Welcome back to the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t feed the pugs from the table, thanks. Today, the staff wants to start putting together our recap of the season, and reflect on just how different everything turned out from our initial expectations.
Nobody expected more than 35-ish wins. The Bucks have 40. What happened?
Brett: Giannis became a superstar, Monroe reinvented himself and his role (and became super useful), and they (thankfully) got a competent backup (and now starting) point guard in Brogdon. They also swapped a ball-dominant point guard who couldn’t shoot for a perfectly fine three-and-D wing.
Mitchell: Brett could have stopped after his first statement and left it at that. The Milwaukee 2016-17 season will always be about the ascension of Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is the rare caliber of player that doesn’t even defy expectations, he transcends them. And at 22 years old, surrounded by a non-optimized roster and a still-learning (to be kind) coaching staff, he has led the Bucks to a non-trivial playoff seed. Giannis happened.
Adam: Ditto to what these two guys said. Giannis’ rise to the NBA’s elite came far quicker than I expected, and buoyed a team beset by injuries to its core complements. Greg Monroe carried bench units while Malcolm Brogdon got his court legs and wildly outperformed expectations. Johnny O’Bryant and Rashad Vaughn not playing nearly 2,000 combined minutes helps too.
Gabe: Two things. First, Giannis became the player the Bucks themselves hoped he’d become, along with the fans. Remember when he was in his second season and we were giddy when he’d score 20 points in a game? Now that seems routine for him and his All-Star status. Second, Khris Middleton is super good. I was one who even contemplated shutting him down due to risk of re-injuring his hamstring, but I’m glad to be proven wrong. His play has proved his worth to this Bucks squad and is on pace to become an All-Star next season.
Eric B: A combination of Giannis rising to superstardom, Khris returning and getting back to form, and a few upgrades in the bench/spot starter positions. I should also add that the defense went from embarrassing to maybe not embarrassing sometimes.
Dylan: Not a fan of my peers disparaging the holy gospel of JOB, but the combination of top-end talent improving and the overall improvement of the rest of the roster were key. Also, Jason Terry not being dead weight like the Bucks previous super-veteran/Kidd-cronies signings like Chris Copeland and Kenyon Martin was pretty surprising.
What do you expect in the playoffs?
Mitchell: I expect a number of intriguing games that show flashes of the Bucks’ brilliance, but enough mistakes to end the series after five or six games. Winning in the NBA largely depends on a superstar, but winning in the NBA Playoffs depends on those surrounding the superstar. The Milwaukee Bucks are not bad; the teams above them in the East are simply better. For now.
Adam: A satisfying glimpse into the future that ends abruptly. None of the potential Eastern Conference foes for Milwaukee scares me outside of the Cavaliers’, but Milwaukee taking two in any of those series would still feel like a very positive outcome. More importantly, I’m looking forward to seeing a team have an entire series to game plan against Giannis. His lack of a jump shot feels like it could become an issue in an isolation-heavy postseason, and his previous postseason stint was relatively bland outside of one spectacular half. Hopefully, his breakout campaign bleeds into the postseason.
Gabe: An exciting series. I think the Bucks can win any series against teams not named the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Boston Celtics. If they lose to either Washington or Toronto, I think it’ll be in seven games. Playoff Giannis intrigues me the most. It’s been two years since we last saw him in the postseason and looking back, he’s a completely different beast now. As Adam said, hopefully his regular season play will continue on into the playoffs. I’m also excited for America and the rest of the NBA to realize, Hey. These aren’t the old Milwaukee Bucks. These guys are good! Also, let’s hope by the end of the playoffs, everyone in the national media can correctly pronounce Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Eric B: I’m not expecting much, but I won’t be surprised by much, either. The Bucks have looked like world beaters at times, but have also [words that properly describe the loss in OKC]. This is me saying that they’re inconsistent, and I guess that means I expect a little bit of both good and bad. Any playoff experience will prove valuable, though.
Dylan: I’ll expect a good first round matchup that runs to six or seven games. Most importantly, I don’t think the Bucks will be blown off the court like they did two years ago against the Bulls. Superstars show up in the playoffs so this will be the true coming out party for Giannis.
What big question do you want to answer this offseason?
Mitchell: I need to know what the plan is at center. Are we going to split time between a rim protector and a low-post scorer, or will there be bigger changes? Right now, things are working out pretty well with Moose playing the majority of the minutes (plus having excellent rapport with Brogdon and Middleton), Thon getting carefully managed playing time, and Henson/Hawes filling in as needed. However, without knowing if Monroe or Hawes will return next year (both have player options), there’s no way to tell what this position will look like in six months. Not only that, but with Thon Maker being so very different from most centers, how different will the team look once he’s ready to take his next step?
Adam: Does this front office have enough confidence in Jabari Parker to sign him to an extension this fall? Parker’s future with the Bucks is murky, riddled with questions over what sort of contract may be equitable for a player of his pedigree with his devastating injury history. If Hammond and co. sign Parker to an extension this fall at a below-market rate and Parker somehow blossoms into a useful player, it’s a coup. If not, it’s an albatross. Conventional wisdom would say it’s best to play out the year and see how he performs, but they’ll have a far better idea than anyone on the outside as to how Parker is shaping up. It remains the most tenuous question looming over the franchise.
