Do you expect the team to do anything beyond take another trip to the lottery next summer?
Eric B: Losing their normalizing force (and best player at the moment) in Khris is too much to replace. Also, as much as I irrationally love the bench guys, I’m a little worried at how consistent they can be. All told, this team could be somewhat okay or they could be worse than last year. Both possibilities seem pretty strong. To answer the question though, this is another lottery year.
Mitchell: No, this will be another lottery year for the Bucks. The Eastern Conference is too competitive and the Bucks will still have a ton of growing pains this year. Point Giannis needs to be further developed, Jabari will become relied upon more to score in the half-court, and the rest of the new faces on the roster need time to get used to things. All of this plus the on-the-job training for Thon Maker, Malcolm Brogdon, and (to a lesser extent) Rashad Vaughn. With Khris, the potential was there to have all that growth and a playoff ticket, but there’s simply too narrow of a margin for error this year.
Corey: Unlike seasons past where the Bucks would chip their way to a .500 record, the East is finally on an upward trajectory as you get towards the middle. The midsection of this conference isn’t as soft as it once was, and with the Bucks still a bit in flux after the Middleton injury (and now the MCW-Snell deal), this team is going to need the first 15-20 games to really figure out how all of this will work together, in my mind. By that point, the Bucks could find themselves already being left behind by those up-and-comers like Orlando, Charlotte and Detroit. A lottery appearance seems destined... it’s just a matter of where they land.
Adam: I was dubious of their playoff chances even before the Middleton injury, so that wound up being a nice excuse to grab some popcorn and watch a year of expectation-free basketball. The East’s middle ground is a Mad Maxian wasteland of mediocrity for the most part, composed of teams built on depth and lacking the star power upside the Bucks possess. Still, ascending into the playoffs is a tall task for a team heavily reliant on two youngsters and a bench that could be a metronome tipping back and forth all year. I’m more than happy waiting this year out, seeing how Giannis and Jabari improve and watching Kidd’s stoic mug on the lottery dais next year.
Brett: As much as I want to believe Giannis ascends to top 10 status this year and carries the team into playoff status, I have my doubts. Even in an ideal scenario in which Tony Snell capably fills the role of three-and-D wing for ~25 minutes per game, he’s still not going to fill the void of Middleton’s shot creation for a half-court offense that I have significant doubts about this year. If Jabari can prove to be a formidable shot creator (and is given the opportunity to do so), he might just be able to able to play the role of the dependable go-to guy that Khris proved to be last season. In that scenario, I can truthfully envision the team in the playoff race come March. But we haven’t seen any evidence of that kind of play from Parker, so to expect a major breakout in that sense from him seems unwise.
Frank: Not really.
Eric N: Nah. Antetokounmpo and Parker would have to be borderline All-Stars, the defense would have to improve immensely, and the roster would need to remain remarkably healthy during the season. It’s not impossible for them to avoid the lottery, but a lot of things would have to go right for them to find their way into the playoffs.
What would you need to see to judge this season a “success”?
Eric B: I think seeing Giannis step up as a leader is probably both the most likely and encouraging, but the development of Jabari is what I’m most interested in monitoring. He’s the good dunk man, but I’m curious as to whether he’ll take more for himself with Khris sidelined and how that might look. If he does take on that larger role and do well with it, then I’d feel a lot better about these feelings inside of me and the prospects of this season.
Corey: Taking out the obvious one of this team shocking us all and making a legitimate run, the emergence of Giannis as THE guy is my main point of focus. He’s received appropriate attention for his skill set, but with Middleton gone, this is his team to take charge of. He has some incredibly productive and entertaining seasons under his belt. Now he has a lot of money. The next step for him is to make this team his.
I also wouldn’t mind the front court defense to not reprise last season’s role as the Hindenburg.
Adam: Giannis continuing his ascendance is the obvious one. Putting up efficient scoring numbers in a high usage role all season will go a long ways towards cementing his status among the NBA’s elites rather than an oddity knocking on the door of greatness. However, I think Jabari’s play will ultimately be a more important gauge of success this season. The normally understated John Hammond has mentioned several times in interviews the importance of Jabari playing like a number two overall selection. Those are lofty expectations, but nothing people haven’t hoisted on Jabari his entire career.
