With a fully fledged superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo blossoming by the night, a supporting cast including borderline All-Star Khris Middleton, 2016-17 Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon and Eric Bledsoe, (a man literally nicknamed ‘mini LeBron’) the Milwaukee Bucks looked in pole position to make waves in the eastern conference last season.
However, after 82 games and a couple of head coaches, the Bucks only managed an underwhelming 44 wins, finishing as the seventh seed in the weak eastern conference. They put up an admirable fight against the wounded Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, but their body of work suggested they would inevitably falter. A fate which would come to fruition after seven hard-fought games.
Heading into their next attempt to return to relevance, the Milwaukee brain trust went out and acquired some exciting complementary pieces, while bringing back their should-be-better-this-year core. First off, they hired former Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer to replace interim coach Joe Prunty. Despite outperforming his predecessor Jason Kidd, he still struggled to get the Bucks to reach their full potential.
Coach Bud’s Hawks may have been cellar dwellers in 2017-18, but his coaching resume speaks for itself. After 17 seasons with under the unbeatable tutelage of Hall of Fame leader Gregg Popovich, he finally procured the top role in Atlanta, with his success rewarded by receiving the 2014-15 Coach of the Year award. Excluding last season’s 24-58 rebuilding season, the 49-year-old posted a 189-139 record during his first four years. He runs a ball movement based offense that has shades of his Spurs days written all over it. It is a system that plays to his player’s strengths, a system that successfully got Kyle Korver and Jeff Teague to the All-Star game.
According to Basketball Reference, the Bucks already ranked as the 9th best team in offensive rating, so every extra gallon of juice that Budenholzer can inject into his new squad will go a long way to improving that already impressive number. He isn’t just offensive-minded though, during his three winning seasons in The ATL (2014-15 – 2016-17) his teams ranked sixth, second and fourth respectively in defensive rating. This ability to play the master puppeteer for a successful defense is where his true value will show in Milwaukee.
The Bucks finished last season 17th in defensive rating. They also let their opponents shoot a well above-average 46.8 percent from the field and 37.2 percent from beyond the arc. On the rare occassion that they did manage to get a stop, they were likely unable to cap off the play with a rebound. Milwaukee was the worst rebounding team in the league last season. Another strange aspect for a bunch of long, athletic players who should play lockdown defense and feast on the glass.
It isn’t just the new head coach and inevitable improvement of their star players in their primes that the fans in Wisconsin should be getting excited about, though. The new faces that entered the fold this summer should bring a bunch of optimism as well. While key recruits Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova probably aren’t going to help their new team grab more rebounds or lock players up defensively, but they will help ease the other throbbing sore on the Bucks’ body: 3-point shooting.
After being a non-factor from long-range throughout his first eight seasons, the 7-foot center has become a serviceable stretch five in the last two campaigns. He has nailed 34.6 percent of his 4.8 attempts per game in that span, which is a solid enough number from your paint-protector to keep defenses honest. Ilyasova on the other hand has made a living out of his ability to nail the 3-ball from the power forward position. He has shot 36.6 percent over his 10-year career, including four separate seasons shooting over 37 percent.
Neither of those guys are going to be winning any 3-point contests, but considering just one player who featured in over 50 games for Milwaukee hit over 36 percent of their triples, both Lopez and Ilyasova will add a much needed wrinkle into Budenholzer’s attractive offensive scheme. Especially considering his squad ranked 28th in 3-point attempts last season, converting at the eighth worst percentage to boot.
Unlike most teams, the Milwaukee Bucks already have a transcendent, generational talent in Giannis Antetokounmpo who is ready to take the leap into NBA royalty. Now, they have given him the right mentor and beefed up the supporting cast that he couldn’t sufficiently carry last season.
Watch out world, the Bucks are finally here.