It has been 50 years since a Bucks team floated through an offseason quite like this. That’s not to minimize the work required to keep players on board or shore up the roster, but winning a championship for the first time since 1971 meant not having to scramble, chase and calculate quite like they had in recent summers to maintain — or regain — momentum.
Three things should keep Milwaukee players and coaches firmly grounded since their Game 6 Finals victory against Phoenix. First, this has been the shortest offseason in franchise history — these Bucks will open the season just 91 days (13 weeks) after their title clincher, compared to 106 days between 2019-20’s finale and Game 1 of last season. Consider this: After winning the 1971 title, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and the rest didn’t play again for 167 days (24 weeks).
The second factor is how their achievement has gotten disparaged. They “got lucky” because of injuries to rival players such as James Harden, Kyrie Irving, Trae Young and at least a banged-up Chris Paul. Or was it just an oddball season because of COVID-19 restrictions? And oh yeah, they never would have won if Kevin Durant wore a smaller sneaker size (that on-the-line shot that tied rather than won Game 7 for Brooklyn in the conference semifinals).
Third, several East contenders appear to have improved more significantly than Milwaukee, either through acquisitions or from within. The Bucks lost defensive ace P.J. Tucker to rival Miami and sniper Bryn Forbes (45% on 3-pointers) back to San Antonio. They didn’t have a first-round draft pick and fleshed out their bench — George Hill, Rodney Hood, Semi Ojeleye, Grayson Allen — with little sizzle.
So what have you done for us lately? Nah, that’s harsh. But as noted above, this attempt at a repeat performance will depend heavily on the starters, two of whom — Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday — squeezed in Team USA duty in the Tokyo Olympics. Brook Lopez is entering his 14th season, Donte DiVincenzo missed the final 20 playoff games with a foot injury and Giannis Antetokounmpo has been doing the heavy lifting for years. So the question becomes, how does coach Mike Budenholzer pace his guys and maximize his rotation with this bench?
The Bucks already were in that realm of top contenders whose priority was less on the regular season and more on the postseason. They had tried the other way for two years, securing a No. 1 seed only to get bumped anyway against Toronto (2019) and Miami (2020). Getting to a top-four seed while staying healthy and rested is the goal. Predicted finish: 50-32.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Jrue Holiday: The missing piece who won’t lack for credentials now in conversations about best two-way guards.
Donte DiVincenzo: Getting a delayed start to season (foot rehab) with Bucks eager for his rebounding, shooting and defense.
Khris Middleton: If he’s cranky about his All-Star snub, that’s a good thing for Milwaukee.
Giannis Antetokounmpo: Left knee still barking at him, so expect training staff to slowly ramp him back to full minutes.
Brook Lopez: Veteran big man selflessly accepts his role, however big or small or changing one game to the next.
Bobby Portis: Back on a bargain contract to ignite Bucks fans and stump for underdogs everywhere.
Grayson Allen: Newly-acquired pesky guard who can shoot. Played as much last season as first two seasons combined.
Pat Connaughton: Got more used, more trusted and more valuable with each round of 2021 playoffs.
George Hill: Back after being sacrificed to the title cause (traded in Holiday deal), will back up and play alongside Holiday.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Bucks have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
STAT TO KNOW
— John Schuhmann
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