2019–2020 NBA Season Previews: Milwaukee Bucks
Head Coach: Mike Budenholzer
Last Season: 60–22, 1st in Eastern Conference
- PG: Eric Bledsoe
- SG: Wesley Matthews
- SF: Khris Middleton
- PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo
- C: Brook Lopez
Additions: Thanasis Antetokounmpo, Dragan Bender, Kyle Korver, Robin Lopez, Frank Mason III, Wesley Matthews, Cameron Reynolds.
Losses: Malcolm Brogdon, Bonzie Colson, Tim Frazier, Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell.
The Milwaukee Bucks won 60 games in the regular season for the first time since 1981 last season. After finally surrounding their star and Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo with 3-point shooters, quality role players, and a great coach in Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks enjoyed a fantastic season that saw them on top of the Eastern Conference at the end of the regular season. While they were knocked out prematurely in the playoffs by the eventual champion Toronto Raptors, the season was an overall success for the Bucks.
This year, the Bucks will run it back with essentially the same roster outside of Malcolm Brogdon. Led by the dominance of Antetokounmpo, the Bucks are one of the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.
Antetokounmpo, also known as the “Greek Freak,” may be the most dominating force in the paint since prime Shaquille O’Neal. It’s not too often that a 7-footer can move like a guard and use his 7'3" wingspan to will his way to the basket for easy buckets. Combine this with his signature euro-step, strength, and that he can cover up to 20 feet without a dribble, and you get a nearly unstoppable force on offense. He shoots 74% at the rim, and while he can be turnover prone when driving to the basket, he is still one of the most dominant slashers of all time.
Antetokounmpo is also a good facilitator, but still needs some work. Given how much attention he commands from opposing defenses, Antetokounmpo is often able to kick out to open shooters for 3-pointers. He ranked in the 65th percentile in passer rating last year and averaged just under six assists per game, but still struggles to find the open man at times. This is especially the case in pick-and-roll situations, as he has the tendency to miss open cutters at times.
The only other weakness for Antetokounmpo, which has been well documented to this point, is his outside shooting. He is just a 27% shooter from 3-point range in his career thus far, and he has yet to garner the respect of opposing defenses from that distance. If Antetokounmpo can improve his shot (not that he needs to given his efficiency at the rim), he will become a complete, all-around offensive player.
Antetokounmpo is also dominant on the defensive end, as he uses his superb agility and wingspan to his advantage as a rebounder and rim protector. In terms of impact on both ends, Antetokounmpo may be the NBA’s best player. His physical gifts allow him to disrupt passing lanes and also gives his leverage to recover when he closes out too far and gets beat off the dribble. He was second in Defensive Player of the Year voting last year, leading the Bucks to an NBA-best 104.9 defensive rating and finishing second in individual defensive rating and Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Antetokounmpo does lack awareness at times and can get caught ball-watching, but is still one of the better defenders in the NBA in terms of overall impact.
Looking at Milwaukee’s off-season, the Bucks signed first time All-Star Khris Middleton to a five-year deal. While I didn’t agree with his All-Star selection, Middleton is still a good second option to Antetokounmpo. He shot 37.8% from 3-point range last year, and while his point per game total took a step back, he was still one of the better players on the Bucks roster. Middleton did set career highs in assists and rebounds per game and also emerged as one of the true leaders of the team. Despite some inconsistencies in production, the seven-year veteran should continue to serve as one of the better two-way wings in the league as he grows accustomed to his role as second option.
Another player who has evolved throughout his career is the Bucks center, Brook Lopez. Lopez had a revelation last year and has completely reinvented his game over the last few seasons. After being strictly a postup threat in his first eight seasons, “Bropez” has become one of the best shooting bigs in the league. Last season, Lopez shot 36.5% on just over six attempts. He is still more than capable of posting up as well and is still a quality rim protector. In the 2018–19 season, Lopez posted a 4.2 Player Impact Plus-Minus rating, which was 12th in the entire league. The argument could be made that the 7-footer is the second best player on the Bucks roster.
