Associated Press

Three questions the Milwaukee Bucks must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer this season to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last season: 42-40, lost to Toronto in first round of playoffs

I know what you did last summer:
The Bucks mostly chilled on the beach last summer and did nothing. They let Michael Beasley go and waived Spencer Hawes. They brought in Gerald Green, Sterling Brown, and D.J. Wilson. Milwaukee basically returns with the same core roster as last season.

THREE QUESTIONS THE BUCKS MUST ANSWER:

1) Can Giannis Antetokounmpo make the leap from star to MVP level, transcendent talent? Last season the Greek Freak made the leap from nice player to star, maybe superstar level. He led the Bucks and had career highs in points (22.9), rebounds (8.8), assists (5.4), steals (1.6), and blocks (1.9). He got to the rim (dunking almost 200 times last season, some of them genuinely spectacular) and with that shot 52.1 percent overall. Combine that with him being a good “free safety” style of defender and you have a guy who deserved to be an All-Star and second team All-NBA.

The Bucks this season are banking on continuity and internal improvements to take the next step forward, and Antetokounmpo is at the top of the list.

Amazingly, there is so much room for Antetokounmpo to improve, and if he does he can live up to Kobe Bryant’s challenge to win MVP. The most discussed thing is his shooting, he hit just 27.2 percent from three last season and is not much better on long twos beyond 16 feet. This seems to be less a mechanics thing and more a confidence thing — Antetokounmpo knows he can almost always get to the rim and so he trusts that over his jumper. He needs to just fire away at times. Also, part of it is on Jason Kidd and the coaching staff, who coach a little bit of an old school system, and while the Bucks improved last season they were 24th in the league in threes attempted.

Beyond that, Antetokounmpo can be better reading the floor and making plays coming off the pick-and-roll, he can be better in post-ups, he can be better in isolation — he gets his buckets and assists by just taking what the defense gives him and then getting to the rim. He can start to force his will on the defense even more so, and when he does there is not much of a chance to stop him.

2) Can Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon take steps forward? As noted above, the Bucks did not make big moves last offseason, nor do they have the space to do it next offseason, this is a team looking for it’s core to improve to help them up the ladder. Having a healthy Kris Middleton all season as the glue guy on this team is huge and will help. So will getting Jabari Parker back from another ACL injury, but that will be late in the season (and he likely will take a bit to be his old self).

The two guys the Bucks really need to take a step forward are Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon. By the end of the playoff series against the Raptors last season both these guys were starting — and Milwaukee outscored Toronto when they were on the court together. Neither of these guys project to be future All-Stars, not even the Rookie of the Year Brogdon, but if both can be quality, consistent starters the Bucks will have something.

Maker, in particular, can be a real threat as a mobile 7-footer who can shoot the three (and reportedly he worked on his shot this off-season). He’s never going to be a strong, physical post player (the Bucks have Greg Monroe for that, and he’s solid in that role) but he can be a modern NBA big, he just needs to be more consistent as a playmaker and not just a shooter. The Bucks need more firepower and shot creation, especially with Jabari Parker out

3) Can the Bucks become a good defensive team? More than anything, this is the biggest question for Milwaukee if it is going to take a step forward. The Bucks were 19th in the NBA defensively last season, allowing 106.4 points per 100 possessions. For a team with a roster full of quality individual defenders, guys who are long and athletic, that is not good enough.

This is about Jason Kidd as the coach. He has his guys playing an aggressive, gambling system that opens up good shots for teams that can move the ball, particularly corner threes (and most teams want corner threes and have guys who can knock them down). The Bucks double just about everyone in the post, then they don’t get there fast enough in rotations. All of this played out against Toronto in the playoffs. In the first three games, the Raptors — who are isolation heavy with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan — played a style that allowed the Bucks aggressive tendencies to work. But once the Raptors adjusted, moved the ball better out of doubles, the Bucks had no answers.

The Bucks should be aggressive — they should use that athleticism to create turnovers, but there needs to be a more disciplined, smarter underpinning that doesn’t leave the team exposed when the ball moves a little.

If the Bucks are top 10 in the NBA in defense — and they have the talent to do it — then they will take a step forward. If not, they will not, and Kidd will have questions to answer from a new front office (remember there seemed to be a movement against him from part of ownership last season, his job is not completely stable).

Giannis Antetokounmpo doesn’t believe in the NBA 2K cover curse

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Milwaukee Bucks superstar at Giannis Antetokounmpo will bless this year’s cover of NBA 2K19. It’s a big deal for the Greek Freak, who has come a long way since be a heralded prospect after being drafted in 2013.

Antetokounmpo is also apparently aware of the noted curse from the 2K franchise. That is, that former players who have been on the cover in years past have notoriously ended up in different jerseys shortly after getting selected for the honor.

LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, DeMar DeRozan, Paul George, and Kevin Durant all left their respective teams shortly after being featured on the cover.

Antetokounmpo signed a contract extension in 2016 that runs through the 2020-2021 season. Unless something goes horribly wrong, there’s no reason to think that he will be gone anytime soon.

But is the cover curse real? People certainly seem to think the Madden one is.

