Even with a first-round exit the Bucks sent a very clear message to the rest of the NBA. That message is simply “Watch out.” This is a team that took the Raptors, a team that Milwaukee had only beaten once in the past 2 seasons, to 6 games. This is the same Bucks team that lost Khris Middleton for most of the year and was projected to finish near the bottom of the Eastern Conference because of that. When he did come back, the Bucks were met with more trouble. Jabari Parker tore his ACL again at a critical time in the season. There were questions about the roster, the coaching staff, and even some of the more prominent players.
So, how did the Bucks send their warning to the league?
Their resilience. I have never seen a more determined team in all my years of watching basketball. These young Bucks refused to fail. An NBA best 14-4 record in the month of March propelled Milwaukee into the playoff race. Whether it was Giannis dunking or Malcolm Brogdon delivering the dagger in Boston, the Bucks had an incredible run at the end of the season. Their great play didn’t stop there. With blowout wins in Games 1 and 3 of the playoffs, the Bucks showed flashes of greatness. In a couple of years, we could very well see this team competing with the top teams in the Eastern Conference.
The coming rise of the Bucks is something the rest of the NBA is dreading. An incredibly athletic team with long arms and stingy defense is a counter to the spread out offenses run by teams like Golden State. On the offensive side, the idea of a 6’11” player being a facilitator is a match-up nightmare. Once Giannis develops a consistent jump shot he will become unguardable. If Parker can rebound and combine with Khris Middleton, the core “MAP” could become a Big 3 that can beat a defense in every part of the game.
When discussing the future of the Bucks, you have to look at not only the core MAP, but the two rookies as well. Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon were two surprises this season. Brogdon is a candidate for Rookie of the Year while Maker made great strides in his game. He added some much needed weight and muscle, and became more comfortable at the NBA level. Thon throws a wrench into the defensive plans of opponents. At 7’1”, opponents have to put another big man on him. However, that defender needs to be able to play perimeter defense, because Thon has a reliable 3 point shot for a player at his height. Maker’s 3 point percentage rate is 37.8%, which is better than many guards.
Obviously, things need to fall into place for the Bucks to begin their ascension to the top of the NBA. This includes good drafting, going after free agents, and re-signing key players. Greg Monroe has a player option for the 2017-18 season. If he accepts it he will make $17.8M, and I don’t see another team offering him that. Monroe was great in the playoffs, averaging 13.2 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He has embraced his role coming off the bench. He provides a spark on the offensive side for an otherwise lackluster bench. Tony Snell has a team option which will earn him $3.4M. His 3 point shooting alone should earn him another year in the Cream City. In the playoffs Snell shot 51.6% from beyond the arc. The Bucks are projected to have up to $14.6 million in cap space according to Basketball Insiders. If this is the case, the team needs to focus on getting key players such as Snell and Monroe back.
As long as the better players from this team return, the Bucks will continue to improve. A healthy Jabari would bring another offensive weapon to compliment the duo of Giannis and Khris. The playoff experience the team has is invaluable. If the team can stay healthy next season, I have no doubts that they will win their first playoff series since 2001.
If the Bucks can get done what they need to get done, there is no stopping their rise. Once LeBron falls off, Giannis and the Bucks will take over the Eastern Conference. Milwaukee basketball is already on the upswing. Once the pieces fall into place, we won’t be talking about winning a playoff series. We could see ourselves talking about a title run.