The Bucks' imperative after slipping back from 41 victories to 33 seemed clear -- get back to .500 and ideally beyond, the training wheels ready to be shed. Then Khris Middleton, the team's top scorer and best shooter, was lost for six months (perhaps for the entire season) to a torn hamstring. Now just matching last season's 33-49 mark might be a challenge.
Milwaukee doesn't generally have free-agency available as a way to procure top players, so it sometimes has to get bolder with draft picks (think Giannis Antetokounmpo). That's what they did again in June, grabbing 7-foot-1 Thon Maker of South Sudan with a surprise move at No. 10. Then they added four-year Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon at No. 36. … The Bucks did add a couple of role players as free agents, signing forward Mirza Teletovic to a three-year, $31.5 million deal and guard Matthew Dellavedova for four years, $38 million. Those two combined to make 279 3-pointers with 39.9 percent accuracy last season. … Milwaukee shored up its roster with veteran-minimum deals for guard Jason Terry and stretch-four Steve Novak and rewarded center Miles Plumlee with a four-year, $50 million deal. … The big one, though, in dollars and in franchise impact was Antetokounmpo's extension worth $100 million over the next four years. … Don't expect trade rumors involving Greg Monroe, Michael Carter-Williams or both to disappear anytime soon. The Bucks have needs and two former starters who might be seen elsewhere as value pick-ups.
- The Bucks must find somebody or several somebodies to replace what Khris Middleton gave them last season. Primarily that means points and perimeter shooting. Without Middleton there to space Milwaukee's offense, opponents will be able to load up on Giannis Antetokonmpo and Jabari Parker. Probably will require a deftly deployed committee.
- "Point Giannis" is great fun on YouTube and intrigues the analytics set. But what got a heavy run in the second half of a dead-end season last spring will get more seriously tested if the Bucks want to win and expect the Greek Freak to organize them offensively.
- Greg Monroe either needs to log starter's minutes – off the bench is OK, if it leads to favorable matchups – or he needs to be traded. What was seen 12 months ago as a big W for Milwaukee to land such a highly regarded player now looks like an impulse buy – not unlike trading Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams – and could be both a drain on the payroll and a warning to future free agents.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Jabari Parker gets the nod here for the second consecutive season. Last time, it was on Parker to return from ACL surgery and help them improve from .500. He managed half of that, but the fat numbers he put up down the stretch were hollow. He needs to be in top shape finally and, if Parker wants his off-the-court voice to carry on social issues, he needs to speak more loudly on the court to boost his profile.
Giannis Antetokounmpo | 16.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 4.3 apg
He was a nightly triple-double threat once Kidd moved him to PG.
Rashad Vaughn | 3.1 ppg, 1.3 rpg, 0.6 apg
Shooter of promise but at 20 it's asking too much of him to fill Middleton's shoes.
Matthew Dellavedova | 7.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.4 apg
Hustle, experience and 41.0 percent on three-pointers might should earn him court time.
Jabari Parker | 14.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.7 apg
Middleton's absence shifts responsibilities (scoring, leadership) to Parker.
Miles Plumlee | 5.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 0.3 apg
Only 14 starts last year but averaged 13 points, 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes.
John Henson | 7.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.9 apg
Active rim defender who got squeezed in roster's glut of bigs.
Mirza Teletovic | 12.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.1 apg
Kidd saw Teletovic's potential in Brooklyn, could be Bucks' best off bench.
Greg Monroe | 15.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.3 apg
Needs to demonstrate he's not just a low-post, poor-D dinosaur.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The East is too deep for the Bucks, missing Middleton and dragging Monroe and Carter-Williams, to gain much ground from last season's 33-49 finish. Better to maneuver at the trade deadline and prep for 2017-18.
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