With the NBA season just a week away and the majority of player movement being done, I’m going to start previewing the teams. Based on my projected order of the standings, we’ll start at the bottom and work towards the top rotating between East and West. Past previews will be linked as well.
Atlanta Hawks | Brooklyn Nets | Charlotte Hornets | Chicago Bulls | Cleveland Cavaliers | Dallas Mavericks | Detroit Pistons | Indiana Pacers | Los Angeles Clippers | Los Angeles Lakers | Memphis Grizzlies | Miami Heat | Minnesota Timberwolves | New Orleans Pelicans | New York Knicks | Oklahoma City Thunder | Orlando Magic | Phoenix Suns | Portland Trailblazers | Sacramento Kings | San Antonio Spurs | Washington Wizards
With superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo as the face of the franchise, the Milwaukee Bucks need to build a championship team around him. New head coach Mike Budenhozer comes over from the Atlanta Hawks and will be a huge upgrade over previous coaches Jason Kidd and Joe Prunty. Free agent additions Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova were brought in to stretch the floor and should open up the paint for Giannis, Eric Bledsoe, and Malcolm Brogdon. The Bucks were somehow a below average defensive team which should not be the case with the length and athleticism that they had on the court. Kidd's frantic, take away everything, trapping style of defense simple didn't work and Budenhozer should implement a much more effective system. Giannis is a jump shot away from being completely unstoppable on offense, can he lead this talented Bucks team on a deep playoff run?
Offensive Rating 108.8 (10th)
Defensive Rating 109.0 (18th)
Net Rating -0.3 (20th)
True Shooting Percentage 57.1 (6th)
Assist Percentage 58.5 (15th)
Rebound Percentage 48.0 (28th)
Turnover Percentage 14.1 (12th)
Pace 97.18 (20th)
Pat Connaughton SG (free agency), Donte DiVincenzo SG (draft), Ersan Ilyasova PF (free agency), Brook Lopez C (free agency)
Jabari Parker SF
Much like many other teams that have a superstar, the Bucks were terrible without Giannis on the court. Kris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe are solid second and third pieces, but struggle to create offense for themselves. The bench was lackluster to say the least and guys like Matthew Dellavedova, Jason Terry, DeAndre Liggins, Brandon Jennings, and Sean Kilpatrick got exposed when given minutes. Ex franchise player Jabari Parker was heavily criticized, but at least he was a somewhat reliable player off the bench. Free agent additions Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova should improve the front court depth, and free agent Pat Connaughton can hold his own on the wing. The Bucks need to find a way to keep the boat afloat when Giannis goes to the bench, no matter how good he is they simply need to give him a breather.
Giannis at Center?
One thing that the analytics guys have been pushing for is playing Giannis at center. A lineup of Brogdon, Bledsoe, Middleton, Snell (or Connaughton) and Giannis could be devastating is they can be respectable on the boards. They did use that lineup for 40 minutes last year, but had a net rating of -12.8 and an awful rebound percentage of just 41.4%. New head coach Mike Budenhozer picked up Paul Millsap off the scrap heap and turned him into an excellent power forward (who basically had no success as a small forward), and used Al Horford as a center when he was viewed as a power forward across the NBA. If there is a way to play Giannis at center, expect Budenhozer to find a way and surround him with a lineup that works.
With the way the Milwaukee Bucks are currently constructed, the only way they can truly become a championship level team is by becoming an elite defensive team. Projected starting center Brook Lopez and backup power forward Ersan Ilyasova are not good defenders, but the other eight projected rotation players are average defenders at worst. The fact that a team with this much athleticism, length, and defensive talent finished 19th in defensive rating is awful. Jason Kidd ran a defensive scheme where he tried to trap and take away everything on the court including mid range jumpers, which just isn't possible. Good passing teams could just pick the Bucks apart. However with a full off-season to gel and a excellent head coach, there is simply no excuse for the Bucks to be less than excellent on the defensive end of the court.
Player to Watch: Khris Middleton
Entering the last year of team control on his contract (next year is a player option that Middleton will almost certainly opt out of), Khris Middleton is quietly one of the most underrated players in the NBA. Middleton is an excellent defender, and has taken on a larger scoring role every season. When Giannis is off the floor, the offense runs through Middleton and even when he is not involved he spaces the floor with his shooting ability. Last season Middleton had a down year shooting the three at just 35.9%, but he previously he has been a consistent 45/40/85 percent player. Expect that to be a fluke one year thing and that he will bring his three point percentage up to his career norm. The Bucks have to find a way to keep Middleton around after this season, he is the second most important player on the team and finding a replacement will be almost impossible.
PG: Eric Bledsoe
SG: Malcolm Brogdon
SF: Khris Middleton
PG: Giannis Antetokounmpo
C: Brook Lopez
PG: Matthew Dellavedova
SG: Pat Connaughton
SF: Tony Snell
PF: Ersan Ilyasova
C: John Henson
Westgate Projected Win Total: 46.5
Projected Record: 48-34 (4th in Eastern Conference)