Tuesday, October 7, 2014

2014-15 Season Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

MILWAUKEE BUCKS
15-67
Central Division
Coach: Jason Kidd(!)
Power Ranking: 27



Hope seems like a fair word to use for Bucks fans after securing the 2nd overall pick in the draft this summer and selecting potential superstar Jabari Parker.  Even better for the small market Bucks, the 19-year old forward from Chicago wants to be in Milwaukee.  While they aren't exactly his hometown Bulls, Parker will enjoy Milwaukee's proximity to the Windy City and the ability to be the guy the offense runs through.  The Bucks don't boast a player with even similar talent on the perimeter, as Brandon Knight is still improving and Giannis Antetokounmpo remains a project.  This should make Parker "the man" right off the bat in Milwaukee, something that I believe fits his personality well.

Speaking of people who think they're "the man", Jason Kidd will be coaching the Bucks this season, after his own hubris saw himself forced out of Brooklyn.  The Bucks sent two 2nd round picks to the Nets (2015 and 2019) in return for the services of Kidd, who oversaw a ho-hum season in Brooklyn last year.  He's now the man responsible for molding a team around Parker that can be successful.  Kidd's coaching career is going to have to be much less eventful than it has been in the first 12 months if he's going to make progress with the Bucks.  On top of trying to force his way into the front office with the Nets, Kidd was also responsible for an embarrassing scandal that saw him tell G Tyshawn Taylor to knock a drink out of his hand and onto the court in order to stop play.  If we go back 27 months, Kidd's parade of excellent behavior includes a DUI/DWI arrest in the summer before his last season as a player.  Kidd will need to right himself before he can right the ship in Milwaukee.  He's certainly qualified as a basketball mind, but he needs to understand that leading is a big part of coaching.


Click "Read More" for the rest of the preview...

STATISTICAL ANALYSIS
Off. Eff.
Def. Eff.
FTr 3PAr TS% OReb.% DReb.% TOV%
100.2(26th) 108.9(29th) .274 .231 51.9% 27.1% 71.4% 14.1%

The Bucks offense struggled last season, only two years removed from having one of the better squads in the conference.  The Bucks played at one of the slower paces in the league, ranking 24th at 91.8 possessions per game.  The Bucks ranked 28th in 2P shooting (46.4%) and 21st in 3P shooting (35.3%).  Milwaukee got to the FT line at a modest rate (.274), coming in just below league-average.  Turnovers were a bit of an issue, as their rate ranked 22nd in the NBA.  The bright spot on offense was the team's offensive rebounding, which ranked 12th.  The offense figures to improve this year as they return the majority of their impact players and add Jabari Parker, who will be able to bail out broken possessions and be a go-to player in time.

Defense was more of a challenge, as anchor Larry Sanders missed almost 3/4 of the 2013-14 season due to injuries and suspension time.  He figures to return this year, and that's a good sign for the league's second-worst defense.  Despite their success on the offensive glass, the Bucks were second-to-last in defensive rebounding.  Milwaukee also finished 22nd in opp. 2P%.  As a gauge, the Bucks were 15th in opp. 2P% with Sanders playing 71 games in 2012-13.  The Bucks were mediocre at preventing teams from getting to the FT line (19th, .225 opp. FTr).  Milwaukee's opponents shot a league-high 38.2% from three, despite their 20th ranked .272 opp. 3PAr.  Expect Milwaukee's defense to be better this season with the return of Sanders and improved luck on opponent 3P%.