Lakers fan paints another LeBron James mural in Los Angeles (PHOTO)

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There was already one LeBron James mural in Los Angeles. Several people decided to attack it with paint, ruining a nice gesture by a local artist in Venice and proving how annoying (presumed) Kobe Bryant fans can be.

Now, there is another mural in LA and this time it paid a little more attention to former Lakers legends. Hopefully this time around the subject matter will help stave off would-be vandals.

Via Twitter:

This LeBron piece was done by another Venice muralist, Gustavo Zermeño Jr., who posted photos of his work. In it, LeBron is seen looking up at Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

No doubt that should satisfy some Lakers purists around the area, at least enough to keep them from throwing white paint all over it and ruining and impressive piece of artwork that took the artist a long time to create.

Lakers fan should just be happy that LeBron is in their state.

Clippers sign free agent Luc Mbah a Moute for second stint

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LOS ANGELES — Luc Mbah a Moute is back with the Los Angeles Clippers, signing a free-agent deal.

The 31-year-old forward averaged 7.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 1.18 steals in 61 games for Houston last season.

Mbah a Moute played two seasons for the Clippers from 2015-17, averaging 4.6 points and 2.2 rebounds in 155 games, including 137 starts.

He was selected 37th overall by Milwaukee in 2008 after three seasons at UCLA. Besides the Clippers and Rockets, Mbah a Moute has played 10 seasons with Milwaukee, Sacramento, Minnesota and Philadelphia.

Terms of the deal announced Thursday were not announced.

DeMarcus Cousins relishing fresh start in Golden State

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins spent his first eight seasons in the NBA chasing two things – peace and the playoffs.

After signing with Golden State as a free agent, the four-time All-Star center has no doubts he’ll finally find both, and that those will help dispel the notion that he’s a bad teammate.

“Just a chance to play for a winning culture,” Cousins said Thursday. “I also have a chance to play with some of the most talented players of this era. Those two things alone, that pretty much sums it up.”

Looking relaxed while sitting on a stage next to Warriors general manager Bob Myers, Cousins was at ease during a news conference at the team’s practice facility.

Golden State’s fiery big man seems content in his new surroundings and wants the hardware to show for it.

“Every guy said let’s go get another championship,” Cousins said. “They are a well-established team and they could have easily been like, `No, we don’t need him.’ But they were excited like a team that’s never accomplished anything.”

While his signing in Golden State drew mostly groans from around the NBA, Cousins didn’t need much persuading to join the two-time defending champions. He has never played in the postseason, is coming off Achilles surgery in January and didn’t attract much attention in free agency until signing a $5.3 million, one-year contract with Golden State.

From the Warriors’ side, it’s a case of the rich getting richer. They’ve won the championship three of the past four seasons with an attack heavy on perimeter shooting and defense. In the 6-foot-7-inch, 270-pound Cousins, they now have a dominant presence on the low block as well.

“It’s a different dimension,” Myers said. “It’s not something that we’ve ever had as far as a low-post threat since I’ve been here. I’m excited. I hope he’s excited.”

Cousins averaged 25.2 points and career highs in rebounds (12.9), assists (5.4) and minutes (36.2) with New Orleans before getting hurt. He has been frustrated by the tediousness of rehab but is being cautious in his approach.

“I’m progressing weekly, which is a positive,” Cousins said. “As far as a timetable . to be determined. I have to be smart about it. I’m in a unique situation as well where I’m not needed right away. Time is kind of on my side so I have a chance to get to 100 percent.

“Making it to the playoffs won’t be an issue for this team obviously. Once the basketball part comes, everything else will take care of itself.”

A throng of media attended the news conference, flanked by 150 young fans who were taking part in a basketball camp held by Warriors. Cousins answered questions from two of the youngsters who were eager to know who his favorite players were growing up.

The 27-year-old with a quick temper and a history of piling up technical fouls at a rapid rate showed a playful side when he joked about the possibility of fighting with new teammates Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, two players with whom he’s had on-court issues in the past.

“Might as well,” Cousins said as the crowd laughed.

Cousins turned serious at one point when asked about reports that he had been offered a new contract by New Orleans before signing with Golden State.

“Only me and (Pelicans general manager) Dale Demps know what was said on the phone that night,” Cousins said. “We both know the truth and I’ll leave it at that.”

As for his new team, Cousins has assimilated quickly. He played with several members of the Warriors while winning a gold medal as part of Team USA during the 2016 Summer Olympics.

“Me and Draymond clicked right away,” Cousins said. “We’re two goofballs that like to joke around a lot. Same with KD and same thing with Steph (Curry). It’s a great group. I think we’ll mesh well.”

Until he is medically cleared to play, Cousins will continue to rehab and learn coach Steve Kerr’s system. He’ll also reach out to the Oakland community, something he made a quiet habit of while in Sacramento playing for the Kings.

“I get out in the `hoods,” Cousins said. “I want to go to the worst, the grimiest places. That’s where I want to be. Those are usually the kids or the communities that kind of get left behind or forgotten about. I feel like I was in that situation at one point. That’s where my mindset is and that’s what I stand for.”