2016-17 Milwaukee Bucks Season Preview: Did Someone Say Thon?

Jun 23, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Thon Maker puts on a team cap after being selected as the number ten overall pick to the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Milwaukee Bucks bounce back from last season’s failure?

Last season by the numbers

  • Record: 33-49 (12th East)
  • Offensive rating: 104.3 (26th)
  • Defensive rating: 108.7 (23rd)
  • Pace: 94.2 (23rd)
  • True shooting: 53.7 (17th)
  • Turnover rate: 14.2 (25th)
  • Offensive rebounding: 24.9 (11th)
  • Defensive rebounding: 73.1 (29th)
  • Giveashitameter: 26th.
  • Highest PER*: 21.8 (Greg Monroe)

(*) – minimum 1,000 minutes.

At a glance

(Converts the above rankings into a rating out of 10).

mil

Recap

Is there a Greg Monroe rule? Despite the solid numbers that he keeps putting up on paper (career PER of 20.0), losses just seem to find him. Following his move last season, the Pistons went from 32 to 44 wins, while the Bucks went from 41 to 33 wins – and the Central Division cellar. Here’s hoping it’s all just a coincidence.

Suffice to say, the Bucks were a massive disappointment last season. The best thing anyone could say about them was that they were average shooters, ranking 17th overall. They were also good on the offensive boards, ranking 11th. However, it probably would have been better if they had let some of these go and gotten back on defense.

On offense, Kidd wouldn’t let his troops shoot any threes – with the Bucks ranking dead last in makes and attempts. Given that the Bucks were 21st in three point accuracy at 34.5% (which equates to a true shooting percentage of 51.75%), it seemed like Kidd had a point. However, for all their extra two point attempts (ranked 1st), the Bucks were only able to rank 21st on accuracy and 18th on free throw attempts (15th on FGA/FTA).

So why wouldn’t Kidd loosen the grip a little on the threes?

The problem was that after Middleton (143 threes @ 39.6%) and Bayless (101 threes @ 43.7%), OJ Mayo was the Bucks’ next best outside shooter at 32.1%. While Kidd would have loved Middleton and Bayless to shoot more from outside, it simply wasn’t possible as opponents were able to zero in on them knowing that there were no alternatives to be worried about. Ironing in the problem was the fact that:

  • Middleton (usage rate of 23.0%) and Bayless (usage rate of 16.4%) weren’t the greatest at creating their own shots; and
  • there was nobody else around capable of facilitating more opportunities for them.

The Bucks also played at a surprisingly slow pace for a team sporting the likes of Antetokounmpo and Parker. Why?

The simple reason was the Bucks’ 25th ranked turnover rate – with the main culprit being Carter-Williams (ranked 73rd out of 77 point guards on turnovers). The rest of the team weren’t much better either. Needless to say, if your team was this hopeless in taking care of the ball, you’d be slowing the pace down too. All up, the slow pace resulted in less fast break opportunities – something which should have been a strength for the Bucks.

Without a proper outside threat, enough fast breaks or anyone earning free throws inside, the Bucks were forced to settle for too many mid range shots – the least efficient shot in basketball. If it wasn’t for Bayless and Middleton’s threes, the story would have been considerably worse.

The defense was only marginally better, ranking 23rd overall. Converse to their own offensive strategy, the Bucks allowed opponents to fire away at will from outside – ranking 27th and 25th on attempts and makes allowed respectively, while allowing an accuracy of 35.1% (15th).

All the allowed threes predictably limited opponents’ two point attempts (2nd). However, the Bucks nonetheless allowed a two point percentage of 50.2% (21st) and an almost criminal amount of free throw attempts (20th) – made all the worse  in light of their slow pace (23rd in FTA/FGA allowed).

The Bucks’ interior defensive woes largely stemmed from the fact that Monroe and Parker were below average defenders, while Henson – a good shot blocker – was susceptible to getting bullied on the post. All of which probably explains why the Bucks opted for the lesser evil of allowing opponents to shoot more from the outside.

Reasons to be optimistic

Any team with the Greek Freak, Jabari and THON! on board has loads of promise.

Thon had a great summer league and could be ready to contribute sooner than expected. He also made a solid comeback in the Bucks’ pre-season game against Dallas – scoring 9 points, grabbing 4 boards and blocking a shot in 21 minutes.

Parker looked like he figured some things out in the second half of last season and could be ready to reach the next level, particularly as a scorer.

The Bucks are reasonably deep: Giannis, Jabari, Middleton, Henson, Monroe, Carter-Williams, Dellavedova and Teletovic – plus whatever they can get out of Maker, Miles Plumlee and Beasley (don’t laugh too hard, he posted a PER of 22.6 in his 20 games for the Rockets last season). If either or both Giannis and Jabari make a leap this season, they will be perfectly geared to make an impact.

Reasons not to be

When it’s 2016 and Jason Kidd is your best point guard, you’ve got a problem. The Bucks turned one mediocre point guard with limited potential (Knight) into another (Carter-Williams) and the search goes on for a real point guard. Word has it that Kidd wants to use Giannis here. Common sense says Dellavedova is the better choice, particularly as they need his defense and as it will allow Giannis to be better utilised elsewhere.

Oh yeah, Khris Middleton tore the shit out of his hamstring and will miss six months.

Where is the outside shooting going to come from? Three pointers aren’t just a passing fad: they are one of the most efficient ways to score and a critical element of any elite or above-average offense. While Teletovic is very good from the outside, he won’t make up for the loss of Middleton and his defense leaves a lot to be desired.

There is nothing to suggest that the Bucks will be any better on defense this season, particularly as the front court of Monroe, Parker and Henson hasn’t changed. They’ll really need to pray for a Thon miracle.

Major Ins 

Thon Maker, Matthew Dellevedova, Mirza Teletovic, Michael Beasley.

Major Outs

None.

The Dunkyard’s recommended ‘death’ lineup

  • Dellavedova
  • Antetekounmpo
  • Teletovic
  • Parker
  • Henson

Dave’s lowdown

The injury to Middleton has done little to quell my excitement for the Bucks season. Parker has a full season under his belt after his rookie year ACL injury, and if Antetokounmpo ends up hitting more 3’s than he has vowels in his name I expect both to be pushing for All-Star selection. Dellevedova, Maker and Beasley form an intriguing second unit while perennial trade chips Carter-Williams and Monroe could be cashed in at any moment.

Ironically, Milwaukee has one of the best 3-point shooters of all time on the roster in Steve Novak. Unfortunately he’s about as useful as a cock-flavoured lollipop anywhere else on the court and shouldn’t see any change to his role as the human victory cigar.

Forecast record: 35-47

The organic growth of Antetokounmpo and Parker should see a few extra wins, but last season’s problems still remain.

Unless and until the Bucks find some threes and some real interior defending, expect more of the same.