Many thought the Milwaukee Bucks were going to take the next step this season. Their young core was still intact, Jabari Parker was coming back from injury and they added Greg Monroe, who seemed like just what Milwaukee needed to add to its frontcourt: a good rebounder and scorer at the center position. The expectation was for the team to build on its success from last season and establish itself as a strong force in the Eastern Conference. Instead, the Bucks are 7-12, ahead of only the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers in the conference standings.
So what’s the reason for the slow start? The big roster move they made with Monroe hasn’t turned the Bucks into the force they wanted to be when they signed him to a three-year, $50 million deal, but even so, he’s been relatively effective. According to Basketball-Reference, he leads the team in PER, total rebound percentage and win shares. If there’s a fundamental problem with the Bucks, it wouldn’t be fair to pin the majority of the blame on Monroe.
The biggest fault lies in Milwaukee’s decline on defense. Last season, the Bucks were fourth in defensive rating, but they’re a putrid 29th this year. It’d be easy to point to Monroe as a big problem there, but while he’s no defensive savant, the defense has actually been worse with him on the bench.
Of course, it must be noted that going from Zaza Pachulia to Monroe was a downgrade on that end, and the loss of Jared Dudley has hurt as well. In addition, those still on the roster have been playing worse defense than they were last season. Defensive box plus/minus is down across the board, and the oppressive perimeter defense of yesteryear has looked a lot less fervent recently.
Michael Carter-Williams, in particular, has seen a significant drop in his play on both ends of the floor. While his defense has been less than stellar, his offense has been especially dreadful. He’s turning the ball over on 24 percent of his plays and shooting at just barely over 40 percent from the field. The Bucks traded Brandon Knight for Carter-Williams with the hope that head coach Jason Kidd could mold him into an effective floor general, and also because his length made him an ideal fit next to the other long athletes on Milwaukee. Unfortunately, Carter-Williams hasn’t brought the tenacity on defense to make up for his shortcomings on the other end of the floor.
Carter-Williams isn’t the only player to blame, much of the team has been lackluster. It’s possible that last year was an aberration; that each player on the roster had an unnaturally good year at the same time, and this season is the roster coming back to the mean (the team did struggle after trading for Carter-Williams last year). Maybe they fell victim to believing their own hype and slipped in the offseason. Maybe they’re just in a slump and they’ll bounce back before the end of the season.
Whatever’s going on with the Bucks, there’s still promise, especially because we haven’t seen close to the best of Jabari Parker. This season might be just the slap in the face they need to bring them back to reality. If it comes with a decent lottery pick, it might not be the worst thing in the world, even if it’s disappointing.