Bucks Offseason Report: The Greek Island

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2016/17 Record: 42 – 40 (First Round Exit)

2017/18 Salaries: $121,841,387 (Over The Cap Team) – full MIL salary cap situation – here

Incoming Draft Picks: DAL ’18 2nd (56-60), DEN ’19 2nd (56-60), WAS ’20 2nd (56-60).

Outgoing Draft Picks: PHI/SAC ’19 2nd.

Screen Shot 2017-09-20 at 9.51.53 amIt was a relatively quiet Summer for Milwaukee in terms of player movement. DJ Wilson and Sterling Brown became the two newest fawns after being taken on draft night. While the drafting of Wilson meant Michael Beasley wasn’t brought back, Brown will look to learn from the returning Jason Terry on his farewell tour.

Of the final five additions, only two look set to stick. The two-way contract of Jalen Moore has already been cancelled, while fellow non-guaranteed contracts JeQuan Lewis and James Young (plus Gary Payton II) all stand to lose out for the final roster spot to the recently signed Brandon Rush. Unless of course, the Bucks make some further moves. Mr Wisconsin, Bronson Koenig, is the only other signing who should hang around on a two-way deal and continue his run of only playing basketball in his home state.

The cap inflexible Bucks also made sure they brought back Tony Snell on July 1st, with an extremely quick negotiation announced right after midnight. Of course, in reality this deal would have been discussed prior but it was still likely a quick decision from a team perspective. Snell’s fresh start in Milwaukee resulted in modest numbers on great percentages and his fit, plus the team’s cap situation, meant the Bucks had to bring him back. The final move from the front office, at least so far, was the waiving of Spencer Hawes after he took up his player option for 17/18. By stretching the final year of the deal out, the Bucks lost a handy veteran but managed to sneak under the luxury tax line in the process.

Before any of this occurred however, by far the biggest news to come out of Milwaukee was the departure of John Hammond.

Hammond’s nine year stint, which included Executive Of The Year honors in 2010, came to an abrupt end when he accepted a position in Orlando’s front office. Hammond had a great eye for young talent but not surprisingly, struggled to attract veterans to Milwaukee. Thus, he leaves behind a roster that is laced with exceptional young talent yet slightly crippled by poor contracts.

Then of course, there is Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Most Improved Player in 2017.

The Greek Freak will forever be the feather in Hammond’s cap, however it is now up to the new front office to ensure he remains in Milwaukee. Without the General Manager who began the build around Giannis, Jon Horst is now in control of that destiny. A destiny that is currently on the clock, without a ton of certainty as time ticks away.

Time may not seem too critical, with Antetokounmpo only just about to begin his four year-$100 million contract extension. However, history suggests otherwise. At just 22 years of age, Giannis recently made his first All-Star appearance, was named Second Team All-NBA and will be on the doorstep of 27 when his current deal expires. Since 2010, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh took their talents to South Beach, there have been 12 All-Stars in the 25-27 bracket who defected by way of a forced trade or in Free Agency.

The below table illustrates that when it comes to All-Stars entering their prime, patience is not a common quality. Nor is there a want to be in small markets or on a team without significant help. For the most part, our modern day stars are choosing (or leveraging) to leave smaller markets for larger ones and in search of more All-Star talent to team up with. That isn’t great news for Milwaukee but at least makes the strategy rather simple.

Find The Greek Freak a partner in crime and do it fast.

Year Player Age Means Old Size* New Size* All Stars (Year Either Side)
2010 James 25 FA CLE 11 MIA 10 Mo Williams & Shaq /// Wade & Bosh
Bosh 25 FA TOR 13 MIA 10 Nil /// Wade & LeBron
2011 Anthony 26 TRADE DEN 22 NYK 1 Billups /// Billups & Stoudemire
Williams 26 TRADE UTA 20 BKN 7 Nil /// Nil
2012 Howard 26 TRADE ORL 19 LAL 2 Nil /// Kobe & Nash
Paul 26 TRADE NOL 30 LAC 6 Nil /// Griffin
2014 Love 25 TRADE MIN 29 CLE 11 Nil /// LeBron & Irving
2016 Durant 27 FA OKC 17 GSW 3 Westbrook /// Curry, Green & Klay
2017 Irving 25 TRADE CLE 11 BOS 5 LeBron & Love /// Horford & Hayward
Butler 27 TRADE CHI 4 MIN 29 Wade /// Nil
George 27 TRADE IND 24 OKC 17 Nil /// Westbrook
Hayward 26 FA UTA 20 BOS 5 Nil /// Thomas (Irving) & Horford

*Market determined by Forbes 2017 valuations.

Currently, Antetokounmpo is on an island all by himself waiting for someone (ANYONE!) to join him.

Hammond has left behind an unbalanced roster, with lots of question marks surrounding the core of the team. If history is anything to go by, Milwaukee’s new front office has roughly two years to steady the ship before the tide really starts to turn.

The search party is on the look out for an All-Star but will they find one in Milwaukee?

While it’s far too early to make any judgment on Wilson, it’s unlikely he, Rashad Vaughn or Brown will yield an All-Star appearance. Neither will Greg Monroe, who is also probably unlikely to remain on the team passed this season. Secure for a little longer is Snell, Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic and John Henson. While they should all prove to be handy (but overpaid) role players over the next two to four seasons, they too will not be featuring at the main dance on All-Star Weekend.

That leaves five from the current roster, one of which is Antetokounmpo, who would likely form the Bucks starting lineup this season if health wasn’t an issue. This season might be the time to seriously evaluate their credentials before looking at outside alternatives.

