30 Teams in 30 Days: Bucks ready for return to playoffs?

After taking step back, versatile squad eager to get on track

Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule

Today’s team: Milwaukee Bucks

2015-16 record: 33-49

Who’s gone: G Jerryd Bayless, F Damien Inglis, C Albert Miralles, G O.J. Mayo, F-C Johnny O’Bryant, Greivis Vasquez

Who’s new: PF Thon Maker, SG Malcolm Brogdon (via Draft); F Mirza Teletovic, G Jason Terry (via free agency); G Matthew Dellavedova (via trade)

The lowdown: The Bucks, still trying to gain traction, haven’t had consecutive winning seasons since 1999-2001.

How many times can a team look forward to the Draft lottery? Better yet, why were the Bucks even in position to select in this summer’s lottery?

That’s a head-scratcher that nobody in Milwaukee can quite explain. After the Bucks grabbed Greg Monroe in free agency last summer, they were projected as a playoff team in 2015-16. But, stuff happened, and the Bucks crashed and found themselves back among the also-rans in the Draft.

There, they rolled the dice on a gangly center who came with many questions, and what’s more, they didn’t trade Monroe, who suddenly appears to be a bad fit. Welcome to the strange world of the Bucks, who might be a good team one day — maybe even this season — once they figure themselves out.

They’re made up of too many multiple-positioned players and not enough pure positioned players. This was actually by design as coach Jason Kidd likes versatility and believes that would cause matchup problems. To amplify this situation, he handed the point guard keys to Giannis Antetokounmpo at midseason … and the experiment actually worked. Kidd and the Bucks were so enthusiastic about the decision that they didn’t add a more conventional point guard this summer, which means it’ll be Giannis and Michael Carter-Williams, who arguably also isn’t a pure point guard, holding down the spot.

They did add Dellavedova to give the position a pass-first player, but Delly fell further down the bench after an uninspiring performance in the NBA Finals for Cleveland and will be pressed to get more than 15 minutes a night in Milwaukee.

Imagine, had the Bucks been successful in getting Dwyane Wade on the free agent market, Khris Middleton would’ve moved to small forward. He has the size for the spot, but is that a natural fit? Or the Bucks stretching the limits of their many swingman-types?

They used their top pick on Maker, a 19-year-old who took advantage of a loophole to go directly from high school to the NBA, a center who’s seven feet but weighs around 220 and still learning how to play. Maker does have supreme athletic skills, however, and brings a natural instinct for rebounding and defense, and so that’ll do for now. Even if the Bucks are successful in trading Monroe, who started most of the games at center last season, Maker isn’t ready for full-time play just yet.

The Bucks did re-sign backup center Miles Plumlee at four years and $52 million, a pricey contract given Plumlee averages a single-single (5.6 points and 5.3 rebounds) for his career. But he’s insurance. It’s a sure sign that they’re exploring ways to go forth without Monroe should they choose to move him and get their asking price.

Finally the Bucks needed to solve their shooting woes. The Bucks were dead last in 3-pointers made last season (440) and Teletovic was signed to give a boost. Yet, he’s not enough, and unless the Bucks find another shooter at some point this season, they’ll remain weak offensively from deep.

Kidd and Bucks management have decided to stick with the core roster for now (with Monroe the only potential trade bait) because that core remains young and largely untapped. That’s why, besides flirting with Wade, the Bucks didn’t go full-blast in free agency. Giannis, Carter-Williams, Middleton and Jabari Parkerare all 24 and under, and John Henson is just 25. The goal is to give them room to blossom as a unit. That wouldn’t necessary mean the Bucks will keep this core intact for the foreseeable future; but allow them to become assets to keep or trade.

Last season was disappointing, to say the least. A case could be made that Milwaukee was the biggest underachiever in the NBA, given the strides the Bucks made the season before. If they struggle again, Kidd might be inclined to execute a mini-shakeup. But that’s far down the road.

Right now, the Bucks can get back on track and push for the playoffs again and this time, get beyond the first round. Since they didn’t add a significant piece this summer, it’ll be up to the holdovers to make this happen.

Coming Next: Orlando Magic

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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.

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