Gabe: If Thon is going to develop into what we hope/think he will, what does that mean for Greg Monroe and John Henson? Chances are that Monroe forces the Bucks’ hand and he’s proven this season that he deserves a spot on the team. Henson, not so much. That being said, there’s a strong chance his time in Milwaukee may be ticking. Now, could he have another strong playoff series like he did in 2015? Perhaps, and if so, the Bucks could possibly use that on the trade market (I was hoping they’d trade Henson and the 17th pick in the draft to move up and pick Devin Booker, imagine how that would’ve turned out). Also, like Adam said, I’m intrigued how they approach the Parker situation. The Bucks will definitely retain him, but the price tag remains unknown, especially following the second ACL injury.
Eric B: The Parker question is the most intriguing, but for the sake of diversity I’ll say I want to know how the Bucks view themselves internally this summer. Do they think they have enough talent and just need time to develop? If they think they’re short on talent, how aggressive will they get in acquiring it? Personally, I don’t think they have enough talent to be a serious threat, so I’m curious to see how the Bucks will view it.
Dylan: I’ll say the draft will be a flashbulb moment for how the Bucks view the team they currently have. Notorious for picking high-upside projects like Giannis and Thon looks to be working out for the Bucks, but the Rashad Vaughn pick is looking to be an albatross. With the success of the elder statesman, Malcolm Brogdon, will the Bucks look to supplement their roster with cheap draft talent in the form of plug-and-play college seniors instead of risky free agent acquisitions? It’s obviously a question for every team in the Association, but the Bucks have seen positive outcomes with both strategies. Hammond’s draft record and strategy are something to monitor moving forward.
How many “big” changes do you think the Bucks make this summer?
Eric B: More than one.
Mitchell: This might be one of the weirdest summers in recent memory. On the one hand, the Bucks have several major decisions to work through, most notably Jabari Parker’s possible extension, the results of Greg Monroe’s player option, and whether to package together some of their larger role players (Henson, Telly, Delly) to make a move elsewhere. Not only that, but there’s also the free agency of Michael Beasley and Jason Terry, Spencer Hawes’ player option, Tony Snell’s restricted free agency, and the eternal Rashad Vaughn question.
Zooming out as far as we can, the Bucks have to make a choice: do you make minimal changes and run it back with the majority of this year’s squad? Or do you make as many changes as possible to start setting up playoff runs led by Giannis? The reason why the options feel so extreme is that the Bucks don’t have any more time to take a middle path; after this summer, flexibility is sharply decreased and the clock starts ticking.
Gabe: I think they’ll make a few. I think it depends on how they approach Jabari and Moose.
Adam: I don’t think any. There’s just not a whole lot of wiggle room for the team to make a drastic change. Even if Greg Monroe opts out, getting Giannis’ contract extension in place made it nearly impossible to open up significant cap space unless Hammond opens up a summertime garage sale on the spare parts he picked up last summer. If there’s a drastic change, I anticipate it coming at a strategic or leadership level.
Dylan: I think they’ll stand pat with most of the same roster, barring the expected turnover, and then go into the next offseason with more grandiose plans based on the Parker/Monroe actions they take. If signing Snell is a “big” change that will be something to watch.
On a scale of “Malcolm Brogdon discussing 18th century European trade” to “Giannis tweeting about smoothies”, how excited are you for next season?
Brett: It’s hard to say without seeing what the roster looks like (and how much the team decided to pay Tony Snell and/or Michael Beasley), but I’m not sure there’s much more to “look forward” to than expected improvement in general (and, of course, to see if Giannis can take another huge step forward). I’m not sure how much better Middleton’s going to get (though that’s not necessary for next season to be fun) and I’m even more dubious on Jabari than I was before his injury. But a well-fitting roster and approaching 50 wins would be fun!
Mitchell: I’ll go one step further and say that 50 wins is a minimum expectation for next season, and being able to write that has me at a solid 9.5 Giannis-transition-windmill-dunks out of 10. My way-too-early prediction is a 52-30 record and an Eastern Conference Semifinals series.
Adam: Thon Maker’s recent runs are spurring most of my enthusiasm for next year. His development, and whether he can stack on enough muscle for the coaching staff to entrust him with true starter’s minutes is something I’ll be hoping for all offseason. Whether or not he’s the answer at center, he’s certainly the most promising (and least depressing) long-term answer they’ve had there since Larry Sander’s breakout campaign. I’m curious whether Giannis can make another leap, and how that would manifest itself, but outside of that next season feels like it will proceed rather similarly to how the latter half of this year went. The Bucks’ won’t keep up the torrid pace they’re on now, but I’ll enjoy seeing how this young roster grows and watching Jabari yamming highlights in anticipation of his return.
Chances are I’ll still be hungover from the Championship parade I’m a little excited for a run at 50 wins.
Gabe: I’m pretty pumped. Hopefully we send the Bradley Center out with an Eastern Conference Finals run. I’d love to see that place rocking again in the postseason like it was back in the day with Ray, Big Dog and Cassell. The Fortress on 4th Street is the best playoff atmosphere in the NBA, baby!
Dylan: Call me when they announce the 2017-2018 season bobbleheads.