2013-2014 Milwaukee Bucks Season Preview
To say that this Milwaukee Bucks team is different from last year’s Milwaukee Bucks team would be a massive understatement. Four of the team’s top five scorers (Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings, J.J. Redick, Mike Dunleavy, Jr.) have found themselves new teams, and one of the team’s best defenders, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, was shipped away to Sacramento for pennies on the dollar. In their place are O.J. Mayo and a series of players that have spent their entire NBA lives as role guys. Nothing against Brandon Knight, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia, and Luke Ridnour, but the Bucks absolutely did not improve themselves this summer. That said, if there was ever a year to be awful, 2013-2014 would be it. The draft class on the horizon could make one more rough year worth all the pain.
- Joel Brigham
In & Out
Additions: Caron Butler, O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Gary Neal, Zaza Pachulia, Luke Ridnour, Carlos Delfino, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nate Wolters, Khris Middleton, Miroslav Raduljica.
Subtractions: Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, J.J. Redick, Samuel Dalembert, Mike Dunleavy, Luc Mbah a Moute, Marquis Daniels, Gustavo Ayon, Joel Przybilla, Ish Smith.
Five Guys Think…
Say what you want about the Bucks’ offseason, but at least the organization is pleased with the moves they made. Owner Herb Kohl is too old to tank and rebuild as blatantly as, say, the Philadelphia 76ers, and it’s no secret that he wants to get his team into the postseason every single season if it’s at all possible. The roster Milwaukee has put together has a shot at an eight seed, but they’re neither good enough to do much more than that, nor bad enough to have a great shot at a top lottery pick next summer. O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, and John Henson make for an interesting core, but nobody’s under the impression that this team is winning 50+ games any time soon. Best case scenario for them is probably a .500 season.
5th place – Central Division
– Joel Brigham
The Bucks are almost unrecognizable from last year, but that may be a good thing. A backcourt consisting of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis is only going to take you so far, and it lends itself to some incredibly inefficient basketball. Milwaukee’s makeover puts the team in much better position going forward. Larry Sanders’ role will increase and he’ll likely be a focal point for this team, which is excellent. Few players in the league have Sanders’ upside and watching him bloom over the next few seasons is going to a lot of fun. Brandon Knight, John Henson, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nate Wolters are nice young pieces that Milwaukee can develop in the coming years. In the meantime, the Bucks brought in strong veterans such as Caron Butler, Luke Ridnour, O.J. Mayo, Zaza Pachulia, Carlos Delfino and Gary Neal – who can help the young players develop and learn to be pros, while ensuring that the franchise remains competitive. The Bucks’ best basketball is definitely ahead of them, but this wasn’t a bad offseason for the organization. The moves that Milwaukee made are solid and make sense in the long-term. They could’ve overpaid for Jennings, Ellis and J.J. Redick, which would’ve locked them into middle-of-the-pack status for years to come, so they get points for avoiding that path.
5th place – Central Division
- Alex Kennedy
The Bucks will feature a new look this season and reviews will undoubtedly be mixed on the direction the franchise is headed. The backcourt trio of Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick is gone, replaced by O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal. The team is also introducing Larry Drew as head coach. Drew had plenty of success in Atlanta leading teams with rampant roster turnover and that will help in Milwaukee during the early going. This is important. On paper the raw talent level may have declined compared to last season but in terms of guys wanting to be in Milwaukee and playing within a team flow, the Bucks may have improved slightly. No reason this team shouldn’t be in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the East this season.
4th place – Central Division
- Lang Greene
The Bucks did not have as bad of an offseason as my projection would lead you to believe. While Brandon Jennings, J.J. Redick and Monta Ellis are talented players and very potent scorers, the Bucks could stand to lose them. They were six games under .500 last year with them and with a new head coach in Larry Drew coming in it was time to make some changes. O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal, Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour were brought in to replace them. They landed a steal late in the summer by acquiring the Milwaukee native Caron Butler at a bargain price and made Larry Sanders one of the faces of their franchise by rewarding his development with a long-term extension. However, the rest of the Central improved as well. The Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls are still the best, while the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers made additions that hold a little bit more potential. The Bucks could easily be the third best team, but if the Cavaliers and Pistons improve as expected they could end up in fifth even easier.
5th place – Central Division
- Yannis Koutroupis
With Brandon Knight and O.J. Mayo replacing Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis as the Bucks’ starting backcourt, the team loses some star power but gains two players who will embrace a strength in numbers ideology that their predecessors lacked. Mayo’s solid skill set as an NBA shooting guard—including his ability to play off the ball—as well as Knight’s willingness to distribute, should aid the development of both Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders. The supporting cast here is reminiscent of a Daryl Morey assembled Houston Rockets team that is greater than the conceived sum of its parts. Playoffs are a strong possibility for the Bucks, but it would require the team to supplant at least one team in the Central Division—a difficult task. In what could be the most competitive division in the NBA, the Bucks will have their work cut out for them.
5th place — Central Division
- Moke Hamilton
Top Of The List
Top Offensive Player – O.J. Mayo – Last season in Dallas, Mayo averaged 15.3 ppg shooting 44.9% from the floor and 40.7% from long range, and he did so playing plenty of minutes. What makes it so easy to believe he’ll be even better this season is that he will very likely be the focal point of the Bucks’ offense, rather than the second fiddle he played behind Dirk Nowtizki when he was healthy. Milwaukee loves this kid, so they’ll give him his opportunities to score.
Top Defensive Player – Larry Sanders – Before the 2012-2013 season, nobody would’ve guessed that Larry Sanders would have finished seventh in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, but that’s exactly what happened thanks to what was easily one of the best breakout seasons of any player in the league last year. With 2.8 blocks per game, Sanders finished only behind Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka among the league leaders in that category, and he should be among the league leaders again this season.
