This is part of an ongoing piece examining the Bucks core for Part 1 Here
Every team needs good starters and strong players off the bench. Take last years Championship team for example: Curry, Thompson, and Green were the star players, but they do not win the title without guys like Barnes, Speights, Iguodala, and Bogut supplementing their big three. In all likelihood if the Bucks become a perennial contender a third person will assert themselves and they will have their guys who are good starters. This piece will examine the guys who currently reside in the good starter role and strong bench player. I have chosen to not include O.J. Mayo, because his contract expires this year and if the Bucks are on a title path, Mayo will likely not be here when that happens.
Greg Monroe: Monroe is the only guy on this list that can leave after next year. His 3 year 50 million dollar deal includes an opt out clause after year two. He is also the most established player on this list in his sixth NBA season and career averages of 14 points and 9 rebounds. Monroe can be an anchor on offense, he is able to facilitate from the low or high post and can score double digits efficiently out of the post. That said Monroe has his faults, he is a bit slow even for a center and he can not block shots. Monroe has been a plus defender as a center in his career though, with his on-off court splits having the Pistons defense as better with him manning the pivot. There are two things that stop Monroe from being considered in the same tier as Jabari and Giannis: One his defense and two the contract uncertainty. If Monroe plays just a bit better than his Piston days on defense and keeps up similar offensive production he will opt out seeking a max contract in the range of approximately 5/160 from the Bucks or 4/120 elsewhere. The Bucks can afford it, but it makes it tough to keep other pieces, the only way he doesn’t opt out is if he is seriously injured in year 2 or under performing expectations. He has vocalized a desire to go where he can win so the hope is that winning will lower his price tag enough for the Bucks to retain him. What to look for this year: Look for Monroe’s defense, our system does not require an athletic rim protector, but it does require proper positioning. Also just watch his passing, because it is beautiful.
John Henson: Henson is fresh off an extension, unfortunately after playing 10 minutes in the season opener he strained his achilles and is out indefinitely. He is likely nearing a return and it will be interesting to see how he aids the second unit. Henson’s role last year changed from post-up big man to dedicated roll man, as a result he saw a spike in his efficiency. He was also the leader in blocks per minute. On-off splits have never been kind to Henson showing him as a net negative every year in his career. Henson had a few break out games in the playoffs that helped raise his value, but his extension also provides coverage if Monroe were to opt out. Henson has been a terrific ambassador for the team, going as far to give out fans waiting for playoff tickets burritos. What to look for this year: Look for Henson to finally be appreciated by metrics, he represents a defensive upgrade over Plumlee.
Khris Middleton: Khris is fresh off signing a 5 year 70 million dollar contract. He understands defensive positioning very well, especially team defense. He is not a lock down one on one defender, but he can slow his guys and is good at getting into passing lanes. Khris is a terrific offensive player, he is a lights out shooter at over 40% for his career and is a willing passer. He takes too many long twos for my liking, but he can get his shot almost whenever he wants off screens. What to look for this year: The main knocks on Khris are that he is not a Kawhi Leonard or Tony Allen type of lock down defender. He is also a poor ball handler for a shooting guard, if he could show more abilities to create out of the pick and roll his value would skyrocket.
Michael Carter-Williams: MCW is starting his first full year here in Milwaukee, he is one of the most divisive players on the Bucks. Some love him and others hate him. He has the tools to be a great player, but he does not seem to have the skills yet. In early action this year, I think his defense has taken a step forward. In Philly he had problems where he would gamble for steals and be out of position to recover, now he is applying pressure while maintaining good position. He has also shown that he does not need to be a shoot first guy, but the jury is still out on that. He will be eligible for an extension this summer, but smart money is on the Bucks waiting it out until he hits restricted free agency either way the Bucks control his foreseeable future. What to look for this year: Look for Mike to maintain his defensive improvements and play better team defense. His biggest knock is his shooting, so far he has shot less and only improved his shot selection tremendously. If he can raise his assists per game and lower his turnovers he can really take a step forward as a player.
The Bucks are counting on contributions from all of these players especially if they are looking to make noise in the playoffs. Every team that wins a playoff series has good starters and at least one guy they can count on off the bench. If one of these guys can take a big step forward and become an all-star caliber player, all the better, but they need to focus on being good two way players first. The adjustments these four make this year will be key to determining the Bucks playoff seeding. The first step is getting them all healthy and on the court at the same time.