Last season: The Bucks went 38-44, reaching the playoffs despite a mid-season firing of Scott Skiles. Their high-scoring and high-shooting backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis defined the team, but it was really as a team without a strong identity. Before the playoffs began, Jennings predicted the Bucks would beat the Heat in six games. Miami swept the series.
Signature highlight from last season: The terrible shot selection of Milwaukee’s starting backcourt finally paid off in the closing seconds of a February game in Houston. Brandon Jennings dribbled on the perimeter and off balance into a shot that even he realized was too bad to take. So, he passed to Monta Ellis, a bad-shot aficionado himself. Relying on all his bad-shot experience, Ellis delivered.
Key player changes: The Bucks were nothing if not busy this summer. Here’s the synopsis:
- In: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nate Wolters, Carlos Delfino, O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal, Zaza Pachulia, Caron Butler, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Luke Ridnour
- Out: Samuel Dalembert, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, J.J. Redick, Ish Smith, Gustavo Ayon, Drew Gooden
Yes, Kravtsov appears on both lists. Milwaukee was just wheeling and dealing like that.
Keys to the Bucks’ season:
1) How good do the Bucks want to be/how good can their point guards let them be? Third-year point guard Brandon Knight frequently struggled with turnovers in Detroit the last two years, so extremely that it had a big negative effect on the Pistons’ offense. If Knight makes a jump in ability, the Bucks have no problem. Their top point guard will also be their point guard with the most potential, and that’s easy.
If not, Milwaukee must decide between Knight (the sometimes erratic point guard who needs experience to get better, but would mean more losses this season) and Luke Ridnour (the steady veteran who has nowhere to go but down, but will mean a little more short-term success). It could be a direction-defining decision.
2) Are any recently signed free agents underpaid? Why did the Bucks sign O.J. Mayo ($8 million per year), Zaza Pachulia ($5.2 million per year), Carlos Delfino ($3.25 million per year) and Gary Neal ($3.25 million per year)? I can’t pretend to know the exact answer to that question, because it doesn’t’ make the most sense, but I’m guessing Milwaukee didn’t want to pass on available value. Those four players might not generate a playoff berth, but if they’re underpaid, it’s easier for the Bucks to trade them or upgrade the team elsewhere next summer.
3) Can Larry Sanders be a good team’s best player? Second best? Sanders’ four-year, $44 million extension makes him, barring other moves, Milwaukee’s highest-paid player in 2014-15 and beyond. He’s a defensive force, but not quite in the discussion as one the NBA’s very best defenders. Offensively, he’s more limited. He’s a very nice player to have, and the Bucks definitely paid enough to ensure they have him. As he grows from his breakout season, we’ll get a better sense of just how good Sanders can be.
Why you should watch the Bucks: You won’t understand Larry Sanders’ value by looking at just his common statistics. Watch Milwaukee, and you’ll get a better sense of how he impacts the game defensively. Otherwise, this is a blah bad team, and I don’t have much here.
Prediction: Bucks in six. 33-49. The Bucks will be OK. Probably not OK enough to make the playoffs, but they have at least an outside chance. Probably not bad enough to land a premier draft pick, either, but they have at least an outside chance.
The Bucks are very different from last season. Yet, they’re very much the same.