Top Playmaker – Brandon Knight – Arguably Milwaukee’s most athletic guard, Knight has spent his first two seasons flip-flopping between the two guard positions, however considering his new team’s lack of depth at point guard, he’ll very likely stick at the one for the Bucks. Under Larry Drew, who helped bring Jeff Teague out of his shell in Atlanta, Knight may finally see his first real improvement as a pro and get those assist numbers up to 6-7 dimes per game.
Clutch Player – O.J. Mayo – With Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis both off to greener pastures, Mayo is really the only player left on the roster with any sort of reliability as a clutch scorer. His field goal percentage in the last five minutes of games that are within five points is .449, and his 27.9 points per 48 minutes of clutch time puts him among the top 25 players in the league. Clearly, Mayo is the best late-game option Milwaukee has.
The Unheralded Player – Zaza Pachulia – It’s not as if Pachulia is the most talented or most athletic center in the NBA, but he knows every sneaky trick in the book and has been giving opposing centers headaches for years. The Bucks gave him a pretty generous contract this summer not only because he can do those things himself, but because he can help the team’s other young bigs—Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ekpe Udoh—get tougher a learn a few tricks, as well.
Best New Addition – O.J. Mayo – Mayo has already gotten more than enough love here, but looking at the list of other Milwaukee acquisitions, which include Brandon Knight, Carlos Delfino, Zaza Pachulia, Luke Ridnour, and rookies Giannis Antetokounmpo and Nate Wolters, there’s simply no question that Mayo is really the only one with the potential to bloom into an All-Star. Milwaukee hasn’t had one of those since Michael Redd in 2003-2004, but Mayo is their best bet to remedy that this coming season.
- Joel Brigham
Who We Like
1. Larry Sanders – Recently signed to a 4-year, $44 million extension, Sanders will soon be the highest-paid player on the team by a pretty wide margin, and he’ll have to play pretty well moving forward to live up to that hefty price tag. He was second in the league in blocks last season with 2.8 bpg, and third in the league in points allowed per possession with .760. At age 24, he’s already one of the best defensive players in the league, which is why Milwaukee awarded him with such a lucrative contract. Hopefully he can stay out of foul trouble and further develop his offensive game, but whatever he costs, his impossible not to appreciate his dominant defensive abilities.
2. O.J. Mayo – An $8 million annual salary is probably just about right for Mayo, but he’s got a pretty good chance to outplay his contract this season as the starting two-guard for the Bucks. He’s only 25, and he showed at times last season in Dallas that he could thrive when placed in a featured role as a scorer. He’ll more or less get carte blanche on that end of the floor this season, and they’re hoping that results in massive offensive output.
3. Caron Butler – There aren’t a lot of players in today’s NBA pining for an opportunity to play for the Bucks, but Caron Butler, who grew up in Wisconsin, is one of them. He seems genuinely happy to be in Milwaukee and has a great chance to be the team’s leading scorer this season, despite turning 34 this season. He has averaged 15.5 ppg for his career, and there’s little reason to think he won’t approach number that this season as a starter with the Bucks.
4. John Henson – One of 2013’s Summer League stars, Henson averaged 14.7 points and 13.7 rebounds in the three games he played in Vegas, and Milwaukee is optimistic that some of that will spill over to the regular season, where he is expected to have a breakout campaign. He’s still a little stringy for his height, and offensively he’ll likely still be a little underwhelming, but he had flashes of brilliance last season that we’ll hopefully see more of this coming year.
5. Larry Drew – Part of Milwaukee’s problems last year stemmed from the fact that everyone knew Scott Skiles was a dead man walking. Bless Jim Boylan, who did everything he could to rejuvenate the club as the interim head coach, but coaching was never really an area that the Bucks could consider a strength last season. This year, Larry Drew comes in as a guy known for getting the most out of young point guards (which is good for Brandon Knight) and willing mid-tier teams to the postseason. He’s an upgrade for Milwaukee, and his leadership will likely pay immediate dividends, as Milwaukee is in fact expected to contend for a low playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
- Joel Brigham
Milwaukee has a frontcourt loaded with talented young big men, which no doubt had something do with their having finished fifth in the league in rebounds last season (44 per game) and second in the league in offensive rebounds (13 per game). Led by Larry Sanders’ big year defensively, Milwaukee was also second in the league in blocked shots (7.6 per game), and their strong defense spread to steals, as well, a category in which they finished tied for 7th in the league (8.4 per game). Milwaukee had a strong season on the defensive end last year, and with essentially the same frontcourt intact, that should continue.
- Joel Brigham
While it’s true that there are some talented offensive players on this team, that talent doesn’t extend much beyond the backcourt. The Bucks may have been 12th in the league in points per game last season, but losing Jennings and Ellis is probably going to hurt that number a bit. Even more dismal was Milwaukee’s team field goal percentage, which was 28th in the league at .435. Head coach Larry Drew has a lot of work to do with a roster chock full of new players, and offense is an area where he’s going to have work very hard to create some quick chemistry.
- Joel Brigham
The Burning Question:
Is O.J. Mayo a star?
This summer, the Bucks paid O.J. Mayo $24 million to wear their uniform for the next three seasons, and they did that because they believe he can be an offensive monster. The plan for Mayo appears to be similar to what Atlanta did with Joe Johnson all those years he was there—turn the guy loose. Mayo started last year in Dallas looking like one of the league’s best scorers, but can he keep that up for an entire season? Milwaukee is going to give him the opportunity; it’s just a matter of whether or not Mayo has it in him to rise to the occasion.
- Joel Brigham