The 2014-15 season was viewed as a stepping stone for the Milwuakee Bucks, as their playoff appearance without the injured Jabari Parker was expected to be the first step in the team becoming a consistent factor in the East. Things did not go as planned for Jason Kidd’s team in 2015-16 however, as they won just 33 games and finished 12th among the 15 teams in the Eastern Conference. That being said, with one of the game’s most unique talents in Giannis Antetokounmpo and a quality shooting guard in Khris Middleton, Milwaukee was optimistic as the start of training camp approached.
Then Middleton was lost for at least six months due to a torn left hamstring suffered in a preseason workout. Middleton was Milwaukee’s leading scorer and one of their best playmakers last season, so to lose him is a tough blow to absorb. How well the Bucks play will depend in large part upon who steps forward in Middleton’s absence, with second-year guard Rashad Vaughn being one possibility. And in a division that had three playoff teams (Cleveland, Detroit and Indiana), and the fourth added Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade, getting back into the playoffs could prove difficult for the Bucks.
Here’s a look at the roster:
Bucks Projected Starting Lineup
G: Matthew Dellavedova (7.5 ppg, 4.4 apg) While Kidd has mentioned that he wants Antetokounmpo to serve as the team’s primary playmaker, Dellavedova should also see plenty of action after joining the team as a free agent. Delly played in two NBA Finals with the Cavaliers, and he’s the kind of player who teammates love and opponents loathe. He can play without the ball in his hands too, which should help as Milwaukee looks for Antetokounmpo to make things happen more often.
G: Rashad Vaughn (3.1 ppg) Middleton’s injury leaves a major void in the Bucks’ starting lineup, and it’s likely that Vaughn will get the call in his second season as a pro. Vaughn played just over 14 minutes per game last season, and while his shooting percentages (30.5% FG, 29.3% 3PT) weren’t particularly good he can knock down shots as evidenced by his time at UNLV.
F: Giannis Antetokounmpo (16.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 4.3 apg) The 6-foot-11 forward nicknamed the “Greek Freak” has developed into one of the NBA’s bright young talents, and after agreeing to a contract extension he’ll have even more on his plate this season. Second on the team in assists, Antetokounmpo will have even more opportunities to create for his teammates within the Bucks’ offense. His length and athleticism have also made Antetokounmpo one of the better wing defenders in the league.
F: Jabari Parker (14.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg) After missing a significant portion of his rookie season with a torn ACL, Parker returned to play in 76 games for the Bucks last season. Parker shot 49.3 percent from the field in 2015-16, and while he didn’t shoot particularly well from the perimeter (25.7 percent from three) the Chicago native is a solid scoring option.
C: Greg Monroe (15.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) Monroe’s name was brought up in some trade speculation during the offseason, but he remains part of the team’s plans heading into the 2016-17 season. Monroe shot 52.2 percent from the field last year, and his defensive rating of 106 was tied for second on the team with Antetokounmpo.
Bucks Projected Bench
G: Jason Terry (5.9 ppg) Terry is on the back end of his career, but he’s still a capable shooter who can help address an area of need for Milwaukee. There’s the perimeter shooting aspect in which Terry can help Milwaukee, but just as important is his ability to be a mentor for the younger players on the roster (especially Vaughn).
G: Tony Snell (5.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg) Snell arrives in Milwaukee by way of a trade October 17 that sent Michael Carter-Williams to Chicago. A first-round pick out of New Mexico in 2013, Snell’s size (6-foot-7) and abilities as a perimeter shooter and defender are what led to the Bulls selecting him 20th overall. But things have not worked out for Snell through three seasons in the NBA. The hope here is that the change in scenery, joining a team that needs perimeter shooting with Middleton sidelined, will get Snell going.
F: Mirza Teletovic (12.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg) Teletovic was another free agency signing made by the Bucks this summer, with the 6-foot-9 combo forward coming off of a productive 2015-16 campaign in Phoenix. Teletovic shot 39.3 percent from three, and his shooting ability is an attribute that will be beneficial to Milwaukee as they look to provide the likes of Antetokounmpo and Parker the space they need to operate with on offense.
F: Michael Beasley (12.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) Beasley arrives in Milwaukee by way of a trade that sent point guard Tyler Ennis to Houston last week. The Bucks needed another wing scorer with Middleton’s injury, and in Beasley they add a talented player who appeared to rejuvenate his career with the Rockets last season. After playing well in China, Beasley returned to the States and proved to be a more productive addition to Houston’s roster than many anticipated.
F: John Henson (7.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg) Henson finished the season with the Bucks’ best defensive rating (105), and he also led the team in blocked shots. Active defensively, the 6-foot-11 Henson runs the floor well and isn’t a player the Bucks need to devote a high number of shots to on offense. He’ll once again be a key part of the rotation.
F/C: Thon Maker (Rookie) In the move that raised many eyebrows on draft night, Milwaukee selected Maker with the tenth overall pick. While slender the 7-foot-1 Maker fits that mold the Bucks have been after in recent years, adding long-armed prospects who can play multiple positions. How productive Maker can be as a rookie remains to be seen, but given Antetokounmpo’s success maybe Milwaukee has the blueprint.
C: Miles Plumlee (5.1 ppg, 3.8 rpg) Plumlee saw action in 61 games last season, making 14 starts, and while smaller than Henson his role is somewhat similar. When in the game Plumlee’s greatest responsibilities are to rebound, defend and run the floor, areas in which he was solid last year.
Other Players in Bucks Training Camp
G Khris Middleton* (injured)
G Malcolm Brogdon
G Orlando Johnson
G Xavier Henry
F Steve Novak
F. J.J. O’Brien
C Jaleel Roberts
Milwaukee has 15 players on guaranteed contracts, including second-round pick Malcolm Brogdon and veteran Steve Novak. Brogdon was one of the best defenders in the country at Virginia, and he’s a solid offensive player as well. His abilities as a defender could get him on the court sooner rather than later, as Milwaukee ranked 23rd in defensive rating last season. As for Novak, he gives Milwaukee another veteran voice on the bench and while he can knock down perimeter shots he hasn’t averaged double-digit minutes since the 2013-14 season.
Johnson, Henry and O’Brien will have a tough time making the roster, but with Middleton’s injury there could be room for one of them if they can impress Kidd and the rest of the coaching staff.
Bucks Coaching Staff
Head coach: Jason Kidd (Third season; 118-128 career record; 33-49 2015-16 record.)
Assistant coaches: Joe Prunty, Eric Hughes, Greg Foster, Sean Sweeney
UPDATE (10/17): The Bucks announce that they’ve acquired guard Tony Snell from the Bulls in exchange for guard Michael Carter-Williams.
UPDATE (10/24): The Bucks waived guard Orlando Johnson, forward J.J. O’Brien and center Jaleel Roberts.