Jabari will be eligible for an extension after this season, and it’s vital the Bucks have a better handle on whether he’s someone they would even consider for a Designated Max Player Contract (I’m not advocating for this), or if he’ll just be a third or fourth banana on what the front office still expects to become a championship team.
Mitchell: A month ago, I would have been talking about win totals and playoff seeding. Without Middleton (a phrase we’re too used to writing already), the tone of this season and what “success” means is very different. That said, I’m repeating what the others have written above: I want to see Giannis and Jabari prove that they can carry a team to a win, and I want them to do it more than once. I still don’t think that the Bucks will win more than 35 games (which is generous), but of those 35 wins, at least five of them need to line up with some heavy lifting from Giannis, and another five need to come from Jabari making big-league contributions.
Seeing Giannis and Jabari combine for multiple wins where the post-game analysis includes references to a player putting the team on his back is absolutely what the Bucks need to have happen. One game isn’t enough. Two games is not enough. If Giannis and Jabari are truly the future that the Bucks want to own, they need to demonstrate that they can go out there and win a game by virtue of them simply being better than anyone else on the other team. That’s how players become stars, and how stars become superstars, and that’s what we need both of these guys to strive for.
Brett: I think a common answer would involve development in Giannis’ three point shot. But at this point, development in his point guard skills seem paramount (and more realistic) to improved three-point numbers. The limitations on his upside implied by his lack of shooting range have been significantly downgraded with his move to point guard, and Point Giannis is the future.
Also, let me see even of an inkling of consistent Jabari shot creation. At the very least, let me at least see what it looks like, just so we can see if he has a future as a player who can carry an offense, or one that can only produce when he’s in transition or beating his guy on an off-ball cut. While he’ll be able to find success in both, the former has a far different upside than the latter, and it’d be nice to know how one of core players will look in a few years.
Frank: I certainly agree with everyone’s focus on Giannis and Jabari — their development is obviously the most essential thing to the franchise right now, and that would have been true even if Khris was healthy and a playoff run was more likely.
In terms of the broader team, I’d say the key for this season is defense. It’s likely going to be very difficult to score efficiently given the loss of Khris and continued lack of depth on the wing and backcourt, but they simply can’t afford to keep dragging their feet on the defensive end. Admittedly, Khris was certainly important on that end and not being able to move Greg Monroe is problematic, but if they don’t make substantive progress this year you have to wonder what it says about Jason Kidd’s defensive approach and the core of the team.
Eric N: This season is really difficult for me to try to judge. The roster was flawed before Middleton got hurt, so how much can I really learn about Jason Kidd’s coaching this season now that the roster is largely a dumpster fire? A month or so ago, Frank and I talked about the Bucks having just three guys that were truly capable of production on both sides of the ball (Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Dellavedova). With Middleton’s injury, that number has now shrunk to just two. If I can feel confident adding just one more player to that list, I would consider the season a success.
What would you have to see to decide that this season is a “failure”?
Eric B: I’m not sure how wins and losses will play out, so I don’t think much record-wise can surprise me. I think what would be most upsetting and deemed a failure is if the Bucks offensive strategy as a whole doesn’t improve. Even with Middleton out of the picture, the Bucks have added enough pieces to suggest that taking more threes is part of the offensive gameplan. If they don’t utilize Beasley/Snell/JET in the corners, Delly spot-ups, and fast break Teletovic (a.k.a Trailetovic), then I think that’s a huge mistake and a big disappointment.
Mitchell: I will feel very negative about the season if we don’t learn more about the supporting cast that’s on the roster right now. The Middleton injury almost forces us to accept this season as another developmental year, so we need more answers than we got even last season. We know what Giannis/Jabari/Khris are and (roughly) what they could be, but beyond that things get far more vague. Is Dellavedova as positive an influence as preseason made it seem? Can Greg Monroe do anything beyond 14 points/8 boards/bad defense (and if so, does he command a decent haul on the trade market)? What can we actually expect out of Miles Plumlee and John Henson? Are any of Rashad Vaughn, Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, or Mirza Teletovic reliable in their roles? Is Thon Maker real? The fewer answers we have, the worse off the Bucks are.
