OK, G, I’m going to pass it to you more and you’ve got to be aggressive as a scorer.’ It’s just each game’s situation and who has the best matchup.”
Dragic is making $14,783,000 this season and will be under contract through the 2018-19 season. He then has a $19,217,900 player option for the 2019-20 campaign.
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