Enemy: Milwaukee Bucks
3SOB Forecast*: 34-48
What’s up in Milwaukee?
I look at the situation in Milwaukee and feel like I just landed in a world that is lined with a yellow brick road which leads up to an obscure wizard that goes by the name of John Hammond (Bucks GM).
The objectives in Milwaukee are hazy, as it was just six or seven months ago when they were all in for the now. Despite the longshot odds that they would overtake the Eastern Conference last year, they saw fit to expend two very promising prospects, Tobias Harris and Doron Lamb, and ship them out to Orlando for the expiring J.J. Redick, whom they watched depart on his merry way to Lob City in July. The mid-season trade appears to be a pretty wasteful investment, in hindsight, and with “win-now” mode turned off so swiftly, it seems odd that the Bucks gave up on the young and versatile Harris. They did potentially draft their small forward of the future in Greek prospect Giannis Adetokunbo, who stands 6’9 with a 7’3 wingspan, but is seven layers of raw.
If the objective for the Bucks is to punt the season away for lottery odds, they’re not doing a very good job of it. While they have likely failed to improve upon what they had going for them last year, they did not become bad enough to contend for Andrew Wiggins. They made an honest attempt to improve the roster — namely their offer to reunite new head coach Larry Drew with his point guard Jeff Teague, which was matched by the Hawks — but the ball just has not seemed to bounce in their favor this summer.
Stepping aside for just a moment, maybe the perception of middle-of-the-pack teams has just been skewed by the new NBA model of liquidating all remotely valuable assets in favor of cash, draft picks, and trade exceptions, in hopes of striking gold in the ping pong balls. Locking down Larry Sanders with a four year, $44 million deal this summer would be bad form in that regard.
While it is not probable that any members of the Bucks will step up to the call to the degree that they become a real centerpiece to build around, they are composed of a lot of good young players with room to grow. There may be some members of Grizz Nation lurking around who still believe that Milwaukee’s free agent signee O.J. Mayo can be that cornerstone guy, but at this point, it’s tough to envision that truly coming to fruition. Mayo enjoyed a torrid start to 2012-13, but experienced a steep ensuing fall-off in Dallas, and found himself back on the market, where the Bucks awarded him a three year contract.
In their ultimately defining move of the summer, once thought to be savior of the franchise, Brandon Jennings was shipped off in a sign-and-trade deal for the corpse of Brandon Knight, who may still be reeling from either that DeAndre Jordan dunk, or being “put on skates,” as Chris Webber would say, by Kyrie Irving in the Rising Stars Rookie Challenge.
Lastly, hot off the press, the Bucks initiated a heartwarming homecoming of sorts, by consummating a trade with the Phoenix Suns for Wisconson native small forward Caron Butler. Once a jack-of-all-trades, Butler has devolved into pretty much just a jump-shooter at this point in his career, but should be a welcome voice in the locker room and comes with the low financial risk of an expiring contract. The Suns got to save some money in an immediate sense, while the Bucks rounded out their starting rotation, as long as Butler remains healthy.
Who are they cooking with?
Maybe I didn’t get sucked up into a tornado and tossed into the “Wizard of Oz,” but rather landed in an NBA 2k player’s dream. Spoiler for the coming season, gamers: if you play 2k, the Bucks will be far more than the mediocre team that they are on paper. The prototypical 2k team consists of a quick point guard, three point gunners from positions 1-4, and an athletic shot-blocker/rebounder/dunker at the 5, to clean up the mess. Sound familiar? Looking at that lineup above, the Bucks have the video game formula down pat.
Now that that’s off my chest, let’s get back to the real world — which is not quite NBA 2k. I have to hand it to the Bucks, they are absolutely stocked with shooting. Mayo, free agency addition Gary Neal, Ersan Ilyasova, Butler, Knight, and the recently acquired Luke Ridnour, all demand respect when they’re camped out on the perimeter. The issue though, is that a lot of how the team will fare will depend on either Knight’s ability to get into the paint and dish, or Sanders’s ability to polish his post game. If opposing defenses do not have to worry about the inside, then they’ll have little trouble clamping down on the perimeter.
It has become well known not that Sanders can seriously patrol the paint, and do so with a grand degree of efficacy. A year later, it is time for John Henson to start writing the narrative of his own game, which if developed correctly could work wonders in bridging the gap between where he is today, and where his game can end up as a Sanders-like defender in his own right. His 18.3 PER suggests that he made the most of his time on the court in Mulwaukee’s last go around, and should serve as a great vantage point from which to launch his career.
How do the good guys stack up?