Rookie Of The Year, Malcolm Brogdon, has to be considered a possibility purely because he has history on his side. It is too early to judge recent winners of the award on their All-Star appearances, however only two of the previous ten winners before Giannis was drafted have failed to become an All-Star. It may have been a unique year to win the award and Brogdon is already 24 years of age, however there is no reason why he cannot continue to make leaps in his game. Perhaps most importantly, he is a great fit next to Giannis due to not being ball dominant, shooting great percentages and being handy defensively.

Two further great fits are Thon Maker and Khris Middleton, who are at different stages of their career but remain a chance to crack the All-Star game while in Bucks uniforms. Middleton is the more proven shooter and capable defender, who looked primed to make his leap before having his season hamstrung last year. A full season alongside Giannis could generate great chemistry on the wings and in a second option role for Milwaukee, Middleton could easily join Giannis as early as this season. It may take a little longer for Maker, however his development as a shooter and shot-blocker could open up a real opportunity. On potential and fit alone, he looks likely to continue to start for the Bucks and it may only be a matter of time before he’s Giannis’ running mate at the top of the tree.

Perhaps the most intriguing potential option is Jabari Parker. Before his second knee injury, Parker was undoubtedly the most likely to join Giannis at an All-Star Game in the near future. He arguably had better stats than Carmelo Anthony in his 50 games last season. However there will now be serious question marks over his athleticism, as well as the fit with Giannis, when he returns. Parker will almost certainly have to alter his game and even the slightest change will put the already awkward fit alongside the franchise player in jeopardy. The Bucks will welcome a comeback as the 20 point scorer who left, however there will be serious concern in investing further long term money due to both health and overall team balance.

This season might be more about individual improvement, rather than the team. After all, one will likely take care of the other. If a potential All-Star from within doesn’t bob up in the ocean throughout this season, it might be time for the Bucks to look externally. Forcing a risky trade in search of upside is always dangerous but it might be better than the alternative. For if the Bucks aren’t careful, the next forced trade could be Giannis wanting out of Wisconsin.

Projected Starting Five:

Projected Depth Chart:Screen Shot 2017-09-19 at 3.18.51 pm

Overall Offseason Grade: D

2017/18 Prediction: 45-37

The Bucks did very little this offseason, outside of bringing in two more rookies and releasing Hawes in order to avoid the luxury tax. In isolation, those moves don’t attract either praise or slander. However, the loss of Hammond and subsequent botched GM search are reason enough for a D grade in Milwaukee. All that aside, the Bucks should still technically improve on their 42 wins from last season. A full season of Middleton plus expected growth from Sophomores Maker and Brogdon, should bring about enough improvement for a few more wins. With Parker, when he returns, becoming the real wildcard of just how successful the regular season is.


Player To Watch: DJ Wilson

By the time the draft rolled around on June 22, Hammond was long gone as the GM of the Bucks but his replacement only became official a week before draft night. That isn’t a lot of time to prepare for two selections and they both appear to have Hammond’s fingerprints all over them. While Sterling Brown has freaky athleticism in his own blood as the brother of former NBA player Shannon Brown, Wilson appears to be of the Giannis/Thon type DNA that Hammond looked out for. With the depth chart wide open on the wing, particularly to begin the season, Wilson may get some early burn to prove his worth. Although extremely raw, Wilson showed potential in Vegas, and Maker gave the blueprint last year for turning limited minutes into a more regular role.

Four Key Questions:

1. What position is The Greek Freak going to play?
The Bucks finished last season with Antetokounmpo as the starting Power Forward, but went down in six to a Raptors team playing small. So can he do it full time against bigger PF’s and do the Bucks even want him to? Unsurprisingly, the Bucks nine most used lineups last season featured Giannis but with Parker at the other forward spot in the first three. With Parker not returning until later in the season, the Bucks need to put their most potent five on the court to begin games. The next most used five-man lineup last season was the one that featured in the Playoffs and it could be the way to go. It enables Snell to start and keeps as much shooting and defense around Giannis as possible. All going well, Parker can return as a potent sixth man who needs to work off some rust.

2. Will there be another battle for the starting Point Guard spot?
With Snell, Middleton and Giannis starting two through four, it leaves the bookend slots open to battles where the Bucks are arguably the deepest. Maker should win out at Center, again for shooting and defensive reasons, which leaves the starting PG spot up for grabs. While it looked like Brogdon had well and truly taken the starting spot late last season, you can’t ever rule out a gutsy Aussie comeback. Perhaps it becomes more about balance than brawn. Milwaukee are looking very weak in the second unit and Dellavedova could be seen as a better fit with the Giannis runned starters, allowing Brogdon to do a lot more within the second unit.

3. Can the Bucks find more elite help through a trade?
The Bucks reportedly waited in the wings for a possible Kyrie Irving trade, ultimately missing out to the Celtics for the All-Star. As mentioned at length, the franchise will be keen to continue to appease it’s franchise star and therefore will likely be linked with any big name up for grabs. Milwaukee don’t have a ton of assets, but with a roster that is a little out of whack they could be poised to shake things up through a trade. The Bucks currently hold all their own first round picks, plus salary filler in the form of Monroe and juicy talent like Middleton, Brogdon or Parker. Perhaps they lose patience and trade for Giannis’ All-Star partner, rather than hoping one comes from within.

4. Is it time for Jason Kidd to prove his worth or be moved on?
Kidd is only just beginning the first year of his three year extension in Milwaukee, after signing on further last season. Currently holding a 48% winning record, across four seasons with the Bucks and Nets, things may not be as secure as they appear. Although Kidd holds close ties with ownership, a new executive is always keen to place their own stamp on a franchise and patience could wear thin if this season doesn’t go to plan. An unsuccessful season could also place pressure on the Bucks to cater to their franchise player with just three guaranteed years left in Milwaukee. It’s a players league after all.

Info courtesy of:
Basketball Reference
Basketball Insiders
Real GM
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