The Milwaukee Bucks have completed the first step — they’re now a competitive team. But with that comes expectations. Their out-of-nowhere success last season, even in spite of No. 2 pick Jabari Parker‘s season-ending knee injury, was a testament to Jason Kidd’s coaching and the growth of their core of young players at the defensive end. Even as they were a surprise playoff team, the Bucks never had much offense. They beat you with their length, athleticism and peskiness. Things are different now: they have Parker back, and the addition of Greg Monroe gives them a legitimate first option on offense. But they’re in a period of growing pains, after losing some key veterans this summer.
The Bucks gave away Jared Dudley and Zaza Pachulia in the offseason, both important pieces. They added Grievis Vasquez, who will be a nice safety valve at point guard in case Michael Carter-Williams shoots himself out of a game (which will happen often).
The addition of Monroe changes the Bucks’ identity in the frontcourt. For the first time, they have someone they can dump the ball into in the post to get a basket whenever they want. Theoretically, he’s a great fit, because the Bucks’ other bigs can mask his defensive weaknesses. John Henson and Miles Plumlee will have plenty of opportunities to play in Pachulia’s absence. Kidd will also likely use Parker as a smallball power forward in some lineups, but he’s a defensive liability at this point and nobody knows how long it will take him to return to form on offense. All signs from the preseason have been encouraging about his health, but ACLs are always a major unknown.
These aren’t the only questions the Bucks have. After a breakout season, Khris Middleton signed a five-year, $70 million deal to re-sign in Milwaukee. Now he has to prove that season wasn’t a fluke. He was their best shooter last season after they traded Brandon Knight, and he should thrive going from the first to the third option on offense. Carter-Williams still can’t shoot. Nobody knows what Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s long-term potential is, or when he’ll harness all of his raw talent. It’s going to happen eventually, but he has no defined position and a lot to learn at the NBA level still.
The Bucks have all the pieces to be a very good team. But they overachieved last season relative to their talent level, and expecting a similar leap in year two of this core could be setting fans up for disappointment. They’re likely a playoff team still, but the idea that they can be a contender this early is a little unrealistic.