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The Milwaukee Bucks Have Decisions To Make

The Milwaukee Bucks have decisions to make this off-season, as they look to build on their young and athletic core of Antetokounmpo, Parker, and Middleton.

This was supposed to be a year of growth for the Milwaukee Bucks, a young team that made a surprising run to the playoffs last year. First year head Ccach Jason Kidd was able to take a young roster, filled with athletes but devoid of shooting, to a .500 record and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2009-2010 season. They had no expectations and seemed to flourish in the underdog role. Giannis Antetokounmpo started to come into his own as an NBA player, Zaza Pachulia held down the fort at center, Khris Middleton had a breakout season in a contract year, and Micheal Carter-Williams played suffocating defense at point guard after being acquired at the trade deadline. Milwaukee finished sixth in the East, which isn’t saying too much as the Eastern Conference was historically weak. But it was still something, a glimpse of hope that hadn’t been seen since the days of Andrew Bogut.

Once there the Bucks fought hard, and played very well, taking the Chicago Bulls to six games. But the Bulls had something that the young kids from Milwaukee simply did not. Experience and a go-to scorer in Jimmy Butler. So the front office was given a great seat to see what issues they had to address in the off season.

They were able to sign big time free agent Greg Monroe, parting ways with Pachulia, and got the 2014 second overall pick Jabari Parker back from a torn ligament in his knee, which he had sustained early in the previous season. Parker is an explosive scorer, a great athlete and cutter who does well on the glass and a good handle for a power forward, but doesn’t bring the necessary shooting needed.

Monroe is a load down low, with great footwork and every post move in the book. He is a go-to scorer the Bucks can throw the ball to when they need a bucket. He is also an excellent passer, playing right into the hands of Kidd’s system, where the center plays at the high post whipping the ball down to the low block and from side to side. However he struggles mightily with his jumpshot and is a liability on defence. Many people feared he was a square peg being put in a round hole. Still these were theoretically great additions to a roster attempting to take the next step.

We are now in April, and Milwaukee is sitting at twelfth in a much improved Eastern Conference with a disappointing record of 31-44. With no hope in making the playoffs, it would seem the Bucks have taken two steps back in their development, but there have been a number of victories for Milwaukee to go along with the obvious growing pains.

While they added proven scorer Monroe and an exceptional talent in Parker, they also lost Jared Dudley and Ersan Ilyasova, who while not the natural scorers of Parker or Monroe, did offer something that the Bucks desperately need. Shooting. This season Milwaukee is dead last in three pointers attempted and 29th in three pointers made. In an age of guards and long range shooting, it is crippling to have such a deficiency. No doubt this lack of shooting has added to the 25th ranked offense. It also hurts Milwaukee’s best scorers. Monroe, Parker and Antetokounmpo all want to get to the rim, and they’re very good at it. The lack of space to operate down low hurts their production. Khris Middleton is having another exceptional year and is the team’s leading scorer, but he is the only true shooter on the roster. Having the ball in his hands lets opponents sag off of every other player on the court. The threat of Middleton spotting up is essential for Parker, Antetokounmpo and Monroe to keep scoring, but his off ball gravity alone is not enough.

Michael Carter-Williams is having another questionable season. On the defensive end he is elite, and can lock down any guard in the league. It’s his offense that hurt the Bucks so much. Averaging 11 points per game, 5 assists and 5 rebounds, it would seem that Carter-Williams is a very serviceable starting point guard, and with his incredible defensive ability it would reasonable to asume that he is the obvious choice going forward. No doubt it was this potential upside that made the Bucks trade for the former ROY. However when taking a closer look at Williams, his game seems to unravel. His offensive numbers are a mirage, nothing more, and not a very good one. Rub your eyes and you can see that much clearer. While he does well at the rim, anything other than a layup for the Syracuse product and its more than likely going to be a brick. When he has the ball in his hands the defense takes 2 or 3 steps back, daring him to shoot. When he’s off the ball defenses act as if he isn’t even there.

Essentially when comparing the raw numbers, Carter-Williams is a shorter, less dynamic version of Giannis Antetokounmpo. In fact since Carter-Williams went down with a torn labrum in February and required surgery, Giannis has stepped into that point guard role, and boy has it worked. Since taking the reins as the lead ball handler, the Greek Freak has averaged 19.6 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists per game in the last fifteen contests. He’s been locking down the opposing teams’ best perimeter players, being able to switch seamlessly between Middleton and Parker, as well as running the offense to perfection; it seems as if Jason Kidd has stumbled onto his point guard of the future out of dumb luck. It would be wise to cut ties with Carter-Williams and move on.

What does Giannis and Middleton’s rise, and Carter-Williams’ lack of improvement, mean for the Bucks going forward? It should be a relatively busy off season in Milwaukee. They have a number of options and some good contracts. First they need to address their lack of shooting.