Corey: I’m with Eric B. on this one. So much focus on improving the outside shooting in the offseason that it better come to fruition. The loss of Middleton is gigantic in that regard, but the sheer quantity of possible outside shooters that are now on this roster should make this aspect more tolerable than a season ago. That, and if Thon turns out to be 32.
Adam: All in on Mitchell’s point. This is a team that flaunted its youthful roster time and again last season, but feels like it aged right before our eyes this summer. Gone are the days of blissful ignorance with untapped (and possibly never present) bench potential of players like Damien Inglis (French Toast) or Tyler Ennis, replaced instead by the short-term certainty of Steve Novak, Jason Terry, Michael Beasley and Greg Monroe. There’s still plenty of youth in Thon, Brogdon, Henson and Snell to potentially slot in around the Giannis, Jabari and Khris core though. Figuring out how those players might fit best around the core should be a chief goal this season. If we leave the year knowing more about Michael Beasley’s percentage on above the break threes than whether Tony Snell can be a serviceable 3 and D wing, that’s a failure.
Frank: Giannis and Jabari falling short of individual expectations (ie at least what they did after the break last year) or suffering a major injury.
Eric N: A major injury to Antetokounmpo or Parker. Or seeing this more than than three times this season:
Alright, let’s get specific. What sort of stat lines could we expect from...
Mitchell: I’m bullish on Point Giannis, but I think that the presence of Matthew Dellavedova will slightly depress his assist numbers. It doesn’t mean that Giannis is a worse playmaker, just that Delly getting dimes will mean fewer for Giannis. That said, I still think that 17 points/8 rebounds/5 assists/1.5 blocks/1.5 steals is realistic for him, while maintaining his above-average efficiency and (hopefully) earning his first All Star selection. I wouldn’t be shocked to see his points crack 20 ppg, though.
Eric B: What were his numbers after the All-Star break? Get pretty similar to those (give or take a few assists), but for a full season. With teams now having film of point Giannis, if he’s still able to put up those numbers and be a trip-dub threat on any given night over a whole season, that’s going to speak volumes of his development.
Corey: I was taking part in a fantasy draft not too long ago and was pleasantly surprised to see Giannis ranked 12th by ESPN. Maybe it was me not fully appreciating what he turned in to after the All-Star break once he became the point guard, but I grabbed him immediately because HE’S THE BEST GUYS. I’ll give him 17 points like Mitchell and 7 rebounds. Assists will depend on whether the new crew of outside shooters can actually hit them. Mark me down for four assists until the three-point shooting proves it exists. Two blocks, a steal and three smoothies to round out his slash line.
Adam: I’ll be optimistic here and slide him up to 20 points per game. I think this is a team that’ll be in scoring ruts often, and by virtue of being one of the team’s few creators, Giannis will have plenty of chances to get on the board. I’ll take the same rest of the stat line as Mitchell, but throw in at least one ejection this year.
Frank: In raw terms, I’ll go for 20 points, eight boards and six dimes per night. In advanced terms, I’d love to see him crack +3.00 in RPM terms.
Eric N: (To piggyback on Corey’s anecdote, I recently drafted Antetokounmpo seventh in a fantasy draft.) Frank has made this really hard on me because that is pretty much where I would go in terms of counting stats. I’d maybe bump up his assist total to seven, but that’s about it.
Mitchell: At a minimum, this year has to be all about scoring for Parker. Playmaking would be a great development for both him and the team, but we need to see proof that his Duke pedigree and awe-inspiring dunk-fests can further contribute to the final score. I see Jabari channeling his powers to put up 20 points/6 rebounds on a nightly basis, while showing off that three-pointer he’s been toying with this pre-season to the tune of 36% on (hopefully) around 3 attempts/game. If (and I do mean if) he also can muster somewhere around 3 assists per game on top of all that, then Most Improved Player is on the table for Parker.
Eric B: I think anything between 17-20 ppg is a positive, but I’d also like to see him not be too hesitant from beyond the arc..or anywhere, really. He’ll have either a strength or quickness (or both!) advantage over almost everyone who guards him, and I’d like to see him capitalize on that, as well as dunking all over planet earth.
