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How Good Will the Milwaukee Bucks Be?

Photo courtesy of AP

The Milwaukee Bucks have generated quite a bit of buzz this offseason, and to an extent, it’s warranted. They’re coming of a surprisingly successful season, even though they were projected to be cellar dwellers once again. A core of Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo and a stifling defense led Milwaukee to an incredible 30-23 (.566) start despite losing No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker to an ACL injury.

While their record nosedived after the Michael Carter-Williams trade, finishing the year 11-18 (.379) after the All-Star break and 41-41 (.500) overall, the Bucks made just their fourth playoff appearance in the last 10 years, pushing the Chicago Bulls to six games.

Somewhere, Brandon Jennings shed a single tear.

The Bucks have an abundance of young talent on the roster and a great head coach in Jason Kidd to boot. They seemingly added to their young and talented group by drafting talented scorer and shooter Rashad Vaughn with the 17th overall pick, then trading for veteran guard Grievis Vasquez (because apparently the Bucks just didn’t have enough 6-foot-6 PGs on the roster).

During the free agency period, the Bucks shipped off Zaza Pachulia to Dallas and sent Jared Dudley to the Wizards, but not before making one of the biggest (perceived) splashes of the offseason by signing young low-post specialist Greg Monroe to a three-year, $51.4 million contract, thanks to the cap space they opened up by trading Ersan Ilyasova to the Pistons.

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Now, the Bucks could sport a 10-man rotation featuring some combination of Carter-Williams, Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Parker, Monroe, Vasquez, Jerryd Bayless, OJ Mayo, John Henson, Miles Plumlee (also acquired in that Carter-Williams trade) and the rookie Vaughn. With another year of maturation, getting Parker back, and adding Monroe, Vasquez, and Vaughn, the Bucks are primed to make a run at a top-four seed, right?

Not so fast, my friend.

All great teams, or teams that want to be great, have an identity. We all know the Bucks’ calling card is defense, so that’s most of the battle already. But at some point, the Bucks have to be able to score the basketball.

Last season, Milwaukee ranked 22nd with 97.8 ppg, and 26th in offensive rating, points scored per 100 possessions, with 102.7. A major reason why the Bucks couldn’t score was because they didn’t have a go-to scorer with Parker out (although they weren’t that good offensively with him), nor was there a lot of floor spacing — especially after Michael Carter-Williams arrived.

Getting Jabari Parker back should be huge because if nothing else, he fits the profile of a go-to scorer — he didn’t draw comparisons to Carmelo Anthony and Paul Pierce for nothing. Theoretically, Greg Monroe gives the Bucks an added dimension to their offense in the post. Monroe possesses nice footwork, can finish with either hand, and typically has no problem finding the open man when doubled, or finding cutters when operating from the high post.

However, I feel like Monroe’s projected impact is a little overblown and Bucks fans should probably lower their expectations a bit.

While Monroe is talented offensively, specifically in the post, how effective can he be if he doesn’t have much space to operate with? Here is how the perimeter players currently on the roster (minus Vaughn) shot from mid-range (which I’m defining as shots between 15-22 feet) and three last year:

Player Name Mid-Range Shot Attempts Mid-Range FG% Three-Point Shot Attempts Three-Point FG%
Giannis Antetokounmpo 63-162 38.9% FG 7-44 15.9% FG
Jerryd Bayless 66-166 39.8% FG 37-120 30.8% FG
Michael Carter-Williams (PHI+MIL) 46-175 26.3% FG 36-153 23.5% FG
Jabari Parker (25 games) 20-54 37% FG 4-16 25% FG
OJ Mayo 52-146 35.6% FG 99-277 35.7% FG
Khris Middleton 116-244 47.5% FG 109-268 40.7% FG
Greivis Vasquez 34-77 44.2% FG 133-351 37.9% FG

 

The only player in the (projected) starting line-up that we know will provide floor spacing is Middleton. To be fair, Parker projects as a good shooter, and it’s not uncommon to see players shoot poorly in their rookie year when adjusting to NBA speed and close-outs. Regardless, smart teams are likely going to send help when Monroe’s in the post, and as long as they don’t help off Middleton, defenses can live with kick-outs to anyone else.