I want to be nice to the Bucks. Truly, I do. If their front office had any semblance of a plan in place, I would point it out and commend them for it. But…they’re a ship adrift at sea. Worse yet, they don’t seem to realize the predicament they’re in. They gave a dumb contract to Zaza Pachulia and then acquired Luke Ridnour for a purpose only known to them. They’re like that friend who sends you a trade offer in a fantasy league that nets him 3 shooting guards while giving up his only center — and it’s a 5-position league. I just don’t understand it.
LARRY SANDERS! (© Zach Lowe) is the one guy on this team that I would absolutely pay to watch. I’m also a fan of Ersan Ilyasova. John Henson and Epke Udoh are serviceable players. Gary Neal is a solid backup perimeter threat. Carlos Delfino is capable of occasional scoring outbursts and solid defense that make him valuable. But the remaining personnel is a mishmash hodgepodge of ill-fitting pieces. Brandon Knight might be my least favorite starting PG in the entire league. He’s a talented guy who doesn’t seem to have any idea how to run a team. O.J. Mayo….my thoughts on him are pretty well-known at this point. If anything, Milwaukee and their “8th seed or bust” mentality might be the perfect landing spot for him. I don’t know how anyone can be a fan of this collection of talent as a whole.
If the Bulls and Pacers represent the mirror images of the Grizzlies, then the Bucks are the Bizarro World version of the Boys from Beale Street. On paper, this is a team that Memphis should dominate with advantages at nearly every position. LARRY SANDERS! is a spectacular defender, but he gives up a lot of bulk to Marc Gasol, which you better believe that the Spaniard will not hesitate to take advantage of. Similarly, Henson is a solid defender…but only one team in the league has the game plan and personnel to neutralize ZBo — and it’s not the Bucks. With the Grizz big men primed to have their way in the paint, we all know what that means for an opponent’s chances of victory. Unfortunately for the long-suffering fans in Milwaukee, I don’t think they will come away victorious in either of these contests. At least they have the Packers to root for in the meantime though…
The Bucks do like shooters and, despite the loss of Monta Ellis, J.J. Redick and Brandon Jennings, the Bucks will have plenty of firepower in the backcourt again this year. Former Grizz O J Mayo, former Spur Gary Neal and former Rocket Carlos Delfino all are capable perimeter shooters.
The Bucks interior isn’t bulky as much as lanky with shot blocker Larry Sanders, John Henson and Ekpe Udoh all looking to overcome mass with long arms and leaping ability. The Bucks could lead the league in blocks this season, something that could cause problems for the Grizzlies interior game. Backing up the bigs is capable Zaza Pachulia but even he is undersized. Milwaukee biggest problem will be containing the interior scoring of Randolph, Gasol, Davis and Koufos while not abandoning the Grizzlies improved perimeter shooters.On offense Milwaukee will need to find ways to free up their perimeter shooters against the Grizzlies defense because Memphis likely won’t double down on the Bucks bigs.
Tough matchup for Milwaukee.
Brian Duff (of BUCKETS Magazine):
In the salary cap era, “being Milwaukee” is shorthand for the NBA purgatory of early playoff exits and mediocre draft picks. The Bucks’ great sin is being not bad enough to follow the Oklahoma City “path” (stinking your way to Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden in consecutive lotteries), which has been determined the superior route by supercilious commentators.
There is some truth to this for Milwaukee, which made the playoffs eight of the last 15 years but has only won two series’ (both during its star-crossed 2001 Conference Finals run) to show for it. The Bucks and their millionaire owner value “competing” more than most, however, and so the team restocks annually and has become adept at choosing in the tricky middle of the Draft (young bigs Larry Sanders and John Henson went 15 and 14). This year feels different, however.
The Bucks spent the offseason turning the borderline playoff team that was Monta Ellis, Mike Dunleavy, Drew Gooden, J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Brandon Jennings into Brandon Knight and a handful of projects and picks, and then inked OJ Mayo, Gary Neal and Carlos Delfino to reasonable deals, Zaza Pachulia to a terrible deal, and picked up Luke Ridnour in another team’s salary dump. Suddenly a step behind the improved mid level of the East, the Bucks appear a legitimate contender in the unfamiliar race to the bottom. If so, their two matchups with Memphis will be little more than growth exercises for under-25ers Sanders, Henson, Knight and Greek draft project Giannis Antetokounmpo (taken number 15, naturally).
When and Where do they square off?
January 15th: 7:00PM at the BMO Harris Bradley Center
February 1st: 7:00PM at the FedEx Forum
For more Bucks content, check out our TrueHoop comrades at Bucksketball.
*3SOB forecast projections are derived from an average of the contributing staff’s predicted win totals.