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Enemy: Milwaukee Bucks
3SOB Prediction: 21-61

Photo: David Richard / USA Today Sports

Will the Bucks Grow Some Horns?

The Milwaukee Bucks actually made the playoffs in 2013. The team that won 15 games total last season after signing Former Grizzlies SG O.J. Mayo in the off-season fell on hard times thanks to next to no offense (28th in the league), no defense (25th in the league) and no rebounding (24th).

Jason Kidd was brought in to replace Larry Drew as Head Coach in the off-season. It is expected that Kidd will have a lot of input on personnel decisions. The reason given for allowing Kidd to leave Brooklyn was that he wanted more input on player moves so it only makes sense Milwaukee said they would give him that power. Kidd’s 3 year, $15 million contract should give him plenty to say about how the team is run moving forward.

The Bucks were sold last season to Marc Lasry and Wes Edens. They replace former owner Senator Herb Kohl who, despite selling the team, made a commitment to contribute $100 million to build a new stadium in Milwaukee to keep the team there. The influx of new owners should help stabilize the team’s finances moving forward and that should help the team build a more consistent franchise as well.

That does not mean the team doesn’t want to rearrange their finances however. The Bucks have some players they’d like to move to give the team more freedom to acquire players they want and need. The problem is that no teams seem interested in relieving the Bucks of those players. Don’t be surprised to see Milwaukee move big names like O.J. Mayo or Larry Sanders = if anybody will take a flier on the reportedly troubled center – before the start of the season.

What are they cooking with?

The Bucks traded Brandon Jennings to Detroit last summer because they didn’t want their point guard to take the majority of shots. Unfortunately, Knight didn’t seem to get that message as he took almost 5 more shots a game than anyone else on the Bucks roster. Knight did shoot better than Jennings from the floor but taking 15 shots at 42% isn’t going to impress anyone. The Bucks put Knight on notice when they claimed Kendall Marshall, a pass first PG, off waivers from the Lakers and signed former Grizzlies combo guard Jerryd Bayless in the off-season.

O.J. Mayo was second on the team in scoring but was terribly inefficient in the process. Mayo shot a career low 40.7% from the field and near a career low in 3 point percentage as well. Conditioning was pointed to early and often for his poor performance. Mayo’s name has been floating around as possible trade bait but so far there hasn’t been that much interest in the former Grizz.
The Bucks do have alternatives however for both positions. Marshall. Nate Wolters (PG) and Giannis Antetokounmpa all could have an impact this season for the Bucks. Antetokounmpa can play either SG or SF and has tremendous athletic ability. Wolters needs to develop an outside shot to compliment his pass first style of play. Marshall is a former lottery pick that seemed to finally get his game together last season.

The Bucks are young at SF. Khris Middleton was one of the most improved players in the league after being traded to Milwaukee in the Jennings for Knight deal. He started 64 games for the Bucks and averaged 12.1 PPG in his second NBA season including 41% from behind the arc. That didn’t stop the Bucks from drafting Jabari Parker with the second pick in the draft however. Parker could become a star in the league if anyone in the backcourt will pass him the ball that is.

The situation is cloudy with the bigs. Larry Sanders has a big contract, but seems unable to overcome the injury bug and hasn’t made matters any better for himself with his behavior off the court. 6-11 John Henson is more of a PF than a Center weighing in at barely 225 but was impressive last season posting a 17.97 PER. Zaza Pachulia has the bulk and experience to play in the middle but lacks the athleticism to be a difference maker inside and at 30 years old likely won’t be improving on that. Ersan Ilyasova likely will see time at both forward positions but is better suited to play PF. Miroslav Raduljica was a pleasant surprise last year, but was traded along with veteran swingman Carlos Delfino for Jared Dudley earlier this week.

How do the good guys stack up?

Photo: Justin Ford / USA Today Sports

The Vibe Behind Enemy Lines

How do Bucks fans and writers feel about the forthcoming matchups between Milwaukee and Memphis? We linked up with Frank Madden, who is the founder and managing editor of BrewHoop.com, to find out! He can be found on Twitter @BrewHoop.

Frank Madden: The Bucks couldn’t have been worse in 13/14, but odds are that nothing could have been better for their long-term future. Larry Drew’s first and only season in Milwaukee crashed in November and burned all the way through April, as the Bucks defied the odds and beat even the tanktastic Sixers to the bottom of the NBA’s lottery barrel. But as a fan it was oddly cathartic; the Bucks’ bubble of mediocrity had mercifully been burst, and the roster that survived the season showed enough flashes of youthful exuberance to provide optimism heading into the summer.

And so here we are: the demise of Drew’s Bucks afforded ample court time to a burgeoning core of youngsters featuring the likes Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brandon Knight, John Henson and Khris Middleton, and the arrival of Jabari Parker, Jason Kidd and new owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry affirmed a new mindset focused on a long-term rebuild. As a result, Bucks fans will simultaneously bring renewed hope to the season, despite the standings once again being of only secondary importance. Of greater interest will be the development of Parker and Antetokounmpo in particular, with the additional hope that their fellow youngsters can also improve and beleaguered veterans Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova and O.J. Mayo can rebound from career-worst efforts in 13/14. Could it all come together and help the Bucks claw back towards respectability? Sure. Will it? Who knows.

