If you've been galavanting about Wisconsin this summer, you've probably noticed that there is plenty of buzz surrounding the Milwaukee Bucks. After a 26-win improvement, a challenging playoff series, and a summer spent solidifying the team's young core, it shouldn't be surprising that you're seeing more folks rock Bucks gear at Summerfest, State Fair, the PGA Championship, or elsewhere across the state. There's a ton of good vibes, and good vibes are always better than bad vibes.
However, with great vibes come great (or at least higher) expectations. Once the middle of fall rolls around and the Packers hysteria comes back to earth a little bit, many people will start to focus their attention on the Bucks, who are poised to put together another playoff push and maybe even make a run at 50 wins!
Or maybe they won't?
You see, as fun as it may be to jump on the hype train, some people aren't so ready to board just yet. It's not to say they're pessimistic, but they may not be totally convinced that all is going to be rosy en route to another improved season. Perhaps they feel like the Bucks are a year or two away from finally challenging the 50-win plateau, which history suggests is really, really hard to do. Heck, even John Hammond is trying to pump the brakes a little.
Neither group is necessarily right or wrong -- just look at the last two seasons. No rational handicapper would have projected the Bucks to swan dive to 15 wins and then bounce back to 41...but they did. So like any preview piece in August, we're all mostly guessing. Nevertheless, we thought it would be fun to bring the Brew Hoop staff together to discuss this exciting possibility and what it would take to achieve it. Enjoy!
What are one or two (or three?) things you think it would take for the Bucks to reach 50 wins?
Eric Buenning: Obviously I think the defense needs to maintain its high level of play, but the offense would also need to pick up to at least a top-20 offensive rating to have a shot. I think that's attainable down the road when the big guns develop, but it's going to be difficult with a starting lineup with little-to-no experience together. It could come from utilizing guys better, utilizing space better, or really getting more used to each other. Probably all of those, actually. The point is I don't think you can just grind games out defensively and be paltry offensively and expect different results, so I'll point to the offense to be the key factor.
Frank Madden: The Bucks were only 11-18 after the all-star break last year, so it's not like they finished the year in world-beating fashion. Any hope of 50 wins will thus require a bunch of things to break right, or at a minimum few things to break wrong. Namely, Greg Monroe needs to be the guy we saw at center last year in Detroit (21.5 pts and 14.1 rebs per 36 minutes when he wasn't on the court with Andre Drummond and Josh Smith!), while Giannis, Jabari and MCW need to make major collective strides. Can Giannis become a consistent 15/8/3 guy already this year? Can MCW become the playmaker we saw in fits and starts while hitting the occasional three? Can Jabari look like the guy we saw in December and maybe get a clue defensively?
But maybe the hardest thing to peg is the Bucks' bench, which was quietly the bellwether for the Bucks' fortunes all year. They found a ridiculous groove from November through January, then completely went in the tank once Jared Dudley and O.J. Mayo broke down physically (Giannis moving into the starting five didn't help either). Can Greivis Vasquez, John Henson and the rest of the reserves make the Bucks' depth a weapon again?
Mitchell Maurer: The only way the Bucks sniff 50 wins in 2015-16 is if Michael Carter-Williams' offensive approach is firmly set behind some glass labelled "BREAK OPEN IN CASE OF EMERGENCY." Don't get me wrong, he has skills that can be used to help the team win and I want to see him prove his worth long-term, but of the Bucks' top-8 overall players (in no particular order: MCW, Giannis, Jabari, Monroe, Middleton, Mayo, Henson, and Vasquez), Monroe is the closest thing to a proven number-one option, with Giannis, Jabari, and Middleton all making great strides in their development, and Mayo as a valuable-if-unpredictable contributor off the bench.
Simply put, MCW needs to get out of the way, particularly that of Giannis and Jabari. Assuming he stays with the starters, I would want him to cut his usage by at least one-third. Monroe needs to score from inside, Jabari needs to score from all over, Middleton needs to score from deep, Giannis needs to do Giannis things. That doesn't leave a whole lot of room for MCW's (mis?)adventures.
