Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Milwaukee Bucks Intangibles Become Tangible (Pt. 2)

The Milwaukee Bucks are a team on the rise.  In Part 1, the changes and development of the franchise as a whole were explored.  Here, a closer look will be taken at the three core players that will carry the team forwards. Without a doubt, much of the Bucks’ future success will depend on the continued development of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jabari Parker.  In order for this team to keep taking steps towards a championship, these are the players that will need to propel Milwaukee to victories. It is necessary for the franchise that this young core turns the Milwaukee Bucks intangibles into on-court success.

Digging into Antetokounmpo’s numbers a bit, this season appeared to be symbolic of a player on the cusp of greatness.  During the ‘13-14 campaign, Antetokounmpo scored 525 total points on 41.4% shooting.  This year, those numbers ballooned to 1,030 points on 49.1% shooting.  A jump of almost 8% while practically doubling the total points scored is a near-unprecedented leap.  Need proof?  From Kobe Bryant’s rookie year to his second, his scoring took a similar jump (from 539 points to 1,220), but his shooting percentage only rose 1.1% (41.7% to 42.8%).  LeBron James scored a ton more points as a rookie and 2nd year player than either Giannis or Kobe, but even his rise in efficiency did not match that of Giannis.  LeBron scored 1,654 points on 41.7% shooting as a rookie, and 2,175 points on 47.2% shooting.  At this point, it is ridiculous to compare Giannis to either of those guys, but the comparison does put his statistical leap in historical context.  (Also, in full disclosure, Kobe has an August birthday, so he was a few months younger than Giannis or LeBron –  both of whom have December birthdays – during his rookie and 2nd-year seasons.)

Also a highlight for the Bucks this season was the steady improvement of analytics darling Khris Middleton.  In terms of Real Plus/Minus – which is an ESPN-generated statistic that attempts to measure the scoring differential between a team and their opponent while a specific player is on the court – Middleton ranked ninth in the entire league with a score of 6.38.  That placed him just behind Russell Westbrook (whose score was 7.07), Draymond Green (6.70), and just ahead of DeMarcus Cousins (6.14).  It would be foolish to automatically translate that into saying Middleton is a top-ten player, but it shows how much value a well-rounded player like Middleton can add to a team.  Years ago, Middleton would have been seen as a “tweener” with no true position (that label probably had something to do with him slipping into the second round of the 2012 draft).  Middleton’s game, however, is perfectly suited for today’s more position-less game.  He’s 6’7”, 215 lbs.  He’s a great defender who can guard bigger point guards, shooting guards, small forwards, as well as some power forwards.  Additionally, the icing on the Khris Middleton cake is that he shoots three-pointers at a clip north of 40%.  Middleton is a restricted free agent this off-season, so he will see a huge raise from his paltry salary of $915,243; he could even get an offer at or near a max-level contract which would put his salary at around $18-20 million per season, but the Bucks have the right to match any offer, so he’s in Milwaukee to stay if the Bucks want him to be … and they should want him to be.

At this point, Antetokounmpo and Middleton’s production should continue to at least stay consistent, if not improve, Jabari Parker still remains a bit of an unknown.  Going into his rookie season, he was considered to be a leading candidate to win Rookie of Year.  But the number two overall pick tore his ACL twenty-five games in and never really got going.  He was showing signs of adjusting to the NBA game, though.  Before the game in which he was injured, he had scored in double-digits and shot over 50% in four straight games.  Parker’s numbers during games in which he played do not exactly leap off the page, but as his comfort level rose, so to did Kidd’s trust in him.  Even though he’s coming off an injury, Parker will go into next season with through-the-roof individual projections.  Should he meet, or exceed them, it would be huge for the Bucks young core.

While some teams in the league are busy either trying to compete against once-in-a-generation players like LeBron James and Chris Paul or once-in-a-generation teams like the San Antonio Spurs, others are going the other way and consciously putting a less-than-stellar product on the court to maximize draft position.  Milwaukee is in neither of those camps; they know they’re not a serious championship contender right now, nor do they think they belong in the draft lottery anymore.  However, with their core of Antetokounmpo, Parker, and (presumably) Middleton, it is not impossible to see the Bucks being atop the Eastern Conference in a couple years.  Next year the team will sport a brand new image as well as new expectations the size of Lake Michigan.  So while Milwaukee holds its collective breath waiting for the new area to secure the team’s long-term future in Wisconsin, the team’s outlook going forward looks to be very intriguing.  The rest of the NBA should have a healthy fear of the deer, because they should not be catching anybody by surprise anymore.


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