When last seen, the Bucks were … having a wonderful vacation and a bumpy flight home. A great movie, but a dreary ending. Pick your own metaphor for the fact that the Bucks can’t look back too happily on last season — or the season before that — without running smack into how poorly things ended. In 2019, it was a magical regular season and 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals before fizzling in four straight losses to Toronto. This time, another stellar pre-bubble campaign got lost with Milwaukee’s mojo somewhere during the virus shutdown. The Bucks went 8-10 in Orlando, including their ouster in five by Miami in the conference semis. There’s a “championship or bust” cloud in 2020-21 over these guys
What’s new? GM Jon Horst seemed to have pulled off two master strokes in the same 24-hour period when news broke early that he had a) traded for New Orleans guard Jrue Holiday and b) signed-and-traded for Sacramento wing Bogdan Bogdanovic. Then the Bogdanovic deal unraveled with some tampering scrutiny. Still, Holiday is a big get, a strong guard capable of playing both backcourt spots and guarding more than that. Torrey Craig, Bryn Forbes, Bobby Portis and Bryn Forbes are other new arrivals, changing up the chemistry while plugging holes left by Eric Bledsoe, Wesley Matthews, Ersan Ilyasova, Robin Lopez, Marvin Williams and Kyle Korver.
What’s missing: Changing personnel is one thing. Changing tactics and, better yet, changing results are what really count. Milwaukee needs to demonstrate that they’re more than a 3-point hoisting crew built around Giannis Antetokounmpo’s disruptive penetration. Khris Middleton needs to play more forcefully night in, night out. Holiday can pose pick-and-roll danger, a nice addition. Defensively, the Bucks can be the league’s best for the third straight season … as long as they’re dare-you-to-make-them approach to 3-point shooters holds. And Antetokounmpo needs to up his game, developing a mid-range jumper and reliability from the foul line.
POTENTIAL STARTING FIVE
Jrue Holiday | 19.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 6.7 apg
One of the league’s top individual defenders joins the NBA’s No. 1 team.
Donte DiVincenzo | 9.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.3 apg
More minutes likely, so per-36 results (14.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg)?
Brook Lopez | 12.0 ppg, 4.6 rog, 2.4 bpg
His 3-point percentage dipped, but earned All-Defensive honors as the Bucks’ anchor.
Khris Middleton | 20.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.3 apg
Fell only three missed FGs shy of 50/40/90 shooting club.
Giannis Antetokounmpo | 29.5 ppg, 13.6 rpg, 5.6 apg
Two-time Kia MVP did all his nightly damage in just 30.4 minutes.
Bobby Portis | 10.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 1.5 apg
Brings lively, mobile look to backup center in lieu of Robin Lopez.
Torrey Craig | 5.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 0.8 apg
Net rating flipped negative after a strong Denver 2019 postseason.
D.J. Augustin | 10.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.6 apg
Veteran backup point guards thrive in Bucks’ system.
Milwaukee Bucks, last 5 seasons
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
Nothing the Bucks need to fix will get fully tested in the regular season. Consider it a really long runway to see how well they fly in the playoffs. And by fly, anything short of a Finals destination won’t satisfy. Milwaukee knows Antetokounmpo will face defensive walls in every best-of-7 series, and can’t have its 3-point shooters or Giannis’ free throw proficiency abandon them. This team’s time is now.
Predicted finish: 50-22.
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