STYLE OF PLAY
The strategy that Kidd implemented after Brook Lopez was lost for the season should translate well to this Bucks team.  After Lopez went down, the Nets moved to a small lineup, often playing Paul Pierce at PF down the homestretch of the regular season and into the playoffs.  He won't have to look far for perimeter-oriented players with the size to play PF in the Bucks lineup, as Jabari Parker (6'8, 235) and Ersan Ilyasova (6'10, 235) can both thrive within a system that asks them to play inside and out.  He'll have a player who figures to make more of an impact at C in Larry Sanders (lets not kid ourselves about what Kevin Garnett is anymore) and from there the rest of the squad is shaky.  He doesn't have the talent in the backcourt that the Nets did.  Despite being ridiculously overpaid, it's hard to argue that you get more out of Brandon Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo than you do from Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston and Joe Johnson.  Talent and expectations aside, there's something to work with here for Kidd.

Despite the slow start in Brooklyn last year, Kidd was able to find some answers and make the necessary adjustments to boost the Nets into the 5th spot in the Eastern Conference.  How much of that was his doing, we are likely to see over time with this Bucks team.  He has plenty of talent to work with, although the collective youth of the team will prove challenging in the first few years.  Milwaukee has made a bold statement in trading for Kidd, one that shows that he'll be around for the long haul.  Whether that is profitable for the franchise is yet to be determined.


PERSONNEL
Acquisitions: F Jabari Parker (2nd pick), SF Damien Inglis (31st pick), F/C Johnny O'Bryant (36th pick), PG Kendall Marshall, G Jerryd Bayless, SF Jared Dudley, 
Departures: G Ramon Sessions, F Jeff Adrien, F/C Ekpe Udoh, C Miroslav Raduljica, G/F Carlos Delfino


PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
PG: Brandon Knight
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%3PAr
17.9
16.5
26.8%
52.3%
26.6%
.310
Knight developed as a scorer in his first year with the Bucks, but he needs to keep adding to his floor game.  A starting PG should be well above a 26.6 AST%.  His three-point shooting took a somewhat significant dip in 2013-14, if it rebounds, he should see further growth in his scoring efficiency.  His overall scoring production may decrease with Jabari Parker in town.  Joe Dexter at BehindTheBuckPass.com took a look at what it'll take for the Bucks to extend Knight after this season.

SG: Giannis Antetokounmpo
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%FTr
6.8
10.8
15.0%
51.8%
10.2%
.483
The Greek Freak didn't play much at SG last season, but if the Bucks want him in the starting lineup, this seems like the most logical conclusion; Nate Wolters or O.J. Mayo may start here if Giannis doesn't.  Antetokounmpo was as raw as expected in his rookie season, but the promise is there.  Needs to cut down on the turnovers (19.4 TOV%).  Over at Behind The Buck Pass, Joe broke down Giannis' spot in ESPN's NBA rankings.

SF: Jabari Parker
PPGRPGAPGFG%2P%3P%
19.1
8.7
1.2
47.3%
50.4%
35.8%
Parker has the talent to challenge for scoring titles at a later date.  For now, look for him to lead the Bucks in PPG, which should be all that Bucks fans expect out of him this year.  He struggled down the stretch last season (poor conditioning was a pre-draft concern), but otherwise was a reliable outside shooter for the Blue Devils.  He's big enough and a good enough rebounder that he should see a significant amount of playing time at PF this season, especially in Jason Kidd's offense.  Bucks fans just need to be patient as he finds out how his skills translate best in the NBA.

PF: Ersan Ilyasova
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%3P%
11.2
13.8
21.3%
48.6%
13.3%
28.2%
Ilyasova struggled mightily to shoot the ball last season, but that is likely attributable to foot and ankle injuries.  He's a better rebounder than most stretch fours, and if he's back to 100% this year, he should return to being an asset rather than a liability.  In the two years prior to last season, Ilyasova's TS% was above 55%.

C: Larry Sanders ('12-'13 stats)
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%BLK/36
9.8
18.7
16.9%
52.3%
18.6%
3.7
Sanders is a tantalizing talent, but he can't keep himself on the court.  He missed 59 games last season, with injuries and suspensions weighing him down.  That stuff is behind him, for now.  As you can see from his 2012-13 numbers, Sanders has the capacity to be a menace at C if he stays out of his own way.  The Bucks will need him to be at his best if they are going to improve defensively.

