Last season: 23-59, the fourth lowest win total in the entire league.
Head Coach: Flip Saunders, who may or may not be the best fit for this talented but undisciplined group of young players.
Key Departures: None yet, although Nick Young, who improved offensively last season, is a restricted free agent. Michael Lee of the Washington Postdoes a nice job breaking down Young’s status in limbo as he waits for some of the other free agent dominoes around the league to fall into place.
Key Additions: The biggest addition could be by someone already on the roster. By all accounts of what we saw during those pickup and charity games over the summer, John Wall is poised to have a breakout season. Injuries limited him last year, but he seems to be 100 percent healthy and as explosive as ever. Best case scenario: Wall makes the leap, the team stays healthy, Saunders gets some control over the young goofballs on the team (looking at you, JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche), and Young re-signs. A lot has to happen, but if things fall into place, the Wizards, like most of last year’s bottom-feeders in the East, could have a shot at the postseason.
For that to happen: Flip Saunders has to get some control over his young players, and get his guys to buy in to a team concept of playing smart basketball on both ends of the floor. You may remember McGee throwing the entire players’ union under the bus during the lockout, saying on camera and in front of rolling tape recorders that some guys were “ready to fold.” That obviously has nothing to do with how he plays the game, but it speaks to his maturity level, which will need to increase.
If you need on-the-court evidence, look no further than this free throw line dunk attempt in garbage time, with his team trailing by 25 points — which he airballed, by the way.
Andray Blatche may not intentionally be as unaware as his teammate, but his lack of focus showed more than once last season, when he airballed wide open attempts at the rim. This is not a talent issue, it’s one of focus, and that will be the Wizards’ biggest challenge under Saunders this season.
More likely the Wizards will: Improve marginally, but only due to the consistent and improved play from Wall that everyone expects to see.
Prediction: 24-42, out of the playoffs. There’s some wiggle room here, as we wait to see how the Nick Young situation — whether or not he leaves and whether or not the team replaces him, and with whom — shakes itself out.
Rumor: Tom Thibodeau would rather leave Timberwolves than trade Jimmy Butler for young players, picks
According to multiple league sources, coach Tom Thibodeau has no intention of letting Butler go for young, rebuilding-type pieces.
Thibodeau has zero interest in taking a step back with Minnesota, even, according to sources, if it means he ultimately parts ways with the team.
“No one expects Tom to coach a 25-win or even 35-win team,” one front-office executive told Sporting News. “Even if he has to agree to dissolve the contract, they’d do that before they go and trade Butler for draft picks.”
It’s unclear how much of this is hearsay. Thibodeau has a reputation for being unrelentingly competitive, and maybe people around the league are just supposing how that applies to his situation in Minnesota.
Remember, Thibodeau went 31-51 his first season with the Timberwolves – by far his worst record as a head coach. He didn’t quit.
He did trade for Butler after that season, though. And that fast-tracked Minnesota to 47 wins and a playoff berth. It would be disheartening to step back after last season’s breakthrough.
But trading Butler wouldn’t mean losing him for nothing. Thibodeau could get helpful veterans in return. They probably wouldn’t match Butler’s contributions. The Timberwolves are operating from a position of weakness considering Butler’s trade request. But trading Butler wouldn’t necessarily mean just subtracting him from this season’s team.
Besides, Minnesota already has franchise-player Karl-Anthony Towns and other solid vets. It’s too late for a full teardown. Minnesota should compete next season no matter how this Butler situation unfolds.
If Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor somehow feels he must force Thibodeau into trading Butler for unready young players and picks, that would signal Taylor has lost faith in Thibodeau running the team. At that point, it might be Taylor – not Thibodeau – ending the relationship.
So, I doubt Thibodeau ever must choose between the scenarios laid out here. But if he faces that choice, I’ll believe he leaves that much money on the table when I see it.
Described by his trainer, Drew Hanlen, as having the yips, Markelle Fultz essentially stopped shooting jumpers last season. Hanlen has posted offseason workout videos of Fultz without showing the 76ers guard’s jumper.
How does the former No. 1 pick’s shot look now?
We can finally see.
The Players Tribune:
.@MarkelleF on the jump shot everyone is talking about.
There was a lot of things going about changing shots and all this and the third. But, for me, I’m a hooper. So I was like, man, this ain’t going to stop me.