Alternatively, if he and Vasquez switch spots and MCW comes off the bench, he's both out of the way of the Bucks' young forwards and free to destroy opposing team's second units. I'm calling it now, MCW could win 6th Man of the Year by playing 24-26 mpg off the bench, and without changing his game too much. He also could be the PG that we need in the starting lineup, but the question is about next season.
Eric Nehm: I am ever the pessimist, so this is an extremely difficult exercise for me, but I'll give it a try anyways. For the Bucks to win 50 games, they will need to remain one of the league's three best defensive teams and also improve to at least mediocre offensively. That means Greg Monroe will need to be a complete monster on both sides of the ball, which is quite possible, and every offensive contributor needs to take a step forward while simultaneously avoiding stepping on each other's toes.
Also, in order to not make the rest of the season too pressure-packed, they will need to keep an eye on two very important ten-game stretches: the first ten games of the season and the first ten games Jabari is allowed to make a serious impact. They need to be around .500 in those two stretches to even have a shot at a 50-win season.
Aron Yohannes: They have to improve offensively. Period. Monroe's addition certainly helps them with that, so I'll say this all hinges on him. We already kind of have a sense of who will bring what on the offensive side of the Bucks, and Monroe's addition should help boost the level we anticipated them being at before he signed.
I don't think they need to ask a whole lot scoring wise from MCW as long as he creates. Giannis and Khris Middleton will increase their numbers along with Jabari being back, so adding that with Monroe and their bench should be fair enough for them offensively to help get them to 50. The bench doesn't have to average 42.3 a game like they did before the break in 2014, but if they can stay in the top half among bench units in scoring, that should give them what they need.
Do you think the things you listed above are realistic? Why or why not?
EB: It's possible, but I think that implementing a new offense with several new focal points will take a bit of time. Greg Monroe will need touches in the paint or at the elbows; Jabari Parker and Giannis will get the ball more as they continue to develop all-around offensively, and Khris Middleton and MCW will continue to carve away at their respective roles. That's a lot to get down in a short amount of time, so far now I'll say it's unrealistic to happen soon, but it could be looking gravy once guys get acclimated to each other. I can't say for sure what that timetable is though, so I'm hesitant to be too excited.
FM: I certainly think it's possible, but there are too many moving pieces for me to have any real confidence about it. And honestly that's OK. More than ever, the Bucks will sink and swim with their young guys, which is both exciting and also a bit nerve-wracking. Most of us begged for this kind of situation during the Herb Kohl era, and now all of a sudden it's happening. I don't think they'll sink like the Fear the Deer-era squad, but it may take a year or two of nervous doggy-paddling before things really come together.
Ultimately, the team's ceiling will be defined largely by how good Giannis and Jabari can be, so that should remain the major focal point this season. It'd also be nice if the bench and ancillary guys pull their weight, but all of that is window-dressing to the bigger picture. I think Giannis' upside is probably as an 18-20 ppg guy who grabs eight boards and adds a handful of blocks, assists and steals -- a box-score stuffing two-way guy who's probably best served as a second or third fiddle offensively. I don't think he gets there this year -- he's still only 20! -- but meaningful strides in that direction would mean a lot both in the short term and big picture. Jabari could be eventually that first option offensively, but he's coming off a major injury and has all but 26 NBA games under his belt. If he develop his offensive mojo without being a complete trainwreck defensively that would probably qualify as a win.
MM: I'm hopeful but let's be real: I don't see MCW moving to a bench role unless there's injuries involved. Kidd likes him too much and (rightfully) wants to use his length in the Bucks' defensive system. So considering he'll probably be a starter for the duration, I don't see any reason why MCW can't cut his usage...but I don't see any indication that it'll actually happen.
EN: Ha! No. The things I listed seem far from obtainable. The offense coming together anywhere before Christmas seems like a stretch and Christmas sounds like it will be around the time that Parker returns to the Bucks lineup. So, essentially, right when the Bucks will be hitting their groove, they will need to completely adjust their rotations to include Parker and their individual roles will likely undergo massive changes. Not good.
And while some think the defense will remain a constant, I wouldn't be surprised if the defense regresses to somewhere between the Top 5 and Top 10 in the league, which could be a massive hit for a team that could struggle offensively.
