We’ll have much more on Milwaukee Bucks media day in our next podcast, but until then we have our Sunday night podcast to tide you over — fresh with our most #LUKEWARMTAKES on why the Bucks may struggle to hit their (revised) Vegas over/under of 37 wins and plenty of talk about other teams that we like (and don’t like) to hit their benchmarks this season:
Roughly 48 hours before learning of Khris Middleton’s torn hamstring, Bucks Nation seemed decidedly upbeat about the Bucks’ chances of exceeding their early over/under target:
The first NBA over/unders are out and the Bucks are at 39.5 wins. Your call:— FrankMadden (@brewhoop) September 20, 2016
So how much would that optimism erode after Middleton’s injury became public? Well, judging by my (very unscientific) poll numbers, Bucks fans seem to be more pessimistic than the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook about its impact on the Bucks’ win total:
So if the updated Vegas over/under for the Bucks is at 37 wins, are you better...— FrankMadden (@brewhoop) September 26, 2016
As we discuss on the podcast, that pessimism isn’t without reason, especially when you consider how bad the Bucks were a year ago. Topping 37 wins (and thus threatening a .500 season) would logically require either the Bucks to come close to average rankings in both offensive and defensive rating or becoming notably above average in one to offset a below average ranking in the other. That won’t be easy, especially when you take Middleton off a team that finished last season decidedly below average in both offense (26th) and defense (23rd) while compiling the point differential of a 29-win team.
It doesn’t mean the Bucks are hopeless without Khris; young players like Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are bound to be better over the full season this year than they were a year ago, Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic should be upgrades over guys who were around last year, and another move or two might better balance the roster before the season starts. And yet the deck is still stacked against them for now, especially when you consider that the Bucks scored 8.8 points more and conceded 3.6 fewer points per 100 possessions with Khris on the court.
Those numbers also hint at why we think it’s likely that the Bucks will have a harder time replacing Khris’ offense than defense: not only was Middleton their leading scorer and most reliable shooter last season, but he also showed a newfound ability to make plays in pick-and-roll and create his own shots off one or two dribbles. It’s not to say Middleton was the guy the Bucks would be building their offense around — that’s still Giannis obviously — but there’s little doubt that Middleton was their most reliable guy a year ago. Without him, the Bucks will become even more reliant on the 21-year-old tandem of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker to carry the offensive load, a possibility that’s as fun in theory as it might be scary in practice. While both guys put up points with Khris on the bench last season (20.9 and 17.1 points/36, respectively), Jabari/Giannis lineups sans Khris also bled points to the tune of a -8.5 points/100 differential without Middleton. You’d expect (hope?) for them to do much better this season, but that doesn’t mean wins will come easily.