Coming into the season the Bucks are expected to crack into the upper 40’s in wins, a lofty goal this franchise hasn’t seen in over a decade. Led by the burgeoning star Giannis Antetokounmpo who will be flanked by sharpshooter Khris Middleton and rookie standouts Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks seem poised for a breakout. Various outlets have penciled the Bucks into a top four seed in the east and expect them to take a large step forward, but what if they don’t? What could cause this youth laden squad to stall out?
There are a handful of reasons they could stall out, some that don’t require much effort or explanation. For example: a sharknado could destroy the Bradley center and the team could become homeless. On a similar notion an injury to Khris or Giannis resulting in a month of missed time or more would cause them to fall short of any expected win total, but that isn’t something we can predict. I’m certain someone out there believes Giannis’s last season was a fluke and that without a jumper he can’t be a super star. The Bucks could have a bad season as a result of any of the aforementioned things in theory, but they aren’t realistic enough to be discussing.
A more likely reason? Brogdon is what he was last season. Brogdon entered last season as a 23 year old rookie who would turn 24 in December, and while rookies almost always get better rookies are rarely that old. There is a chance that what he was last season is remarkably close to his ceiling, there will always be small improvements, but for a limited athlete without a flawless three point stroke his upside is limited. The Bucks need strong point guard play to contend and win a playoff series, every great team has one.
Thon Maker could find himself in a similar boat if he doesn’t progress this season. His summer league showing was everything but inspiring and showed how far he still has to go as an NBA player. He looked great in the playoffs, but the Raptors didn’t get the ball to Valanciunas much at all to even try and exploit that matchup. He still looks rail thin and he might just have a metabolism that makes putting on weight difficult. The shot looked good last season, but we have seen a very small sample so far and if that falls off his NBA value is a few tiers lower. He only averaged 4 points a game last season, far from a clear cut NBA starter, he lacked the hands and finishing ability to really excel as a cutter.
Tony Snell is another guy who set a bar for himself and ended up earning a big contract for it. If he disappoints now that he is in a non-contract year, the contract could make the Bucks regret offering him the extension. His shooting was inconsistent in Chicago and part of that could be maturing, but it could also be luck. Snell will provide fairly consistent defense, but if he becomes the type of black hole on offense that teams sink off of, it could negatively affect the rest of the starters. He will be counted on for big minutes this season until Jabari comes back, the Bucks desperately need a guy to fill in minutes at the swingman positions.
Giannis and Khris are both great NBA players, but if neither takes another step forward this season, the Bucks might find themselves lacking in end of game situations and their offense could experience prolonged cold stretches. Beasley’s instant offense could have helped the team in those instances, so his absence could impact this team. Another duo that could hurt this team this season are last season’s big signings Dellavedova & Teletovic, the sharpshooters looked like anything but last season. Telly was in and out of the rotation and Delly lost his starting spot, if they don’t play a bit better this season their contracts will look like albatrosses. The Bucks as a whole need to make sure they get bench production, because Monroe cannot be the only quality bench player this year.
I guess it stands to mention that Jason Kidd exists and there are plenty of reasons to question if he is a coach that can win 45-50 games in Milwaukee with the systems he runs. If the Bucks disappoint look for him to get a lot of the blame. His defense and offense have been dated and we will see if he evolves and survives this season. He will be a scapegoat for losing if it comes in spades look for the Kidd think pieces to come crawling out of the woodwork.
The Bucks are not a veteran laden team that has few variables, they are young and a lot of the guys on the team have room to go up, but also a bit of room to regress. Even their vets have been guys who have historically have ups and downs in their careers. The Bucks are probably solidly a playoff team in the East, but them getting better is far from a guarantee. The things outlined above are worst case scenarios for individual players, in reality some players hit their best, and some hit their worst, most are somewhere in the middle. Last year Giannis hit his best and the Bucks over achieved their predicted win loss record. This year they might need a few more people to hit their best case scenario to win fifty games.