Corey: If Jabari averages 15 ppg off five threes, I’m happy in the early going. For Jabari to take the next step up into legitimate scoring threat, the outside jumper must be worked into the fold without hesitation. He starts hitting those, then those lanes to the basket open and he becomes a 20 ppg guy.
Adam: He’ll slot in around 18 ppg, with a chance to get above 20 if he starts to fire threes more consistently. Just the threat of him putting them up will help immensely. People still respect Rashad Vaughn at the 3-point arc for god’s sake. Grabbing seven rebounds would be a huge boon for this team’s rebounding woes, but I think six is more realistic. I’m not expecting his assists to get above two per game. I think he’s dead set on scoring every time he touches the ball this year, which would be a great development!
Frank: I’m taking the Giannis-and-Jabari-both-hit-20-ppg parlay. It’s October, right? Defensively it’s tougher to pick a specific number, though nabbing 7+ rebounds and I suppose a DRPM better than -1.00 would be a nice?
Eric N: Give me 20 points and 7 rebounds as well.
Corey: With an increased focus on spreading out the offense, I think Monroe’s production dips a bit this year. It became extremely apparent last year that Monroe doesn’t quite fit on this roster and that hasn’t changed heading into this season. The only way I can really see Monroe staying at his 15 ppg average is if his rebounding ups to around 10 per game. With so many jumpshooters surrounding him, Monroe will need some more reloads to stay involved.
Mitchell: I think Monroe’s per-game numbers are going to take a huge dip, down to say 13 ppg and 6.5 rpg, because he’s going to be playing with the second unit and (maybe) not as many minutes as he’d like. I truly have no idea how this will affect his decision to opt in or out of his third-year option.
Adam: Despite the muddled frontcourt situation, Greg Monroe has never had any trouble seeing the forest through the trees during his career. He’ll put up basically the same numbers he always has, with a slight dip to around 14 points and 7.5 rebounds. Inevitably he’ll have to help end some scoring droughts, and I think he’s set on setting himself up to opt out after this year and swim for greener waters.
Eric B: I think that Greg will put up somewhere around 15 points and 7 or 8 boards a game, but I also think I’m going to enjoy watching it a lot more. I am and here and I’m excited for bench Monroe, spinning and ducking around helpless backup bigs. With the expectations lowered, I anticipate Monroe’s production to not leave me feeling like I expected more from him. Perhaps this Monroe will become more of a trade asset as well.
Frank: I’ll guess something on the order of 13-14 ppg and 7-8 rpg, though on some level I’m not sure he can do anything individually to resuscitate his trade value.
Eric N: 14 points and 8 rebounds sounds about right to me.
Mitchell: Even as a recent convert to the Church of Delly, I think it would be foolish to expect major numbers from Dellavedova this season. He’ll be relied upon to make plays and hit threes, but (incoming cliché alert!) I feel like a lot of what Delly offers isn’t recorded in the box score. I think 10 points/6 assists/3 rebounds on 45/40/80 shooting is reasonable, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him even fall short of those benchmarks.
Corey: I’m not sure there is a number that Dellavedova can hit that will make people around the league justify his contract (even if the deal is relatively fair). Mitchell’s slash line is a good one for Delly. A few steals would be helpful, too.
Adam: If he can give the Bucks 8 points, 4 assists and maybe one steal a game, I’d be pretty content.
Eric B: It would be delightful if he hit an open three here and there, played consistently competitive D, and tossed #DellyDimes and #DellyOops all over the court. Also, please don’t get hurt.
Frank: The big number I’ll be looking at with Delly is his three point shooting — if he’s in the vicinity of 38-40% or better from deep that’s huge for a team sorely missing shooting. His other raw numbers will get a boost along with his minutes — he was at 25 mpg last year and should certainly be 30+ this year — and it will be interesting to see what kind of playmaking role he takes. He put up 6.5 assists per 36 last year and almost nine in this preseason, so if he’s somewhere in that range while limiting turnovers he’ll be a really nice piece.
Eric N: 6 #DellyDimes, 1 #DellyOop, and 2 #DellyBombs per game. (A #DellyBomb is a three point make from Dellavedova and yes, it feels a little forced. I can’t think of a good one for Dellavedova three. Maybe a #DelThree. I don’t know.)
Stay tuned for Part 2 of the staff roundtable!