Hard times have recently struck the Milwaukee Bucks in a way that drastically affects their fortunes for the upcoming year. Just over two weeks ago, starting shooting guard Khris Middleton tore his right hamstring and is expected to be out for approximately six months, with a hopeful return in late March. However, not all is lost for the Bucks this year. In this preview, I will be looking at how the Bucks can recover and where they will end up in the upcoming year.
Roster Breakdown: Starting Lineup
PG: Matthew Dellavedova (4th season)
This is something I have gone back and forth on in the weeks leading up to the start of training camp: who will start at point guard for the Milwaukee Bucks? After some thought, I have gone with Dellavedova as they just signed him this offseason to a fairly sizable contract. In addition, Michael Carter-Williams is coming off surgery last March for a torn labrum in his left hip, which at the time left his Bucks future in question. The Dellavedova pick at the point seems ever more likely as he is the better shooter between himself and MCW and can help make up the loss of Khris Middleton.
Intriguing Matchups: Kyrie Irving, Cavaliers; Stephen Curry, Warriors; John Wall, Wizards
SG: Jason Terry (18th season)
Well, this position got a bit of a wrinkle. While there are many individuals who will contend for this spot in Khris Middleton’s absence, I’ve gone with the veteran Terry. While he didn’t find the stroke from behind the line he is accustomed to last year (35.6%,) it was the first year since 2003-04 that he shot below 36% from three. In addition, Terry brings important veteran leadership and playoff experience (all but one season since 2005) to a young team like Milwaukee. This will help him in beating out young talent such as Rashad Vaughn and rookie Malcolm Brogdon for this spot.
Intriguing Matchups: Dwyane Wade, Bulls; DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
SF: Giannis Antetokoumnpo (4th season)
One thing to make clear right away: this starting lineup prediction is based on defensive rather than offensive positions, thus the reason that Giannis is at small forward instead of point guard. With that being said, the Greek Freak is one of the most exciting young players in the entire NBA. Off a strong second half of 2015-16 and a 4 year, $100 million contract extension, he looks to lead the Bucks into 2016-17 and for years to come as the (current) face of the franchise.
Intriguing Matchups: LeBron James, Cavaliers; Kevin Durant, Warriors; Andrew Wiggins, Timberwolves
PF: Jabari Parker (3rd season)
Another of the Buck’s young studs, Jabari Parker finds his way back into his familiar power forward spot from last season. Yes, this does mean that Greg Monroe, who will make over $17 million this year, will be relegated to the bench. However, the Bucks would fare well having the majority of their best five on the floor at the start of games, and this lineup configuration allows them to do just that. While he has not necessarily been the same player from early in his rookie year since the injury, another season in the starting lineup will likely only do good things for Parker for his development moving forward.
Intriguing Matchups: Myles Turner, Pacers; Kristaps Porzingis, Knicks; Kevin Love, Cavaliers
C: Miles Plumlee (6th season)
Announced by Jason Kidd at Bucks Media Day, Miles Plumlee will start at center for the Bucks to begin the year. Off a fresh new contract of his own (4 years and 52 million dollars,) Plumlee has become a fan favorite since he was acquired from Phoenix in the MCW trade. Now, he will be rewarded for his stellar play off the bench at times last year, albeit in limited action, with a starting job in the middle for Milwaukee this season.
Intriguing Matchups: Andre Drummond, Pistons; Brook Lopez, Nets; Hasaan Whiteside, Heat
Key Guard Reserve: Michael Carter-Williams (5th season)
Injuries can be the ultimate motivation in some cases, and Bucks fans can only hope that will be the case with MCW. As mentioned before, he is coming off of major surgery last spring and will be looking to prove what he can do in what hopefully ends up being the first full season of his career, the last three cut short by injuries. A lengthy guard who can help guard both point and shooting guards, MCW may just be a solid jump shot away from returning to his Rookie of the Year form.
Key Frontcourt Reserve: Thon Maker (1st season)
Though he missed the first preseason game of the year with a wrist injury, Thon Maker may still be asked to play an important part off the Bucks’ bench. A rookie with raw skills, yet incredibly high potential, Milwaukee took a chance on Maker with pick #10 in this year’s draft. A high-risk/high-reward player, Thon will be looking to prove his critics, whether in Milwaukee or otherwise, wrong and show that he was worth taking a chance on.
While some fans and analysts around the league may not see the Bucks as that much of a threat in the East, there are two things the Bucks have going for them: plenty of youth and solid depth. One of the three youngest teams in the league, the Bucks have players that can blow by guys and tire them out. On the other hand, they have multiple solid players at more than one position. Take Delly and MCW at point, or Miles Plumlee and John Henson at center. While the team may not blow others out of the water with star power, they could surprise.
The loss of Middleton hurts bad, that is hard to deny. The Bucks main threat from beyond the arc (.396 3PT% last season,) his production will be hard to replace. This also leaves the Bucks with a difficult predicament at the two guard, with rookie Malcolm Brogdon and second-year man Rashad Vaughn, along with Jason Terry, as the only true shooting guards left on the roster.
Now, am I saying that the Bucks will be a top 5 or top 6 team in the East this season? No. However, similar to the Orlando Magic, you never know what could happen in the Eastern Conference. If all the cards fall into place, and maybe with an early Middleton return, we could see the Bucks playing come late April. For now, though, they appear to be on the outside looking in.
Projected conference finish: 10th/11th
Projected division finish: 5th
High wins: 39
Low wins: 32