Wednesday, October 30, 2013

SANDERS!, Greece Lightning, and Mayo - Your 2013-14 Bucks Preview

Coming off a successful season were they won 38 games and earned the right to get pummeled by the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks decided it was time for a change. More accurately, they decided going for the 8th seed was fine but decided to do it with different players. They jettisoned most of the roster in favor of more efficient and well-rounded basketball players in an attempt to become more watchable and less like they suck so bad. Unfortunately, the Eastern Conference has gotten a little better, so the road to the playoffs will be a little rougher. Let's start this Bucks preview by looking at what they did this summer.

Additions and subtractions

SG Monta Ellis (free agent, signed with the Dallas Mavericks)
PG Brandon Jennings (traded to the Detroit Pistons for Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and some random big dude)
SG JJ Redick (sign-and-trade with the LA Clippers, received two second-round picks)
G/F Mike Dunleavy (free agent, signed with the Chicago Bulls)
F Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (traded to the Sacramento Kings for two second-round picks)
C Samuel Dalembert (free agent, signed with the Dallas Mavericks)
G/F Marquis Daniels (free agent)
F/C Drew Gooden (amnesty, LOL)
F/C Gustavo Ayon (waived, signed with the Atlanta Hawks)
C Joel Przybilla (free agent)
PG Ish Smith (traded to the Phoenix Suns for Caron Butler)

PG Brandon Knight (trade with Detroit Pistons)
SG OJ Mayo (free agent)
G/F Carlos Delfino (free agent)
SF Caron Butler (trade with Phoenix Suns)
C Zaza Pachulia (free agent)
G Gary Neal (free agent)
F Khris Middleton (free agent)
C Miroslav Raduljica (free agent)
PG Luke Ridnour (trade with Minnesota Timberwolves)
F Giannis Antetokounmpo (first-round pick)
G Nate Wolters (second-round pick)

That's a lot of moves.

Some dude in front of Ersan has a question
Bucks by position

Probable Starting Lineup

PG Brandon Knight
SG OJ Mayo
SF Caron Butler
PF Ersan Ilyasova

Guards: Gary Neal, Luke Ridnour, Nate Wolters, Carlos Delfino
Forwards: John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton
Centers: Zaza Pachulia, Miroslav Raduljica


The Bucks sent their whole 2012-13 backcourt away this offseason, and rightfully so. Brandon Jennings was clearly unhappy in Milwaukee, and wasn't progressing the way the front office expected. Monta Ellis was a no-defense, inefficient ballhog and JJ Redick couldn't fit in. Ish Smith wasn't the champion the Bucks needed.

By trading Jennings for Knight, they essentially swapped disappointing guards with the Pistons. Knight shoots the 3 well, can defend, and has had some moments (not all were good), but overall isn't a natural point guard and isn't a very efficient shooter inside the three-point line.

Pictured: meh
He does have youth on his side, and head coach Larry Drew had success turning Jeff Teague into a good NBA point guard, so the jury is still out on Knight. His backcourt mate, OJ Mayo, is a little more of a known quantity. He's also a good three-point shooter, can create his own shot, passes well, and at least early on in his career was regarded as a solid defender. He's also inconsistent and has had issues with effort on both sides of the ball. He should lead the team in scoring, but that says more about the team than it does about Mayo.

Gary Neal and Luke Ridnour both fill similar roles as solid backup combo guards that can shoot. Ridnour is an excellent midrange shooter and the better pure point guard while Neal is better behind the three-point line and better defensively. Carlos Delfino is a "three and D" guy who will play both shooting guard and small forward, but will likely miss the first couple months of the season with a foot injury. Nate Wolters probably won't play much but has a skillset similar to Neal.


In the last couple seasons the Bucks seemed to acquire every forward possible, something that CPU teams would constantly do in NBA Live 2010 which would lead to the hilarious result of Zach Randolph or David Lee starting at small forward for opposing teams. Fortunately, the Bucks seemed to have fixed that glitch by trading Mbah a Moute and cutting Drew Gooden and now have a reasonable amount of bigs on the roster.

Caron Butler's best days are behind him, but he's a fairly reliable veteran and a juicy trade asset with an expiring contract. Like Delfino, he shoots well from beyond the arc and can defend but doesn't contribute much else at this point. Middleton is an intriguing youngster with great size who is a dark horse to take the starting small forward job if Butler is washed up and Delfino takes longer than expected to recover.

Ersan Ilyasova is the starter at power forward but is not a traditional player there. He's an excellent shooter and good rebounder who doesn't do much defensively and can't create his own shot. John Henson showed flashes in his rookie year and is the future at the position, but needs to put on some weight and improve his shot selection. Ekpe Udoh is a good defender but is hilariously bad offensively and can't rebound, like, at all. He's also an expiring deal and as such is a likely trade candidate.

