Bucks Lead

50 for 50

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Late summer is a tough time for NBA fans. Summer league is done. Most trades have been completed. The 2017-18 schedule has come out, and now the predictions begin. What else are basketball fans gonna do in late August? I’m going with a somewhat bold prediction, picking the Bucks to finish the season with 50 wins. 50 wins in our 50th season! The Bucks have a tough schedule in October with Boston, Cleveland, and Portland all within the first four days of the regular season. Winning two of these games would help continue the positive momentum the Bucks enjoyed at the end of last season. Momentum is one of those intangibles that helps sustain a winning attitude. But do the Bucks have enough talent to improve their record over last year? I believe so.

The Milwaukee Bucks were pretty silent this summer, with the exception of a few Kyrie Irving trade rumors. There wasn’t room for Michael Beasley, so off he went to the Knicks, despite a pretty lucrative offer to play ball in China. The team picked up a couple great draft picks in DJ Wilson and Sterling Brown to continue building “team all length”. Bucks fans are mixed on the subject of keeping last year’s roster intact. Some think the team will be no better since they didn’t pick up any new superstars, whereas others are trusting the rebuilding process and incremental improvement. From a payroll management perspective, it’s really all the Bucks could do, if we’re being objective. The team has some large contracts that won’t be easy to shed. Having said that, this team has a lot of talent for fans to be excited about. Let’s not forget this group came together to go on a 14-4 run in the month of March and eventually finished the season as the sixth seed, earning their way into the playoffs, where they twice pummeled the Raptors in the playoffs, a team that had owned the Bucks all season long.

Down the stretch last season, and into the playoffs, a solid starting five emerged. This season I would expect Antetokoumnpo, Middleton, Maker, Brogdon, and Snell to be the starting unit barring any injuries. This is a group of guys that play Jason Kidd style basketball, scrappy defensive ball. An important, and often overlooked statistic, is that the Bucks won 20 games in a row when holding their opponents to under 100 points. In Game 3 of the playoffs against Toronto, the Bucks stifling defense kept DeMar DeRozan from scoring a single basket from the floor. While defense alone doesn’t win games, it does prevent the Bucks from having to get into high scoring shootouts. The Bucks aren’t equipped to win a three point shooting contest against offensive powerhouse teams that are given the freedom to bomb uncontested threes all night long. That’s not to say that the Bucks are devoid of offensive threats, though. This group has a great mix of slashers that can get to the rim, as well as solid shooting from the perimeter to get the job done.

And then there’s the X factor which isn’t as popular to talk about because it isn’t obvious to spot, team chemistry. The Bucks are young, and haven’t played together all that long. Brogdon and Maker were both rookies last year, and Snell was a late acquisition prior to the start of the season. Middleton didn’t come back from injury until halfway through the season, and certainly not at 100%. Delly and Teletovic were also new additions to the team last year. Quite frankly, finishing the season as a sixth seed was nothing short of miraculous when you consider how briefly this group played together. Fans became impatient with Coach Kidd during the season because he kept screwing with the rotations. Finding the right combination of players to put on the court at any given moment is the chess match that coaches have to figure out. As the season progressed, Kidd found lineups that worked.

Individually, I think it’s a safe bet that Giannis will continue to dominate. His jump shot still needs some work, and I also hope he seizes the opportunity to practice his free throws too. I can’t be the only guy that holds his breath every time Giannis steps up to the charity stripe. In a close game, fouling a 77% free throw shooter isn’t a terrible risk for opponents. Middleton will enter this season healthier than how he finished in the playoffs. I fully expect him to have a great year. Many fans are predicting an All-Star Team roster spot for K-Midds. I don’t know about that, but his leadership on the court is important. I remember a post game interview last March where Giannis was asked why the team was playing so much better, and his response was simply “Khris Middleton”. Snell is an excellent 3 & D shooting guard that will continue to be a lockdown defender, plus rain 3-pointers. Near the end of last season he also showed strength driving to the basket. Look for more of the same this season. Brogdon will bring his signature poise as the field general on offense, and continue to harass opponents on defense. At 6’5” and 215 lbs, his size makes him a formidable match for smaller point guards. Thon Maker continues to be a work in progress. Offensively he has many weapons, including superb ball handling skills and the ability to shoot threes. His incredible length makes him a great rim defender, but he’ll need to muscle up before he can be considered a dominant force in the paint especially on rebounding.

The success of the Bucks this season will be largely dependent on how well the bench performs. Greg Monroe has enjoyed feasting on opponents in the paint. His post play has gotten stronger with each game. Previously believed to be a liability on defense, Moose has shown great hustle and can break up plays that come his way. There aren’t many people that would disagree that Matthew Dellavedova’s first season with the Bucks was disappointing. Delly himself acknowledges this. His ball handling skills aren’t the greatest, so he doesn’t create any separation from defenders. He’s better suited as a catch & shoot player since he’s not going to break away from defenders once he puts the ball on the floor. His passing skills are inconsistent. Some nights he’s dropping dimes everywhere, while other times you wonder why the heck he passed the ball so poorly. His play off the ball is pretty solid, setting screens for his teammates that open lanes to the rim. On defense Delly is scrappy as hell, harassing ball handlers. This is Rashad Vaughn’s make-or-break year. Making the jump to NBA ball as young as he did may have been a bit premature. He’s lacked the confidence necessary to play with the big boys in the league. He’s entering his third season as a 21 year old that hasn’t earned much playing time. In college he was a force from three point range, but has yet to find a consistent shot with the Bucks. Teletovic will prove this season that he was a good acquisition, finding his three point shot again. Bucks fans see Telly as a liability, but I’m predicting he bounces back big time this year. Henson and Hawes are two guys that will see limited playing time, as they bring different skill sets. Hawes has great range as a three point threat, whereas Henson’s strength is his length as a great rim defender. On a roster heavy with big men, Hawes and Henson will likely ride the bench most of the time.

Then there’s all the question marks on our roster. Topping the list is Jabari Parker. Prior to tearing his ACL again, he was a beast on offense. His rehab has been reported as going well, but fans shouldn’t expect much from Jabari in the second half of this season. Bringing him back too soon would be a costly mistake. Only time will tell. The Bucks draft picks, DJ Wilson and Sterling Brown, while both potentially promising, are still rookies. Wilson will likely get called into action quickly, with an injured Parker, but summer league performance doesn’t necessarily translate into an immediate impact in league play. Brown will be battling Vaughn for minutes, and likely could earn the lion’s share of them if Vaughn doesn’t bring his best every game. Bucks fans were spoiled by last season’s rookies, Brogdon and Maker. Expectation management is warranted. This year’s rookies probably won’t walk on with the same impact as Brogdon. Gary Payton II joined the team late in the season and had a decent first game against the Mavericks, scoring twice immediately. Oddly, at only 6’3” Payton is a decent rebounder because of his quick and aggressive play. How many minutes he gets is yet to be determined.

The Bucks are building a good program. Do they have all the right players on the squad to win the Eastern Conference Championship? Certainly not, but they have a solid core and some bench strength to be competitive in the NBA. I would expect the Bucks to finish the season as the fourth seed, and make it into the second round of the playoffs. Bucks fans have waited a long time for another NBA championship, and will need to remain patient a bit longer. This year will be better than last year as the team chemistry strengthens. The future looks bright for the young Bucks. The Bucks just need to trust their process.

 

About Bob Holland

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