The Milwaukee Bucks have spent the past few years in “Own the Future” mode, an organizational slogan derived from the team’s bright outlook. It is also an attempt to glorify a rebuilding process.
Next week’s season opener presents a chance to shed this mindset for one that reflects a dynamic young core looking to make an impact in the present.
REVIEW OF 2015-16
Last year presented a mixed bag for the Bucks.
There was the letdown of missing the playoffs while watching their win total drop by eight games. They also discovered some remarkable potential, though, as Giannis Antetokoumpo and Jabari Parker made noticeable strides in their paths to NBA stardom.
Naturally, there is no shortage of anticipation for the upcoming season.
The recent loss of starting shooting guard Khris Middleton, who led the team with 18.2 points per game last year and will miss the next five to six months with a left hamstring injury, places a heavy burden on Parker and Antetokounmpo offensively.
Parker figures to emerge as Milwaukee’s leading scorer, which might have been the case even if Middleton were healthy. The third-year forward has displayed increased aggression on the offensive end this preseason. With an ever-expanding role as the team’s preeminent post scorer, a scoring average in the early-20’s is a reasonable expectation.
Antetokounmpo, who is looking to build off of a season in which he averaged 16.9 points per game, will follow close behind in carrying the scoring load.
THE OFFSEASON THAT WAS
Offseason acquisitions should help ease this burden somewhat, particularly by providing the Bucks with outside scoring threats. All three of their free-agent signings, Matthew Dellavedova, Jason Terry and Mirza Teletovic, are highly-regarded for their capabilities behind the three-point arc.
Perhaps the most impactful move of the past few months, though, was sending Michael Carter-Williams to Chicago in exchange for swingman Tony Snell.
Snell, a reliable on-ball defender that has shot 35.1 percent from long-range through his three years in the NBA, is the probable candidate to fill Middleton’s starting role until he returns.
Snell’s arrival will likely cut into the playing time of rookie guard Malcolm Brogdon, but still expect the Virginia product to make his presence felt. Brogdon is coming off a senior season in which he claimed both ACC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year honors, and should be an immediate asset off the bench.
Fellow first-round pick Thon Maker will see limited floor time this year, as the 19-year-old adjusts to a significantly higher level of competition than he faced in his native Australia.
Key Question: Who will step up as the team’s No. 3 scoring option?
Greg Monroe held this title last year, but trade rumors generate uncertainty as to how large his role will be going forward. If he does end up logging significant minutes — especially in a sixth-man role, where he can exploit backup frontcourts — Monroe could prove to be one of the most reliable scorers on the roster.
Free-agent acquisition Mirza Teletovic is another intriguing option, who will be leaned on to provide Milwaukee with an outside threat from the post. Teletovic averaged 12.2 points in 21.3 minutes per game last season for the Phoenix Suns, a career-best for the 31-year-old.
Aside from these two, journeyman Michael Beasley is the only player left on the roster that averaged more than 10 points per game last season. Beasley should not be the team’s No. 3 scoring option, and if he is, it is going to be a long season for the Bucks.
While fans may not want to hear it, this season is all about growth for a young Milwaukee core. There is an opportunity for immediate results, though, most of which will stem from opponent’s struggling to decipher an offense led by a 6-foot-11 forward with point guard handles — and a floor general’s workload — in Antetokounmpo.
As witnessed by Antetokounmpo’s increased responsibilities running the offense down the stretch of last season, the Bucks are looking to employ a dynamic style of play unlike any in the NBA. If a reliable third option emerges alongside Parker and Antetokounmpo, preferably in the backcourt, this team could be dangerous.
In a best-case scenario, the Indiana Pacers falter in Nate McMillan’s first season, the Detroit Pistons regress, and the Bucks take advantage of possible discontinuity among a new-look Chicago Bulls roster, somehow resulting in a second-place finish in the Central Division and a No. 6 playoff seed in the East.
For all the excitement head coach Jason Kidd has stirred up by tasking Antetokounmpo with facilitating the offense, the decision draws legitimate concerns. Milwaukee’s success in this endeavor will hinge on Antetokounmpo’s ability to protect the basketball, currently one of the weaker points of his game. The end of last season brought this shortcoming to the forefront, as he committed at least three turnovers in each of the final seven games, and averaged four per game during this span.
Another issue that could surface is a sizable drop-off in production created by Middleton’s momentary departure. The recent acquisition of Snell will provide support at the shooting guard position, but it is not an immediate antidote to the team losing its best two-way perimeter player.
If these issues linger into mid-December, the Bucks could be well on their way to drafting in the top-10 for the third time in the past four years.