Erik Thorne

2015 Season Preview

An offseason removed from the worst basketball in franchise history, the Milwaukee Bucks enter a new season with a much different perspective. Many changes have taken place since the culmination of their 15 win season a year ago. First and foremost, Herb Kohl finally sold the team to a pair of hedge fund billionaires from New York City for $550 million. Though the senator did an admirable job keeping professional basketball in Milwaukee, his unselfish act was the only feasible way for the Bucks to have a good chance remaining in his home town. As if this personal sacrifice wasn’t enough, Kohl has also pledged $100 million in the building of a new arena.

The next big change in the organization was the second overall selection of Jabari Parker of Duke University and originally Chicago. Even though he hasn’t played a single regular season game for Milwaukee, Parker has already been an elixir to this struggling franchise. Nearly every sports media outlet has predicted that the 19 year old forward will win the rookie of the year award, yet it seems nothing can break through his focus on becoming a great player in the NBA. “Every day that I step on the court, I just remind myself that I have a long ways to go. If I want to be one of those guys in the first tier of the NBA, like a LeBron, like a Kobe - then I have to have that mentality starting off from the ground, and work my way up.”

Anything Jabari has said this offseason has been music to any Bucks fan’s ears. For years players around the league have trashed Milwaukee as an arctic desert, mostly because of its lack of night clubs and colder weather. However, Parker seems to be embracing his opportunity to bring a once proud franchise back to prominence. All the while, he is able to have the support of his friends and family close enough (but not too close) to help him through the grind of an 82 game schedule for the first time. There is no doubt the former Duke star can score the basketball and will have plenty of opportunity to do so on this current roster.

The third major change came with the shocking hiring of future hall of fame player Jason Kidd. Coming off of a successful first year coaching in Brooklyn, the new Bucks coach allegedly made a play for more power in the Nets organization but was rebuffed. Being that Kidd had a previous business relationship new Milwaukee co-owner Marc Lasry, he thought it would be a great opportunity to take his talents to Bradford Beach. It appeared that the new coach had difficulty coaching a roster of older, yet proven players in Brooklyn. When things didn’t work out the way he hoped they would with the Nets, he jumped at the opportunity to coach a group of young, dynamic and unpolished players that would likely be on the Bucks roster. Surprising as the hire was, Milwaukee landed a coach that in years past they otherwise wouldn’t have gotten. 

So with all of these changes that have occurred in the past six months, it is still unclear if they can be a better team. Let’s take a look at the current roster by the three main positions:

Guards:

Returning to the Bucks backcourt is last season’s team leader in scoring, Brandon Knight (17.9 points per game). Without a doubt, Knight has proven he can score in this league. But the glaring deficiency in his game is his lack of position. Even though he improved slightly in his role as point guard, it is clear that being a player who wants to rack up assists is not his game. At best, he can be an excellent combination guard but is not a traditional point guard by any stretch of the imagination. So, I think coach Kidd will likely only implement Knight as the point guard when he’s on the court with somebody who can’t play that position (Khris Middleton, Jared Dudley). Otherwise, I would expect that if he is paired in the backcourt with anyone who can play point guard, he will play shooting guard on offense and defend the opposing team’s point guard.

The Bucks picked up a few journeymen guards in the offseason with the addition of Dudley, Jarryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall. However, I don’t predict any of these players will average more than 15 minutes per game barring injury. Instead, it appears that Milwaukee will give a bulk of the minutes at shooting guard to Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and (resurgent?) OJ Mayo. Second year player Nate Wolters is still on the team, but it’s doubtful that Kidd will play him very much based on the offseason additions. Wolters has looked sharp at times in summer league and preseason action, so it may behoove the coach to give him some run if the others don’t have what it takes.

Forwards:

Led by the 19 year old duo of Giannis and Parker, this is perhaps the deepest and most exciting part of the Milwaukee roster. The “Greek Freak” took the NBA, and Bill Simmons, by storm last year with his raw and aggressive play that came seemingly out of nowhere. Entering his sophomore season, Antetokounmpo has worked with trainers to make his body bigger so he can handle the pounding of playing in the paint. Indeed it looks as though he has added some protein powder to his beloved smoothies and looks bigger, but his overall defense, passing and shooting needs to take a step forward this year. People will be looking for him to bring the sizzle and the steak more this year with a more all-around game. He certainly will be busy chasing around shooting guards to banging with power forwards.

Parker will play both small and power forward this year and it will be interesting to see how he develops now that he is guarding full-grown men in the highest league possible. However, I do see Jabari being the leading scorer on this team.

Also returning is veteran stretch power forward Ersan Ilyasova. He is coming off of an injury plagued year in which he shot a career low percentage. If he can get back to his tough-natured ways of the past where he offered so much toughness rounding on both ends, Ilyasova will have a much better year. However, if he continues to pump-fake shots excessively and plays timid underneath the hoop, Ersan is doomed for another underperforming season.

Centers:

Things really could not have gotten much worse for Larry Sanders in 2014. Larry returns to the Bucks after a season several off-court incidents, injuries and general malaise for the concept of team basketball. That being said, it can’t get much worse in 2015 right? RIGHT? Sanders addition to Milwaukee is huge because the team had the worst rim protection defensively in the entire NBA last year. His long arms and jumping ability allows him to disrupt any players shot in the paint. If Larry can return to 2013 form and average ten points, ten rebounds and a couple blocks a game it will drastically improve team defense. In turn, it will give fast break savants Giannis and Jabari excellent chances to score in transition.

Also returning is unheralded but skilled forward John Henson. It is clear that Henson has ability and can score to some degree and defend in this league. The big question for Henson is can he develop another go-to move in the post beyond his above average hook shot. I look for Henson to be a solid contributor to this team on and off the court this season.

Finally there is veteran center Zaza Pachulia. He is not good.

I predict that the Milwaukee Bucks will be one of the most exciting teams in the NBA this season, but don’t confuse that with being a successful basketball squad in terms of wins and losses. Jabari Parker will indeed win Rookie of the Year and will be a great ambassador for the squad ultimately being the face of the franchise come April. It’s a total rebuild from the foundation and we are standing in the lobby. Only one way to go from last season.

2015 prediction: 27- 53