BENCH
PG: Kendall Marshall
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%TOV%
8.0
12.6
16.3%
49.4%
44.3%
25.6%
The Lakers let Marshall walk this off-season, after he finally started to show some promise.  He shot the ball well from deep (39.9 3P%) and made strides as a distributor.  Turnovers are a major issue, but if he can trim those, he will make for an excellent supplement to Brandon Knight's score-first game.

G: Nate Wolters
PPGPERUSG%TS%AST%TOV%
7.2
12.7
16.8%
48.6%
23.3%
11.7%
Wolters had a good rookie season when you consider that he was a second round pick who played his way into the rotation.  In fact, he earned similar minutes to veteran free agent signing O.J. Mayo, which probably says as much about Mayo as it does about Wolters.

SG: O.J. Mayo
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%3PAr
11.7
11.2
23.0%
51.6%
37.0%
.413
Mayo is running out of chances to demonstrate the reasons why he was a top five selection in the same draft as Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love.  Once billed as a potential superstar in high school, Mayo had a hard time last year locking down minutes in a mediocre backcourt on a bad team.  Jerryd Bayless will likely also factor into the guard rotation.
SF: Khris Middleton
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%3PAr
12.1
12.5
19.1%
54.1%
41.4%
.340
Middleton was reliable in his role as a floor-stretcher last season, and even played a little PF in 2013-14, a role he may be used in under Kidd as well.  His inconsistent outside shooting through his time in college may be a bit of a red flag that last year was an anomaly, but we'll know more after this season.
SF: Jared Dudley
PPGPERUSG%TS%3P%3PAr
6.9
8.9
13.5%
54.1%
36.0%
.503
Dudley was cast out of LA after failing to perform as the main piece in the trade that sent Eric Bledsoe out of town.  He shot the ball alright, but wasn't what the Clippers were looking for.  He'll look to revive his career in Milwaukee and should serve as a veteran leader. 
PF: John Henson
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%BLK/36
11.1
17.9
20.3%
54.3%
15.3%
2.3
Henson is ultra-talented, and should continue to flourish if given the minutes.  At only 23 years old and entering his third season in the league, Henson is likely still developing. 
C: Zaza Pachulia
PPGPERUSG%TS%TRB%FTr
7.7
14.0
17.0%
50.2%
14.4%
.372
Pachulia isn't the ideal backup C, as he doesn't really rebound or score efficiently, but he does enough of both to stay moderately useful.  If nothing else, he works as an enforcer.

SEASON EXPECTATIONS

The Bucks have some good pieces in place, but much like the other teams previewed before them, they just don't mesh well and aren't quite ready to compete.  Jabari Parker should provide enough entertainment to keep their fans entertained and to keep me checking Bucks box scores.  The further development of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brandon Knight should provide a good sub-plot, also.  If the pieces do manage to click and Jason Kidd can elicit enough progress, the Bucks could be setting themselves up for a run at the playoffs in the years after this season.  For now, they'll just be looking to improve on last year's 15-67 record.  With Parker in place and a healthy Larry Sanders, they may not be noticeably improved to the casual fan, but they may have enough to add a few notches in the win column.

SUMMARY

Milwaukee made a bit of a head-scratching move acquiring Jason Kidd from Brooklyn, after he finished his first season of coaching with massive question marks about his coaching and his character.  He'll be put in charge of a mostly young team with minimal to no chemistry or veteran leadership in the locker room.  While the four-in, one-out system that rejuvenated the Nets late in the season should translate well, the healthy return of Larry Sanders and the addition of Jabari Parker likely won't be enough to push the Bucks out of the bottom-feeding realms in year one.  However, for the first time since at least 2009-10, the Bucks have hope.  I'm just not sure that hope is good enough for more than 20-22 wins.

Want more Bucks coverage?  Check out BehindTheBuckPass.com on the FanSided network.

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