That uncertainty figures to make the coming season rather experimental, as it will be up to Kidd to craft an identity for a young team that struggled to do precisely anything right under Drew. Defensively, the Bucks will boast plenty of length but only limited bulk, a combination that Kidd became accustomed to after Brook Lopez went down last season in Brooklyn. Teams like the Grizzlies figure to cause the Bucks plenty of problems down low and on the glass, so look for the Bucks to try to compensate with more aggressive P&R coverage and passing lane disruption. Ultimately, much of the team’s success on that end will depend on whether Sanders can return to his 12/13 form. At his best, Sanders’ mobility and rim protection would seem like perfect fits for the system Kidd employed in Brooklyn. But that’s assuming Sanders can stay on the straight-and-narrow after a disastrous campaign that saw him break his hand in a bar fight a week into the season, miss the last two months with a broken orbital bone, and earn a five-game marijuana suspension for to close the season.

Offensively the Bucks figure to be even more difficult to peg. Brandon Knight effectively carried the team offensively for long stretches of last season, but not to the point of convincing fans that he had the play-making skills to be the team’s long term answer at the point. He’s likely to share the court with any number of secondary ball-handlers this season, including Nate Wolters, Kendall Marshall and former Grizzly Jerryd Bayless. Still, the more intriguing competition will be at the forward spots, where all eyes will be on Parker and Antetokounmpo as they attempt to validate the dynamic duo hype that began in Vegas. Khris Middleton and new arrival Jared Dudley will provide Kidd floor-stretching options, while perpetual trade bait Ersan Ilyasova is also still around after an injury-plagued season that tanked much of his trade value. Among the intriguing questions entering camp is how Kidd will find minutes for all of them; could Ilyasova be traded to make room for the Giannis/Jabari combo at the 3/4, or might we see Ilyasova retain his starting spot with the two youngsters playing as oversized wings? More or less everything seems up for grabs at the moment, though unpredictability may be the Bucks’ calling card this season. There’s been talk of Kidd employing a Princeton-style read-and-react offense similar to those Kidd quarterbacked in New Jersey and Dallas, and it’s likely that the Bucks will generally try to play a bit faster to compensate for their lack of halfcourt polish. It may not always be pretty–especially in the early going–but it could still make for a fun year in Milwaukee.

The Vibe at 3 Shades of Blue

Josh Coleman: The Milwaukee Bucks were not good last year. I believe that goes without saying. However, they were not tanking. That apparently does need to be stated, since I saw people everywhere lumping the Bucks in with the Sixers and Celtics erroneously. The Bucks expected to make the playoffs last year. Instead, they had the worst record in the NBA, which netted them Jabari Parker in the draft this June.

While the final scores in the two games between Memphis and Milwaukee were reasonably close, the talent/skill gap between these two teams is apparent. One of the major issues for the Bucks last year was that their leading scorers were their two point guards, Brandon Knight and Ramon Sessions. While Knight scored, he never did so efficiently, nor did he get the big men involved on offense, often leaving them to their own devices to try and score against the Grizzlies’ All-Star frontcourt. That’s a recipe for disaster for most teams, but especially one without quality post scoring.

In order for the Bucks to be competitive this season against the Grizzlies, they will need to utilize the phenomenal athleticism of their young players such as Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Larry Sanders. That is where the Grizzlies are a little more suspect. However, without veteran leadership at the helm (and we still don’t really know how good of a coach Jason Kidd is), that isn’t a likely outcome. Predicting two Memphis wins seems too easy, but it’s hard to see the Grizzlies losing to this squad.

Matthew Preston: What an amazingly awful and deeply saddening basketball team. As Tacomeat put it, the only place where an individual gets fatter after moving away from Memphis. I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive Milwaukee for what they did to my beloved OJ Mayo. Strangely enough, I’m drawn to watch this team because of their talented players in Larry Sanders, Jabari Parker, and (most of all) the Greek Freak Giannis Antetokounmpo. However, I fear for everyone’s health and careers simply because they are playing for the Milwaukee Bucks. We’ve already started to see how this franchise sucks all the wonder out of talented players with Larry Sanders’ decline on and off the court last season (and OJ Mayo’s expanding waistline). If the same happens to Parker and The Freak, I may have to give up on watching this team. At the very least, they’ll have Jerryd Bayless’ butt to entice ass-connoisseurs from around the league (looking at you Meghugs).

The athleticism and length of Sanders and Antetokounmpo will create problems for ZBO, but let’s not forget how shambly, awful, and inconsistent this team is. I’ll chalk the Grizzlies win up to Milwaukee’s youth and inexperience, non-existent identity, and relative lack of poise.

When Do They Square Off?

11/8/14 – BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, WI – 7:30 PM CST
3/14/15 — FedEx Forum, Memphis, TN – 7:00 PM CST

What Do Y’all Think?

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