2015-2016 Milwaukee Bucks preview
Last Season: 41-41 overall, No. 3 in the Central Division, No. 6 in the Eastern Conference. First round loss to the Chicago Bulls in six games.
Returnees: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jerryd Bayless, Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis, Jorge Gutierrez, John Henson, Damien Inglis, OJ Mayo, Khris Middleton, Johnny O'Bryant, Jabari Parker and Miles Plumlee
Additions: Chris Copeland, Jon Horford, Marcus Landry, Greg Monroe, Josh Powell, Greivis Vasquez, Rashad Vaughn, and Charlie Westrbook
Subtractions: Jared Dudley, Ersan Ilyasova, and Zaza Pachulia
SBN Affiliate: Brew Hoop
The Milwaukee Bucks will only be on national TV four times this season. And that is enormously unjust.
No, I'm not being sarcastic. The Bucks, who won only 15 games two seasons ago and have been a perpetual laughingstock, have been completely rebuilt and are now among the most intriguing young teams in the league.
At the core of the new Bucks is one of the more exciting starting lineups in the entire NBA. They have absurd length - all five of the Bucks' starters are 6-foot-6 or taller and have massive wingspans. They are exceedingly quick and athletic. And the oldest starter, Greg Monroe, is only 25 years of age. Viewers can expect the Bucks to play a frenetic brand of defense, using their length to pressure opposing offenses into turnovers, and then using the speed and athleticism to transition into fast breaks.
The Bucks centerpiece starter is Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 20-year-old superstar-in-the-making entering his third season in the NBA. He has earned the nickname "Greek Freak" by combining dazzling athleticism and superior ballhandling/playmaking skills into a nearly 7-foot frame. Observe his top 10 plays from last season (pay special attention to number nine and seven):
Close examination reveals that his extremely long limbs (7-foot-5 wingspan!) make it possible for Antetokounmpo to legally Euro-step (or "Gyro-step") from the 3-point line to the basket and then out-reach defenders for the finish at the rim. James Harden has made a name for himself with that move by demonstrating impressive body control such that he can immediately change direction with each step and keep defenders off balance, but Antetokounmpo takes the move to a new level by initiating further from the basket than Harden. Beyond that Antetokounmpo is a skilled ballhandler who has even played point forward at times. He thrives at slashing to the rim and using his massive hands and long arms to finish around the basket. Antetokounmpo is still very raw and can be mistaken prone, but has the tools to become a dominant force in the NBA in future years.
The Bucks' other 20-year-old potential superstar, Jabari Parker, is coming back after tearing his ACL on Dec. 15 last season. Before the injury, he was the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for November after averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds on 49 percent shooting in 29.5 minutes per game. Parker plays mostly on the wing and is a slasher who scores at the rim with an impressive set of finishing moves. Parker's offensive skills do overlap with Antetokounmpo so one challenge for coach Jason Kidd will be finding ways to play them together effectively. At 6-foot-8 with a 6-foot-11 wingspan Parker has the size to play power forward while Antetokounmpo plays small forward, but that is not Parker's ideal position and the Bucks may face matchup problems against teams with multiple bruising post players.
The Bucks also signed Monroe to a max contract this summer. Encouragingly, Monroe cited Milwaukee's playoff potential, relative to other suitors, as a reason for signing. The 6-foot-11 Monroe will be the primary low post scorer for the Bucks, and should complement the wing scoring of Parker and/or Antetokounmpo. Defensively, Monroe is replacing the departed Zaza Pachulia who had morphed into a surprisingly solid rim protector within Kidd's system. Monroe has yet to show the same competence on defense that he has on offense, so Kidd may decide to start promising defensive specialist John Henson alongside Monroe at times, and bring Parker off the bench as a scoring spark.
Rounding out the Bucks' starting lineup are Khris Middleton and Michael Carter-Williams. Middleton has been described as a "Swiss-Army Knife" for the Bucks and showed signs of being a plus defender last season, while also averaging 16.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.1 assists after the All-Star break. Middleton signed a five-year contract for $70 million over the Summer. Carter-Williams will start at point guard for the Bucks. He won the Rookie of the Year award playing with Philadelphia in 2014 and has shown signs of versatility, but has struggled with efficiency.
Last season the Bucks had serious problems scoring points, averaging only 97.8 points per game, and finishing 26th in offensive rating. The Bucks lacked inside scoring so Monroe should immediately bolster that number somewhat. The return of Parker's offense from the wing will also help. Spacing will be the primary concern this season for the Bucks' offense; four of the their top five most accurate 3-point shooters from last season are no longer on the team. Additionally, Carter-Williams and Parker are very poor outside shooters. They will lean heavily on Middleton and his 41 percent from deep to help spread the floor. Reports suggest that Antetokounmpo may also have improved his outside shooting.
Milwaukee has the potential to be very good on defense this season because of its length and athleticism. Kidd used those attributes last season to implement a stifling system that led to Milwaukee finishing No. 3 in the league in defensive rating. Zach Lowe described Kidd's defensive philosophy for Grantland last December:
[T]he Bucks play an aggressive defensive style in which every player must cover a ton of ground. Kidd and Sean Sweeney, his defensive coordinator, want opposing ball handlers to see extra help defenders clogging the lane from almost the moment they catch the ball. Run any two-man action, like a simple high pick-and-roll, and your point guard should see a third Milwaukee defender at the foul line early — ready to bump the rolling big man.
Milwaukee did, however, lose key defenders Jared Dudley, Pachulia, and Ersan Ilyasova. Given the raw potential of the lineup, Kidd will likely be able to duplicate last season's success, but they may face stumbling blocks along the way.
The Bucks' lack of experience may hurt them in the early going, but they have all the building blocks to be a contender in the East in future seasons. They should improve on their 41-41 record from last year and may fight for a top-four seed if the lineup gels quickly. As they've already shown this pre-season, Milwaukee also has a combination of youth and explosiveness that will make the team extremely fun (exhibit one, exhibit two). The Bucks are definitely a team to watch this season. All four times that they're on national TV.
Uniforms and court:
The Bucks will be debuting a new uniform design this season. They abandoned the red alternates in favor of a cream and green combination, unique to American pro sports. The Bucks added some nice detail on the side panels as a call back to their classic '80s design.
Milwuakee will also be the first team to rent an alternate court for special occasions. Interestingly, they are also the only team with a court design that doubles as modern art.