What’s the Plan? is a weekly series where we look at the long-term outlooks for teams that aren’t immediately contending for a championship. Today we’re looking at the Milwaukee Bucks, a team trying to build around a very particular type of player.
When the Warriors went small against the Cavs in Game 4 of the NBA Finals and started Draymond Green at center, they pushed the current small ball strategy to its ultimate conclusion. By essentially playing five wing players (Green is a wing/big hybrid), the Warriors were able to open up Cleveland’s defense and force the depleted Cavs roster to chase them all around the floor. If small ball is the future of the NBA, the Bucks are trying to meet that future head on.
The Bucks are building their defense around players with speed and length, and who can defend several positions on the perimeter and disrupt passing lanes. The goal is to have a group of perimeter defenders who can switch interchangeably on pick-and-rolls without being punished too badly by mismatches.
Milwaukee’s proposed starting lineup for next season will have Michael Carter-Williams at point guard, Khris Middleton at shooting guard (Middleton, a restricted free agent, is expected to be re-signed to a lucrative new contract), Giannis Antetokounmpo at small forward and Jabari Parker at power forward. Those players are all between 6’6” and 6’ 11”, with Giannis being the tallest and Carter-Williams being the shortest. Each is tall enough to cover larger players and agile enough to cover quicker guards. If the rest of the league continues to get smaller and put more perimeter players on the court, the Bucks should be ready. This is the theory behind Milwaukee’s plan anyway. Whether they can covert that plan into playoff success is another question. The Bucks made a surprise trip to the playoffs this past season, but were dispatched by the Bulls in six games.
If Milwaukee wants to reap the benefits of a small ball lineup, it needs more shooting and scoring. The Bucks’ draft pick of Rashad Vaughn is a good start. Vaughn was a surprise pick for the Bucks, and possibly a reach at No. 17, but he’s projected to be a scorer and could provide Milwaukee the floor spacing it definitely needs.
With Larry Sanders calling it quits, the Bucks could also use an upgrade at center over Zaza Pachulia to anchor the middle with all those other perimeter players on the floor. Depending on what Milwaukee chooses to do with its non-guaranteed players, it could have as much as $23.1 million in cap space. The Ersan Ilyasova trade netted the Bucks the non-guaranteed deals of Caron Butler and Shawne Williams, so they can dump the two players’ salaries and clear cap space to help make a run at a center. DeAndre Jordan, the two Lopez brothers, Greg Monroe and Tyson Chandler are all unrestricted free agents who could move on from their current teams. The Bucks need a center in a year where so many are hitting the market, and they have the money to sign one who could make a big difference in the middle of the floor.
Another player who should help contribute to the Bucks’ journey to contention is Parker. Parker went down last year with an ACL injury that ended his rookie season, but he’s a big part of Milwaukee’s plans for the future, and the team’s long-term success will likely be linked to how good of a player he becomes. If he turns into an All-Star caliber player, he could be a big part in pushing them towards playoff relevance. We’ll see if the Bucks can take a step forward next season after their quick turnaround this past year.