Until Parker proves he has an NBA stroke (which I eventually think he will) or we see a massive improvement from Giannis or Carter-Williams from the perimeter, Monroe might not be as much help to their offense as you think he will.

Defensively, Monroe isn’t much of a positive at all. He isn’t a shot blocker, never posting a season where he averaged even one block, and only has 227 career blocks in five seasons. Of course, you don’t have to be a shot-blocker to be a great interior defender, but Monroe doesn’t protect the rim well either.

As nimble as his footwork is offensively, he’s a major liability in pick-and-roll coverage, ranking in the 34th percentile in guarding the roll man in P&R last season, and opponents shot an embarrassing 55.1 prcent FG at the rim against Monroe via player tracking on NBA.com.

In order to maximize the Monroe signing, he’s going to need ample shooting around him offensively, while being able to be hid defensively. The Bucks’ perimeter defense projects to be top notch again next year, so that will help, but having Greg Monroe as your last line of defense isn’t ideal in the slightest. Jason Kidd is going to have to get creative with the starting lineup and rotation, but how?

  • Lineup Suggestion No. 1: Michael Carter-Williams/Khris Middleton/Giannis Antetokounmpo/Jabari Parker/Greg Monroe

This is what I would assume the projected starting lineup will be, and it’s also a case of “They’re young and talented; let them work out the kinks and grow together.”

Offensively, Parker could be a problem for opposing 4s, and if his jumper does prove to be legit, there might be enough spacing between him and Middleton to give Monroe a little bit of space, although it still isn’t sufficient enough in my humble opinion.

Defensively, Kidd will be banking on the perimeter to be stout, as well as Giannis’ versatility to shine even brighter than it did last year. Giannis was one of the rare players that literally spent time guarding all five positions — I was absolutely sick watching him lock down Chris Bosh for an entire fourth quarter during a regular season meeting. He would likely have to guard 4s on defense to spare Parker, which isn’t out of Giannis’ range, but isn’t necessarily ideal. This could work in the long-term, but I’m not really a fan.

  • Lineup Suggestion No. 2: Michael Carter-Williams/Khris Middleton/Giannis Antetokounmpo/John Henson/Greg Monroe

The spacing would take an even larger hit with Henson taking Parker’s place, but it’s not like the Bucks didn’t make the playoffs last year with worse. Henson starting would be a way for the Bucks to ease Parker back into action in a sixth man role, but would mostly be a defensively-geared move to bring some much needed shot-blocking and rim protection to the lineup.

Henson ranked sixth in the NBA with two blocks per game, and opponents only shot 46.8 percent at the rim against Henson — roughly seven percent lower than the mark Monroe gave up last year. Henson would either guard the stronger of the two front-court players with Monroe being hidden on the weaker big, or at the very least, Henson would be a terrific weak-side shot blocker to help cover for Monroe.

  • Lineup Suggestion No. 3: Giannis Antetokounmpo/OJ Mayo/Khris Middleton/John Henson/Greg Monroe

This is a funky one, and would require to revisit the failed Point-Giannis experiment, but ask yourself this: is the spacing and scoring Mayo could provide more than the drop-off between Giannis and Carter-Williams as floor generals? I think it’s worth a shot at the very least.

Mayo and Middleton spreading the floor, or some 1-3 P&R looks could be fun — or awkward and disastrous. If nothing else, Monroe would have a little bit more room to work with. On the other end of the floor, Mayo isn’t necessarily a bad defender, but he could be hidden on the opposing team’s weakest scoring option while Giannis and Middleton guard whoever is left.

Henson would be starting alongside Monroe for defensive purposes. Milwaukee would still have plenty of length and versatility off the bench with Carter-Williams, Vasquez, Parker and Plumlee. In the illustrious words of Russell Westbrook, No. Why not?

Don’t get me wrong here — the Bucks will be a tough team to beat next year. Their coaching is top notch, and their defense will likely be elite once again. However, I’ve seen far too many people projecting the Bucks to make the leap as a top four team in the East.

On the surface, the additions they made on top of the assets they already have makes that a logical prediction. I don’t think that people are understanding just how many problems the team still might have next year. You can never really account for injuries, but if everyone is relatively healthy, I don’t see the Bucks grabbing anything better than a fifth or sixth seed during the regular season. And if their offense doesn’t take the necessary leap, another first round exit will likely be in their future.

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