AY: Yes, I don't think I really went outside the box with anything I said.
Do you think the Bucks will get to 50 wins? If no, how close do they get/do they get close at all?
EB: Sadly, I don't think they'll get there this season. It doesn't mean the season is a disappointment to me at all. Going from "good to good," as John Hammond put it, is quite alright with me. I think they'll comfortably reach the playoffs with 45 wins or so, but I wouldn't be surprised if they finished higher or much lower than that. This season is a bit of a wildcard to me.
FM: I'm sitting at 41 wins as a starting point and hoping for the best. There may be more upside than downside beyond that number, but the East is getting better -- look at the Hornets, Pacers, and Celtics among others -- and the young Bucks won't keep pace just by showing up. Just ask the Hornets, who were in a similar spot last year and just never recaptured the je ne sais quoi of the pre-Lance Stephenson era.
So the Bucks won't sneak up on anyone like they did last year, and history suggests it's not easy to go from good to great -- something everyone in Milwaukee should be painfully aware of. If you're a Bucks fan under the age of 30, you've only been alive for at most one 50-win season (2001)! I know this isn't Herb Kohl's team anymore, but those scars run deep. Tack on the fact that Zaza Pachulia, Jared Dudley and (even) Ersan Ilyasova won the Bucks a sneaky number of games last year, and there's suddenly a lot of pressure on young shoulders to pick up the slack. Besides, how many teams without a starter above the age of 25 win 40-45 games? That'd be a heck of an accomplishment itself.
MM: Late-August is a prime-opportunity for premature predictions, but I say no, the Bucks will not win 50. I think that they'll start slow as they acclimate themselves to working around Monroe, and they'll have an additional development curve whenever Jabari comes back. I can easily see them being below .500 before the All-Star break...but between their long-term potential and their schedule for the last part of the season I can see them going on a run. I'll say they go 44-38 with a respectable point differential, a 7th seed in the playoffs, and a lot more attention.
EN: Again, no. I don't think they will be close to winning 50 games. It is extremely difficult to win 50 games and, with numerous questions marks heading into this season, I struggle to see a world in which the Bucks come close to 50 wins next season. I have had them at 43-39 for a while this offseason and that seems a bit on the optimistic side. (Again, I'm a negative, pessimistic person.)
AY: No, not this season, but I can definitely see them finishing in the 40-46 win range, which I think is pretty fair. Next season is more realistic once they get a full year together under their belt.
Is even discussing this possibility giving you a weird tingly feeling in your toes?
EB: I know how dangerous it is to get excited about a breakout Bucks season, but man...this feels different. This feels more organic and definitely more sustainable. Instead of capturing lightning in a bottle, it feels like they're just starting to scratch the surface. That's a cool feeling. My toes are real tingly.
FM: Definitely. I'm certainly nervous about a letdown -- they're not just playing with house money this year, so expectations are very different. But I'm also excited about the fact that a group this young shouldn't win 50 games, and yet it's not completely ridiculous to talk about. If they come anywhere close it will say plenty about how far the Bucks' young core has come.
MM: I remarked a few weeks ago how extraordinary it was that the team's fortunes have changed so quickly. Between the change in ownership, the revelation that Jason Kidd has proven to be as coach, and the legitimate upside of multiple players on the roster, we are able to talk about 50-win seasons without nearly as much sarcasm as before. I'd give it a 7.5/10 tingly-toes...with eyes towards the future when this conversation is the rule, not the exception.
EN: Not really. This season is huge for the potential tingliness of my toes though. If Antetokounmpo takes a big step forward and Parker fits in well and Monroe is capable and comfortable in Milwaukee and MCW figures out a way to affect games without scoring and the defense looks good for a second straight year, my toes may be quite tingly come May. This team was bad after the All-Star Break last year and despite their offseason moves, I still have significant questions about the team's potential going forward.
AY: Yeah, a bit. It's mostly because we don't know if they can repeat last year's success and if they can do this consistently. It's also a bit weird because of how fast we're actually talking about this. That 15-win season was just the other day, wasn't it?