Expectations are a funny thing. Without them, it gets much easier to “find” small victories here and there, as well as avoid uncomfortable conversations about where things fell short. The minute you set expectations, you now have a more concrete threshold that needs to be met in order to avoid a failing grade.
Going into last season, expectations for the Bucks were mediocre at best. The team had floundered in 2015-16, with fewer bright spots than disappointments. In parts 1 and 2 of our preseason predictions, we laid out some questions about how to approach this season. We were able to revisit those predictions a few times (here and here). Now that it’s all said and done, here are some of those questions, the answers we gave, and how things actually turned out.
Do you expect the team to do anything beyond take another trip to the lottery next summer?
Our preseason predictions took their final form in the wake of Khris Middleton’s hamstring injury in September. In the days following that news, each and every member of our staff was confident that the Bucks weren’t in a position to make the playoffs. Notable Brew Hoop alumnus Eric Nehm (of ESPN Milwaukee and Locked on Bucks fame) summed our attitudes up thusly:
“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.“
As the season got underway, we saw some of Eric’s statements come to fruition. Giannis Antetokounmpo became far more than a “borderline” All Star, and Jabari Parker was considered in the general conversation as well. The defense was greatly improved during the first trimester of the season, and many of the team’s main contributors were able to avoid injury for the majority of the season.
To their credit, the team never treated themselves as anything other than a playoff team, and were able to shake off a handful of bad runs (more on that later) and surged in the month of March to retake control of their postseason fate. That alone should be enough to maintain expectations well-above the lottery for 2017 and beyond.
What sort of stat lines could we expect from certain players?
We covered a number of players in this section, but the ones that matter the most are Giannis and Jabari. The staff, when averaging the predictions together, came to a line of 18.7 points / 7.8 rebounds / 5.5 assists / 1.4 steals / 1.6 blocks for our favorite Greek, and he exceeded those marks emphatically. On the season, Antetokounmpo averaged 22.9 points / 8.7 rebounds / 5.4 assists / 1.6 steals / 1.9 blocks. Absurd.
For Jabari, our predictions were (understandably) more limited in terms of scope, but we collectively agreed that 20 points / 6 rebounds was a reasonable benchmark, and the rest of our conversation focused around improving his perimeter shooting, playmaking, and defense. Not only did we nail the counting stats (Jabari averaged 20.1 points / 6.1 rebounds), but we also saw Jabari post career highs in assists/game (2.8), three-point accuracy (36.5%), and Defensive Win Shares (1.5, which somehow feels too high).
How many games will the Milwaukee Bucks win this year?
Averaged together, we said that Milwaukee would win 32.9 games in 2016-17. At 42-40, they exceeded our projections by nearly ten games, achieved a winning season and tentatively established themselves near the top of the Eastern Conference’s middle tier.
If we’re (prematurely) looking at what can impact next season’s win total, it may be influenced by improvements to Milwaukee’s resiliency. Were it not for the disastrous month of January (where the Bucks had two separate five-game losing streaks between Jan. 15th and Feb. 3rd), Milwaukee would have considerably increased their total. Furthermore, the Bucks also had three separate three-game losing streaks (November, December, and April), which further depressed their maximum win potential. Streaks like that matter when the margins are so thin, and they add up. In this case, the five streaks that we mentioned account for 19 total games, which is nearly a quarter of the season!
At present, Atlanta (43 wins) is atop the East’s “Tier of Unconvincing Challengers,” and Washington (49 wins), Toronto (51 wins), and Boston (53 wins) make up the “Suitor’s to LeBron’s Throne.” Among all of those teams, Milwaukee has the best player, which may be enough to at least gain equal footing. If they can also iron out the wrinkles in their roster and their strategies to avoid multi-game losing streaks, we could be looking at the start of a lengthy run of advantageous playoff seeds and high win totals.
Over/Under: Bucks defensive rating = 15th in the NBA
Milwaukee concluded the season with a 109.3 defensive rating, which ranked 19th in the league. For everybody who took the “under,” they can add that as a predictive feather in their cap. However, looking at the team’s defensive performance shows some serious variability.
For example, when the Bucks started the season, the defense was actually carrying them more than the offense, and at certain points in December, the Bucks were in the top-10 for defensive efficiency. However, once things went off the rails after mid-January, the Bucks’ defensive metrics plummeted, and bottomed out below 20th. There were signs of improvement in March and April, but not enough to pull the ranking out of the hole for the season.
The real question will be whether or not the Bucks stick with Jason Kidd’s high-risk/high-reward defensive structure for a fourth straight season. Milwaukee has seen some extreme variance in their defensive performance, and while the personnel might never fit better than they do now, it’s unclear whether the upside (see: Game 3 against Toronto) is worth the downside (see: Game 5 against Toronto).
Over/Under: Giannis and Jabari making 100 three-pointers combined
The conversation about Giannis and Jabari’s shooting was all the rage last summer. For Giannis, a three-point shot was the key to becoming unguardable; for Jabari, it was a requisite box that needed checking to ensure his future relevance in the NBA as a stretch-4.
While Giannis showed fits and starts in his shooting (both as a trend and in his actual release), Jabari’s proficiency from long-range was evident for his entire (albeit shortened) campaign. As a duo, the two combined for 114 threes!
Where do we go from here? For next season at least, we still need to wait to see how Jabari comes back from his knee injury. But did Eric Nehm deliver news of some early (read: premature) returns?
And for Giannis? As Riley noted in our Monday Morning Media Roundup, Giannis has an open invitation to work with Holger Geschwindner (aka the man who turned Dirk Nowitzki into Dirk Nowitzki) this summer, which would be terrible news for the other 29 professional teams. We can only hope that he takes the trip to Germany, and that we set the benchmark for a combined 150 makes for a season.
Maker vs. Brogdon: who has the better rookie season?
As recently as January, the staff (and most fans) were unanimous in their correct prediction that we would need to wait for Thon to make an impact, while Malcolm would have a chance from the jump. For most of the season, that was indeed the case; Thon showed flashes here and there, but Brogdon was the one playing meaningful minutes.
But whether it was all a part of the plan, a byproduct of Jason Kidd’s constant tinkering, or completely by accident, Thon began starting games and held down that position from February onward. Is it a coincidence that Thon’s minutes (limited as they were) coincided with a resurgent Bucks squad that stormed the league in February/March, catapulted up the standings, and became a nightmarish matchup possibility for the East’s upper crust?
By most box score measurements, Brogdon had the better season and is the better player. Credit to Thon for making more contributions than statistics can encapsulate, but if you’re gonna deserve to win Rookie of the Year, you had the better season. Of course, Maker has a much higher ceiling (and not just because he’s 7’1”!), so who knows which player will end up as the “better” pick?
This isn’t a complete list of all of our predictions and prognostications, so be sure to check out the original posts, and let us know what predictions you had that came true (or not) over the course of this season!