And that leads us to Giannis Antetokounmpo, the young rookie from Greece who has every Bucks fan excited. And they should be excited. BEHOLD:

The positives; he's fearless, has good shooting touch, is a willing passer, rebounds well, has a knack for blocking shots, possesses monstrous hands, is long, strong, and down to get the friction on. The negatives; is extremely raw, a little careless with the ball, has poor footwork, occasionally looses his man defensively, and is, like, eight years old or something. There's a ridiculously wide range of outcomes when it comes to Giannis (hashtag Greece Lightning) during his rookie season - he could be overwhelmed by the pro game and end up stuck in the D-League all year, force his way into the starting lineup and emerge as a ROY candidate, or anything in between. Nothing would shock me. But one thing he won't be is boring.


At this point last year, I wasn't even sure if LARRY SANDERS! was on the roster. His first two NBA seasons were eventful but not particularly useful. He blocked shots but fouled constantly and couldn't catch the ball. He was a bit of a hothead. After a brutal showing during summer league in 2012, it looked like he might not even make the team. But somehow, he did make the team, and I can only imagine that a mighty basketball demon possessed his soul and turned him into a defensive anchor and franchise building block. He cut down on the silly fouls while finishing second in the NBA in blocks while shooting over 50% from the field and nearly averaging a double-double. His impact went even beyond the traditional statistics, evidenced by this graph by Kirk Goldsberry that became popular after last year's Sloan Sports and Analytics Conference. It measured the field goal percentage of opposing teams while LARRY SANDERS! was on the court, juxtaposed against defensive sieve (and NBA Live "small forward") David Lee.

Hint: green is better than red
SANDERS' breakout season earned him a four-year, 44 million dollar deal, and he is now the de facto face of the franchise. He still is a bit of a hothead and could stand to improve offensively, but is one of the better young centers in the league and the Bucks aren't going anywhere without him.

Zaza Pachulia was paid too much to be the backup to SANDERS!, but is as reliable as they come and could start for a lot of NBA teams. I know nothing about Miroslav Raduljica, other than he is large and white and his name is an annoyance to spell. As long as he's better than Joel Przybilla, I'll be satisfied.

Head Coach

"Why do you keep calling me Windu?"
Former Hawks coach Larry Drew replaces the hapless Jim Boylan, who himself was the mid-season replacement for Scott Skiles. I don't know a whole lot about Drew, but he's supposedly a players coach who has some skills on both sides of the ball but isn't much for in-game adjustments. He had success in Atlanta and seems to me like the right kind of guy for the Bucks' young roster, but I also thought Larry Krystkowiak would be a good coach and I was comically wrong.

Prediction time

10 bold predictions

1. LARRY SANDERS! will win the Defensive Player of the Year award
2. Ersan Ilyasova will shoot a career-high 48% from beyond the arc and participate in the three-point contest during All-Star weekend
3. Brandon Knight will lead the team in scoring (17-ish PPG)
4. SANDERS! will lead the league in technical fouls
5. Khris Middleton will start more games at small forward than Caron Butler
6. OJ Mayo will lead the team in assists
7. Ekpe Udoh will rebound a basketball at least once
8. Giannis will have a 5x5 game (at least 5 points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals)
9. John Henson will have at least two 20/20 games
10. The Bucks will trade for Steve Nash at the trade deadline because YOLO

Where they'll finish

The Bucks finished 8th in the East last year, but that said more about the bottom of the East than it did about the Bucks. This is an entirely new roster and it's impossible to tell how the pieces will fit. On the plus side, the Bucks probably have the deepest roster of competent players in the East, and SANDERS! is a difference-maker. On the down side, they have no real superstar, and a handful of teams that finished below them in the standings got a lot better in the offseason while the Celtics are the only team that finished above them to get markedly worse.

Predictions on the Bucks are all over the place. Bill Simmons has them as a playoff team with the possibility of reaching the 6th seed. Marc Stein has them at 26th in his power rankings and has them at 24th. I'm somewhere in the middle - I do think the Bucks are a better team talent-wise than they were last season, but I don't think it will show up in the standings. Here's how I see the East shaking out:

1. Miami Heat
2. Chicago Bulls
3. Brooklyn Nets
4. Indiana Pacers
5. New York Knicks
6. Detroit Pistons
7. Atlanta Hawks
8. Washington Wizards
9. Milwaukee Bucks
10. Cleveland Cavaliers
11. Toronto Raptors
12. Orlando Magic
13. Charlotte Bobcats
14. Boston Celtics
15. Philadelphia 76ers

40 wins is a realistic mid-point, and I could see them finishing anywhere between 7th and 12th. The depth is good enough to keep them from completely tanking, but the lack of front-end talent keeps their ceiling low. While continuing to wallow in mediocrity and chasing the #8 seed is no fun, the team should at least be fun to watch on a nightly basis, especially if Greece Lightning is involved. For better or worse, I'm along for the ride.

Until next time, Beers, Brats, and Championships.

- Jerry Eldred (@jheldred)

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