The Bucks were seemingly poised to launch themselves into basketball relevancy in the 2015-2016 season. Unfortunately, the season was considered by most to be a total bust as the Bucks failed to build on their record (41-41) and their playoff berth (a hard-fought first round exit versus the Chicago Bulls) from the ‘14-’15 season. The single shining moment from last season was the post-All-Star break run made by Parker and Antetokounmpo. Point-Giannis was racking up triple-doubles as teams were left bamboozled by the 6’11” point guard and Parker started to look like a legit second overall draft pick–clearly having recovered from the horrendous ACL injury from his rookie campaign. The trajectory of these two young players gave fans something to be excited about as the off-season started.
The trio of Middleton, Parker, and Antetokounmpo have firmly established themselves as cornerstone talents that the Bucks believe they can build a championship team around. The team lost a few relevant (I use the term “relevant” loosely) players over the summer: Mayo was lost as a result of a violation of league drug policy and both Bayless and Vasquez left in free agency. The addition of Matthew Dellavedova, Mirza Teletovic, and Jason Terry seemed to be logical signings for the Bucks as they were all acquired on reasonable contracts and largely replaced any production that was lost with the exit of the aforementioned former-Bucks players. The newly signed players were acquired in hopes that they would help stretch the floor for a team that was at or near the bottom of the league in both three-point attempts and makes. Also, the addition of draft picks Thon Maker, a giant mysterious bundle of raw athletic freakishness, and Malcolm Brogdon, a second rounder that made a living in college off of his defense and efficient shooting, were the perfect additions to get the fans buzzing about the depth of talent and potential on this roster. Bucks fans have no reason to believe that they will not be a playoff team, even in the ever-strengthening Eastern Conference. Oh wait. That’s right. Middleton had to go and completely tear his hamstring just weeks before the season was about to start. He was the Bucks’ most reliable three-point threat and their go-to guy for end-of-game buzzer beaters. So, just like that the Bucks’ fanbase and their enthusiasm dampen and season expectations are back up in the air.
The recent addition of Michael Beasley, who was acquired from a trade with the Houston Rockets in exchange for Tyler Ennis, will most certainly not provide enough consistent productivity fill the void left by Middleton’s absence. Beasley, a former second overall pick that many consider to be a bust, is trying to reinvent himself with Milwaukee as he rides the momentum of a successful overseas campaign in China and a short yet productive role with the Rockets at the end of last season. He has been written off by many as a negative personality in the locker room since the majority of his NBA career has been plagued with distracting off-court issues. However, some maintain that this 27-year-old can still be a star in the league and that his stint overseas provided a real sense of clarity for Beasley. With a renewed focus and commitment to his career as a basketball player and a better-late-than-never sense of maturity to help him avoid the pitfalls of off-court drama and distractions maybe he can be the NBA player everyone thought he would be coming out of Kansas State. Yet even if everything goes absolutely right for Beasley with the Bucks there is no real expectation that he will be providing more than an offensive punch off of the bench. Beasley’s real plus-minus shows that as a defensive liability he is a net-negative on whatever team he’s played for. If he adds any more depth to his game and plays both ends of the court it would be considered gravy.
The Bucks looked solid in their first two preseason games. However, preseason is preseason. And anything that happens in preseason play must be taken with a grain of salt. Despite the level of competition it was encouraging, amidst all the rotations and substitutions, to see some cohesive lineups on the floor for the Bucks. Their second unit led the way with a scoring punch in both matches (something that was completely absent from last year’s squad), while point-Giannis’ initial impressions failed to impress. So, what is the expectation for this year’s Bucks team–a team with some promising new pieces and no Middleton? That largely remains to be determined. The ceiling is Giannis having a potential All-Star worthy year, Parker a Most-Improved-Player candidate, a record a few games over .500, and a playoff berth as the cherry on top. The floor is that the healthy young Bucks continue to grow and experiment in a season free of expectations and pressure while earning themselves a lottery pick in hopes that they can put it all together and finally live up to the potential of their cumulative talents just in time to break in their soon-to-be new NBA stadium in 2018. #OwnTheFuture