Right up there with Lopez, point guard Eric Bledsoe ranked 15th in the league in PIPM. As Adam McGee of behindthebuckpass.com put it, “Bledsoe earned long overdue All-Defensive honors for the first time, had a legitimate All-Star case, and more often than not stood out as one of the stars of a team that won 60 games and finished the regular season with the league’s best record.”
As his All-Defensive First Team selection would indicate, Bledsoe is a force on the defensive end. The Alabama native uses his strength, quickness and high basketball IQ to disrupt opposing point guards. On offense, while his fit with Antetokounmpo was questioned at first due to his inconsistent outside shooting, Bledsoe is one of the better rim finishers in the league as a guard.
In terms of weaknesses, Bledsoe is still a questionable outside shooter who struggled mightily in the playoffs last year. His mentality and decision-making can be questioned at times, as he has the tendency to settle for outside shots. The Raptors were practically daring him to shoot last year, as Bledsoe will have to improve his shot to round out his game. After a great regular season performance, Bledsoe will look to bounce back from a subpar playoff performance.
In terms of new additions, the Bucks front office brought in Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews, Dragan Bender and Robin Lopez. Matthews projects as the team’s starting two guard, and while he may not be the player he once was, he is still a reliable 3-point option. The same can be said for Korver, who enters his 19th NBA season as one of the premier outside shooting threats in the league. Korver is a 42.9% 3-point shooter for his career, and while he won’t provide much else other than shooting, he will fit the Bucks system perfectly. In the frontcourt, Bender gives the Bucks another shooting big while Robin Lopez, Brook’s brother, provides decent rim protection.
Another player who made a quiet impact last season in his return to the Bucks was Ersan Illyasova. In the 2018–19 campaign, he was a dependable role player for Mike Budenholzer and shot 36% from deep. George Hill also gives the Bucks a veteran presence in the backcourt and was one of the better players for Milwaukee in the playoffs. Hill is a solid veteran who shows up in big moments and gives the Bucks depth at point guard.
X-Factor: Giannis Antetokounmpo
Giannis is obviously the best player on the Bucks: offense, defense, clutch time and playmaker. According to NBA.com, during clutch time Antetokounmpo led the Bucks in scoring and shot 62.5 percent from the field while doing so. Antetokounmpo’s on-off difference was in the 92nd percentile at plus-8.7, and he was in the 98th percentile in points per 100 shot attempts at 129.9.
This team is bulit around Antetokounmpo, and they will go as far as he can take them. While the role players around him are important, the Bucks need their superstar and MVP to keep producing at a high level, and that should continue to be the case.
How does the loss of Malcolm Brogdon impact this team?
Losing Brogdon will certainly hurt this team, as he was a versatile and more-than-capable guard on both ends of the court. Korver, Matthews and George Hill should mitigate his loss, but none of them can individually replicate what Brogdon brought to the table.
Last season, Brogdon averaged 15.6 points, 3.2 assists, and 4.5 rebounds per game. The Bucks executed a sign-and-trade to send Brogdon to the Pacers for several draft picks, as the 2017 Rookie of the Year will look to live up to his four-year, $85 million deal.
Was Khris Middleton’s contract the right value?
As mentioned, Middleton had another solid season last year, but I question if he’s worth the $158 million the Bucks invested in him over the next five years.
While he is coming off his first All-Star appearance, I question just how big of a piece Middleton is in the Bucks system. For his career, he is still just a 16 point per game scorer. Middleton is a solid contributor, but not to the point where he should be earning $36 million a year.
Milwaukee is essentially running it back this year, and for good reason. The Bucks will rely heavily on Antetokounmpo and Middleton on offense. This team should once again be a top five squad on offense and defense and should threaten for a number one seed in the Eastern Conference once again. Anything less than a Finals berth and championship would be a disappointment for the Bucks this season.