People really didn’t understand. They thought, “He was just being soft. But it was really an injury. And now I got a chance to just sit down and pick apart all these doctors. We figured it out, and I’ve been back to work this summer. And everything’s back to even better than what it was.
This is the latest of NBC’s NBA season preview stories, and we will post at least one a day on these pages until Oct. 16, when the NBA season kicks off. We will look at teams and topics around the NBA throughout the series, with today the Bucks and their new coach in the spotlight.
Jason Kidd was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame just more than a week ago, and with that came the flood of memories (and videos) of what a legendary player he was at his peak, leading the New Jersey Nets to the Finals in the early 2000s.
Unfortunately for the Milwaukee Bucks, coach Jason Kidd’s offensive and defensive philosophies seemed stuck in that same era. The Bucks’ corner offense was run at a slow pace and lacked much strong-to-weak ball movement or shooting that would have created space for stars to operate. Kidd’s defense was ultra aggressive to the point teams turned that against the Bucks with a couple of passes, which led to quality shots. In spite of that Milwaukee kept winning because of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and the talent on the roster, but talk to other teams around the league and they did not fear the Bucks. What they feared was the day the Bucks started using that talent in a modern way.
Enter Mike Budenholzer.
The former right-hand man to Gregg Popovich who went on to coach the Hawks to a 60-win season was brought in as an Xs and Os guru who would simplify the defense, then put Antetokounmpo and other Milwaukee players in a faster offense that worked to get their stars better looks.
How much can a coach and a system lift a team? Milwaukee is going to find out, and they are betting it’s a lot.
The Bucks don’t want to waste seasons of a top-10 player, a potential MVP such as Antetokounmpo (plus they are moving into a new arena in the heart of the city, this is win-now time in Milwaukee). Budenholzer has never had a talent like this on his roster as a head coach, and one of the first things he did was have a breakfast with the Greek Freak and talk about how together they would get him to take the next step.
“There’s a lot of reasons to be excited about coming to Milwaukee, but there’s no doubt that Giannis is one of them,” Budenholzer said at his introductory press conference this summer. “He’s so important to our success, I think he embraces his leadership role and how he needs to grow, improve and get better along with all the rest of us. So the excitement is through the roof, and how we can use and implement him defensively and offensively, it started some at breakfast and it will continue into the weight room today, tomorrow and the next day.
“And those are conversations I look forward to having with Giannis, and listening to Giannis too. I think he’s a smart player at 23, and he has an IQ and an understanding of the game. Together, I think he and I will push each other, but I look forward to pushing him. He believes it and I believe it, but he’s going to get a lot better as we watch him over the years.”
“A lot better” Antetokounmpo should scare the rest of the league.
Budenholzer’s offensive philosophy and motion offense fit better with the Bucks’ talent. He wants to run and get the ball out in transition, then use pace, misdirection, and side-to-side ball movement to create space for their stars to work in the half court. Then there’s the floor spacing, the Bucks were 25th in the league in percentage of shots from three, but a new philosophy and adding Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova this offseason should help change that. The Bucks are going to shoot threes and that should open up lanes for Antetokounmpo and Bledsoe to get to the rim. This should look like a different Bucks team.
However, the bigger changes and improvements need come on the other side of the ball. Despite the dated style under Kidd, the Bucks still had an offensive rating in the top half of the league. The defensive side, however, was the Bucks’ biggest weakness.
“The thing that probably stands out to me first is the potential on the defensive side of the ball,” Budenholzer said. “I would say that’s been always something that’s prioritized. We want to be great on both sides of the ball, and whether it be the last five years in Atlanta as a head coach or San Antonio at the end of the day has always been great defensively.”
Budenholzer has talked about simplifying the system and reads on defense, something that should be welcomed in the Bucks’ locker room. The team has good defenders on it, just put them in better positions and understanding the system should improve the Bucks on that end of the court.
Can Budenholzer make the Bucks a threat to Boston this season? Unlikely. But if everything comes together in a new system, how good can this Bucks’ team be, if Antetokounmpo looks like an MVP candidate again and the defense is improved. Philadelphia and Toronto may want to look over their shoulder and keep an eye on the Bucks.
This team might finally start living up to its potential.
Karl-Anthony Towns denies Jimmy Butler rift due to Butler sleeping with Towns’ girlfriend