Last Season: 33-49, 12th in the East
Off-season Gains: PG Matthew Dellavedova (trade), SF Mirza Teletovic (free agent), PF Thon Maker (draft), SF Michael Beasley (trade), PG Jason Terry (free agent),
Off-season Losses: PG Jerryd Bayless (free agent/Philadelphia), PG Greivis Vasquez (free agent/Brooklyn), PF Johnny O'Bryant (waived/Washington), PG Tyler Ennis (trade/Houston)
Off-season Stock: It was leaning slightly upward, and then fate intervened and now it's look out below.
League Pass Team?: Nah. Whenever "The Greek Freak" does anything cool, the GIF will be on Twitter five minutes later.
It's convenient that Milwaukee comes just after Miami in the NBA alphabet because these two are truly the sadness twins. We've covered the Heat's issues, namely losing Dwyane Wade in a ego-measuring contest with Pat Riley and Chris Bosh to a Faustian genetic bargain, but the Bucks have their own hard-luck story, with Khris Middleton, their second-best player out until at least the All-Star break, after completely tearing his hamstring in an off-season workout. At full capacity the Bucks might have been a fringe contender for a 7th or 8th seed in the East as they really didn't do much to upgrade in the off-season but shuffle around a couple of backup point guards. But without Middleton they were so thin at wing and so challenged for scoring that they felt compelled to trade for Michael Beasley, which is nothing but a cry for help. I kind of feel bad for Milwaukee. I visited the city briefly over the summer and enjoyed my time there, but, well, according to team's president, my experience may not be shared by all of the city's inhabitants, and that's both troubling and unfortunate.
I can't possibly segue gracefully from that, so let's just start with the fellows vying to fill Middleton's shoes. Their starting two-guard will either be Rashad Vaughn, who shot 30.5 percent and averaged 3.1 points as a rookie (I urge you all to look up his nickname on his basketball-reference.com page for the irony) or Matthew Brogdon, a second-round pick who's almost 24-years-old and also makes a rather compelling argument on the nickname front. Brogdon's shooting improved in each of his four seasons at Virginia, but only from "terrible" to "acceptable" as a senior, and while it's true that the Bucks franchise has had a lot of success with shooting guards drafted in the second round in Middleton and Michael Redd, I defy you to find one other team that can claim the same. You can't.
The situation's no great shakes at point guard either. Michael Carter-Williams was one of the worst starting "ones" in the league last year and once he got hurt the team's offense fared better with Giannis Antetokounmpo running the show as a 6'11 point-forward, an experiment coach Jason Kidd will likely look to continue. Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year honors with the Sixers, but his game has backslid since. He's got ideal size but doesn't excel at anything but rebounding well for his position. Don't be surprised if Kidd decides to use Matthew Dellavedova as the starter instead. He's scrappier --too scrappy at times-- on defense, a better catch-and-shoot guy from three and a better playmaker too. Plus, he's pretty experienced playing off a mega-talented ball-dominant wing, don't you think?
Frankly the only chance the Bucks have a chance to surprise is if this is the year Antetokounmpo takes a quantum leap and puts it all together. He's shown us flashes, and went on a quiet run of triple-doubles down the stretch last season, but until he can fix his faulty jumper --and it's bad at all ranges, not just from downtown-- his ceiling can only reach so high, because it's not like he's blessed with LeBron James' basketball I.Q. to begin with. Judging by his developmental bell curve, where Antetokounmpo's PER has risen from 10.8 to 14.8 to 18.8, this should be the season he blossoms into an All-Star, but not having that secondary star in Middleton, or really any shooters to pass to, will make his lot in life difficult.
But there's is hope, in the form of Jabari Parker, who struggled initially in his return from a torn ACL but finished the year on a good note. In fact, his scoring increased in each month of the season. Like Antetokounmpo, Parker isn't much of an outside shooter, but he was the second overall pick a couple years back for a reason and the team's dearth of wings can actually work in his favor, allowing him to play at the three and post up smaller guys, and he's pretty good with his back to the basket. So is Greg Monroe, actually, and solid from 15 feet and in, and while he was mostly a center with the Bucks last year, perhaps they can go super big with somebody like John Henson or Miles Plumlee at the five, allowing Antetokounmpo to slide to the two.
There is an argument for the Bucks to start a legit center. Both Plumlee and Henson are slightly above league-average, with differing strengths and weaknesses to their games. Henson has the springs and the craftiness to get more shots off and is one of the league's best shot blockers. However he's also foul and turnover prone. Plumlee is steadier and the better rebounder, but won't stand out on either end. The Pistons used Monroe as a traditional four with Andre Drummond, and that didn't really work. It's possible that he's just one of those guys that'll put up decent scoring numbers but you can't ever win with.
Aside from Dellavedova, the bigs, whoever loses out on the two-guard competition and Beasley (covered in the Rockets preview before he was shipped out --TL:DR version: he's a defensive apocalypse) the Bucks bench will feature Jason Terry (famous for doing an aeroplane celebration after a rare made basket in tribute to his childhood friends, the Wright Brothers) and also MIrza Teletovic, who had by far the best season of his NBA career in his one year in Phoenix playing for the hapless Suns. He'd be an interesting choice to play with the starers as he'd give them desperately needed shooting, but as with Beasley, it'd all be given back, with interest, in his own end. Oh, and they drafted Thon Maker, a Sudanese power forward somewhere between 19 and 34 years of age whom the Spurs reportedly had interest in. There will be a lot of the D-League in his future.
If somehow the Bucks could hang on the periphery of playoff contention for the first 50 games, like say, within three games of the eighth seed, then maybe they can fight for a postseason berth. Adding Middleton would seem like one of the best trade dead-line acquisitions of the season, a 40 percent shooter from three who's also one of the best wing defenders in the league. I just can't see it happening though. There isn't enough shooting here on the roster and not enough guys who can play defense to grind out low-scoring wins. When Dellavedova upgrades your point guard situation, you're in bad shape. Ideally, they'd trade Monroe for a starting point, but there's only so many good ones to go around, and they already gambled once flipping Brandon Knight for MCW. Maybe they've decided internally instead of getting marginally better with a George Hill or a Jeff Teague that they're better off standing pat and finding a future star in the draft. Or maybe too many teams just want no part of anything they've got to offer unless it's Antetokounmpo or Parker. I'd suggest tanking, but that's my advice for most teams as it usually works better than its critics are willing to admit.