Combo guards O.J. Mayo and Jared Bayless don’t seem to fit into Milwaukee’s timeline of young talent and aren’t the caliber of player a championship team needs. Mayo in particular is a difficult personality to handle, and is a streaky shooter at best. It may be worth it to just let him walk at the end of this season when he becomes a free agent. Bayless is also an unrestricted free agent, but he is considerably cheaper than Mayo and a much more reliable shooter. His experience is needed on such a young team, so to extend to him an offer would be wise. The problem is that the boost in the salary cap that will arrive next season makes his value completely unpredictable, but he is currently being paid 3 million so to offer a 2-year, $8.5 million dollar deal to a soon-to-be 28 year old who fills a need would be logical. An option is to dangle some money in front of Orlando’s Evan Fournier. He is an excellent shooter (40%) with great size (6’7) that can also handle the ball. Fournier could immediately enter the Bucks starting rotation and be effective. He has a lot of value, so prying him away from Orlando may prove difficult but they seem set on moving forward with Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton in the backcourt. Offering Fournier enough money and guaranteeing him a starting role could do the trick. Be assured Orlando will not be the only team looking to sign the French guard.

The Bucks could also look to upgrade their shooting through the draft, and if the season ended today, they would hold the ninth overall pick. Buddy Hield or Jamal Murray could fall right into their laps, and if that is the case they add not just good, but great shooting right away. Still a teenager, Murray is a little undersized as a shooting guard, but he played point in high school and should be seen as a combo guard. Giannis can guard the other team’s best guard, a rather simple solution to hide Murray’s lack of athleticism on the defensive end. Hield provides much more size and is just as good of a shooter. While significantly older than Murray, Hield can come into the league and contribute right away. If I am Milwaukee’s GM (John Hammonds) I would certainly look to sign Fournier first and foremost, but Hield or Murray would be a pretty amazing consolation prize.

The second issue the Bucks need to seriously consider is the future of Greg Monroe. Remember that square peg round hole thing? Well Monroe is more like an orange trying to pass as car. He just doesn’t make sense in this roster and has been asked to be something he’s not. The lack of spacing hurts his ability to get one on one post ups, being easily double teamed. What is more alarming is his complete lack of awareness on the defensive end. Going from eighth to fifteenth in defense this year, the Bucks slippage on that end of the floor is startling. While it cannot all be correlated to Monroe, he is certainly a factor. Under contract for another year, with a player option in 2018, Monroe is being paid $17 million a year. Meanwhile out of the 3 centers that Milwaukee plays, Greg Monroe, John Henson and Miles Plumlee, Monroe easily has the worst +/-, simply because his considerable offensive ability doesn’t compensate for his struggles on defense, especially on a team where he can’t get the space to operate. It is not Monroe’s fault by any means, but Henson and Plumlee are such good athletes and capable defenders that it seems logical to give them more of Monroe’s minutes. He does hold value, and with the salary cap boost he could be well coveted by teams desperate for a starting center. Mind you this is all speculation as to whether Milwaukee feels confident that Henson can start and that Plumlee can give you good minutes off the bench (I think both are more than capable at filling these roles).

Last but certainly not least is the other forward position. Aside from Parker, the Bucks don’t seem to play a recognizable power forward, allowing both Middleton and Antetokounmpo to take these roles in stride. However as much as Parker tries to compete on the glass, he is very undersized, and this adds to Milwaukee’s atrocious rebounding numbers. They are ranked 27th in the league, no doubt attributing to the significant drop on the defensive end this year. No matter how good a defensive possession is, if you cannot end it with a defensive rebound, it is seen as a failure. This is the only case for Monroe staying, as he is a better rebounder than both Plumlee and Henson, but the lack of presence on the glass could be solved with acquiring a new power forward.

Signing Al Horford would be a coup of epic proportions, as the Atlanta big man is a true all-star, a veteran with good years left that can stretch the floor and is an amazing defender. John Hammonds can dream, but it is unlikely to happen. The perfect fit would be a guy like Ryan Anderson. The 6’10, 240 lbs, Anderson is a contender for sixth man of the year (he is a long shot but who knows) and can really stroke it from deep. He throws his body around on the glass and would be an instant impact guy for Milwaukee. Unfortunately they would not be the only team looking at the California big man, and it would be a tight race. Donatas Motiejunas is another viable option to come off the bench behind Parker. A good shooter and passer, Moteijunas can score in spurts and post up. The problem is he can’t rebound even though he is a 7-footer, and he has documented back problems. Marreese Speights, who has a good jumper and is not the worst rebounder, would definitely improve the struggling offense and is a spark plug in Golden State.

This is a situation where they should be warry of filling this need through the draft. While Domantas Sabonis, Ivan Rabb, Brice Johnson, Henry Ellenson and others could fill the void, to draft another player that would compete with Parker would be counter intuitive, and may diminish his will to re-sign with Milwaukee once his contract is up.

Hammonds must remember that these changes could take place this summer, but Milwaukee is built for being successful four or five years down the road, with Parker, Antetokounmpo, and Middleton all under the age of 24. Even though this year has been somewhat of a disappointment in terms of wins and losses, the Bucks should view it as a learning process, a necessary step back to analyze their weaknesses and address them. They have options in the draft, a strong free agent market with multiple players that could help them in the short and long term as well as some redundant players who were proven to be expendable this season. The future is bright in Milwaukee, just give them some time.


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