It hasn’t been the strong start the young and long Milwaukee Bucks had hoped for. At an even 5-5 after 10 games, these Bucks resemble more so the 2006 Chicago Bulls than a blossoming Eastern Conference powerhouse.
Why the Bulls you wonder?
For years, the Bulls were a defensive juggernaut whose offense would be created either off defensive stops or via players who for the most part were incapable of creating their own offense. Luol Deng was a two-dribble-max forward who was unaccustomed to shooting from the outside, and weirdly functioned as a small-ball power forward in some respects. Then there was Ben Gordon, who was a great shooter and overall scorer. But while Gordon could create on occasion, it was never permanent. He was at his best spotting up. That left Kirk Hinrich, and well, while Kirk would do a little bit of everything, he never excelled at setting people up or becoming a shot creator himself.
The Bucks are in a similar situation right now. Khris Middleton doesn’t create much, as 80 percent of his field goals have been assisted and he’s generally not a strong dribbler. Greg Monroe is assisted on 58.1 percent of his shots, which is actually a pretty decent self-creation rate for a big man, but comes with the downside that most of his self-created offense comes from the inside. He isn’t someone who’ll go hard into the paint and force defenses to collapse. Then we have the much-improved Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s assisted only on 52.2 percent of his shots, but isn’t the biggest shot-taker at 13.1 attempts a night in near-36 minutes. Adding in his AST% of just 10.9 percent, and you’re looking at a guy who mostly looks to score when he has the ball in his hands, despite having a truly wonderful court vision that he’ll one day learn to utilize.
Moving on from the three best players on the squad and to maybe the crux of the problem, and you’ll see Michael Carter-Williams with another year of struggling with the long ball. At 27.3 percent from deep, no defense respects MCW when he handles the ball on top, fully realizing a long-range attempt would play right into the defense’s hands. But even with that knowledge, Carter-Williams has yet to go the route of attacking the hoop. Only 18.5 percent of his shot attempts come from less than three feet (which is roughly an estimate distance for a layup), and instead he’s stuck himself into the 3-10 feet range where he’s attempting 31.5 percent of his shots. Thankfully, he’s hit those at a decent 52.9 percent clip, but that number seems unsustainable given that he shot it at 34.5 percent over his first two combined years.
In essence, the Bucks need playmaking and creation. They need someone who can handle the ball, make sharp decisions and who isn’t a liability in terms of shooting. In today’s NBA, where quality point guards can be found on virtually every roster, it’s a big problem not having any if you’re gunning for a deep postseason run come spring.
Therefore, it’d make sense for the Bucks to inquire about Eric Bledsoe.
I know, why would Phoenix move him, right? Well, it turns out there are enough flags to at least justify the aforementioned inquiry. Bledsoe and the Suns spent months negotiating a new contract last summer, and were at times fed up with the whole thing to the point where they seemed to part ways. The Suns also decided to sign Isaiah Thomas with Bledsoe and Goran Dragic already on the roster, which isn’t the biggest compliment to pay either guy. In February the Suns decided to move both Dragic and Thomas, but apparently decided they needed to secure themselves another point guard by acquiring Brandon Knight. And then, this June, rumors rumbled about Bledsoe being shopped to the New York Knicks.
Now, all this above could mean nothing, but it could also mean that the Suns were willing to listen, especially if Jabari Parker’s name was involved (although he’s hurting again).
Boom. Yeah, I said it. I know. Jabari Parker is supposed to be a franchise-altering swingman, and now I’m shipping him off for Eric Bledsoe? I get the hesitancy, but this needs to be viewed in the right light. The Bucks, as currently constructed, are looking to win. They were in the playoffs last year, they signed a big-name free agent, handed out big contracts to their own guys and are going all in. Acquiring Bledsoe, even if Parker is involved, closes a huge hole in the team’s infrastructure, while not creating any new ones. Bledsoe is an All-Star-caliber point guard who’s a strong defender, strong rebounder, strong shot-blocker and improving scorer who this year is netting over 23 points a night with a PER of almost 26. This is so far an outlier for his usual production, but if he keeps it up, Jabari Parker won’t be enough to pry him away from Phoenix.
Another name that could be of interest, but who would also cost quite a bit in a trade, is Atlanta’s Dennis Schröder. He can run an offense, makes an effort defensively and is an improving shooter.
Getting back to the Bucks for a minute, and it’s clear they have a nice young roster, even if their point-guard situation is worrying. John Henson is long, active and a smart basketball player who should see more minutes than the 14.8 he is right now, especially as Milwaukee is struggling on the boards this year. Monroe and Antetokounmpo remain one of the most intriguing duos out there given their chance at developing alongside one another as the team’s primary scorers. Middleton, while struggling with his efficiency this year, is a skilled 3&D player who has the balls to take, and make, shots at the end of the game. Add a legitimate slashing-and-shooting point guard to that mix, and you’re looking at a team where everything could fall into line and the team as a whole could rise a solid tier and become one of the best squads in the East.
You know the defensive potential is there, even if they’ve struggled there in the early going. Allowing 101.4 points a night isn’t going to last with these Bucks, who last year finished with the fourth-best defense in the league. That’s why, even with no trade, they’ll bounce back and acquire themselves a winning record soon enough. But to get where they wish to go, they need something more than what they have, and that something is a playmaker who can lead a team and have them realize their potential.