As of publication, we are but hours away from the official start of the 2018-2019 Milwaukee Bucks season. New faces populate new places, new storylines are waiting to be written, and - critically - we’ve got eight uninterrupted months of basketball ahead.
In order to ring in the new NBA year, and to give you readers rulers upon which to measure the relative basketball-predicting capabilities of the Brew Hoop writers, we’ve put together staff season predictions.
Is this the year the Milwaukee Bucks finally break the 50-win mold? Giannis is going to be league MVP, right? Can Thon Maker or Tony Snell avoid the onerous title of “Least Favorite Buck”?
All those forecasts (and more) await!
Disclaimer: We conducted this exercise assuming Giannis Antetokounmpo was the correct answer for every category – even Coach of the Year – so keep that parameter in mind.
Bucks 2018-2019 Record, Seed, and Playoff Performance
Riley: 50-32 with the four seed in the East and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. The team may begin the season shot out of a cannon before a mid-season lull as opponents adjust to Bud’s system (and pending evidence that Budenholzer’s defense isn’t Kidd-lite). Once they get to the post-season I anticipate Milwaukee out-talenting and out-scheming rivals before coming up short at the doormat to the Finals.
Mitchell: 50-32, and the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed. I do think that the Bucks might get bounced in the conference semifinals; I’m just not ready to commit to an ECF berth.
Adam: 48-34 and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. I can see a first round advancement finally, but nothing beyond that. The slightly lower win total comes mainly from a few lingering questions defensively.
Kyle: 52-30 3rd ECF berth. The Hype Train is ready.
Gabe: Give me 52-30. I’ll slide them into the No. 4 spot in the East. I’m a little unsure if they’ll make the jump to the ECF, so I’ll say they come one game short. But I’d be more than happy to be wrong on this prediction!
Sylvan: Call me the optimist, but I think the Bucks can be the best team in the East. The Celtics seem like a hydra that only Bud and Giannis might slay, but I can’t see any other competition if we continue at the level of the preseason. 58-24, 2nd in the East, and I’m betting that we make it to the ECF, but don’t look all shocked if that ends up being the floor.
Andrew: The Milwaukee Bucks will go 53-29 and win the Central Division, which should give them a top-3 seed in the East. Head coach Mike Budenholzer will unlock Giannis’ pandora box of talent, and will bring out a more efficient Eric Bledsoe which I don’t think has gotten much attention this offseason. Khris Middleton will also make his first All-Star appearance. My body is ready.
R: I’ve been contemplating this over the off-season and I still struggle for a definitive answer. The case for Giannis is a strong one: Best player in the East, team that is ready for serious “look at us” levels of winning, a heartwarming personal story, and the craziest statlines/highlights. But the pity is strong for Anthony Davis and the interest is high in whatever LeBron James can craft the Lakers into. I’ll lukewarmly endorse the hometown kid, though I’m ready for anything.
M: Giannis. It has to be, right?
A: I get the Giannis endorsement, but I also predicted the Bucks won’t win 50 games, which makes it nigh impossible he’ll win the award given voters may still be skiddish after rewarding Russell Westbrook’s sub-50 win triple-double campaign two years ago. I’m struggling to determine who it will be in his absence, but I think fatigue and a residual lovefest/performance from Anthony Davis could create an MVP-level season. Damian Lillard is my dark horse.
K: Giannis. Improved team+stats=MVP
G: Giannis. Is rain wet?
S: All hail Giannis the Great.
AG: It’s Giannis, it’s somewhat of a no brainer for me.
Bucks (non-Giannis) Team MVP
R: I'll ride with Eric Bledsoe on this one. If you, like me, believe Budenholzer is Eric's first “real” coach since coming to the NBA, you'd understand the optimism. A lot of his value will ride on how willing he is to buy into Bud's move, move, move system on offense, but he's got the physical tools to be a menace roaming off-ball and to punish defenses who help off on Giannis too much. Combine that with his ability to potentially clamp up an opposing guard if need be on defense and you've got prime Eric Bledsoe in the right place at the right time.
M: Eric Bledsoe. He’s always had a ton of talent, and he’s going to have space to show it off.
Ad: Khris Middleton for me. I think Bud’s philosophies are going to juice his stats to an impressive degree this year.
K: Khris Middleton He’s going to make an all star team and with the increases in threes, will have more chances to increase his PPG and assists. The pressure to be a playmaker will decrease leading to more moments he can pick to attack vs pass.
G: You have to go Middleton, don’t ya? Under Kidd/Prunty, he was showcasing a level of offense that was near automatic, especially against Boston. I have confidence Bud will utilize the offensive flow to bring forth more of his strengths and we’ll see him earn his first ever All-Star berth.
S: I expect much of the Buck’s core to improve this year, but the player with the most varied and valuable skillset outside Giannis is Khris Middleton. He will be integral to our success.
AG: I’ll roll with the President, Malcolm Brogdon. The Bucks were very stagnant on both ends of the floor last season when Brogdon went down for an extended period of time. The Bucks will have the luxury of starting him, and also playing him with the second unit. His ability to command the offense and knock down the three ball is very valuable to this Bucks team.
MIB (Most-Improved Buck)
R: Normally you'd slot in Tony Snell here, but since preseason showed he may not be a part of the regular rotation, I'm going to tamp his expectations. Instead, I’ll give the nod to Malcolm Brogdon. Even in a season cut short by injury in 2017-2018 he was well on his way to improving his solid Rookie of the Year numbers. Adjusting to full-time starter may take a moment and we’ll have see how he does with less of the ball in his hands. If everything goes right, though, 2018-2019 could see contract-year Malcolm in full bloom.
M: John Henson. No, really. Stop laughing!
A: Eric Bledsoe. His counting stats may not improve markedly, but I think a better unleashed defensive ability coupled with increased efficiency on the offensive end could net him this made-up award. I’m banking most of it on the defensive improvements though.
K: I don’t even know, my gut wants to say Sterling Brown but I’m not sure how much burn he’s going to get with the rotation. He has all the tools though to be a good rotation player.
G: I’m interested to see how Thon Maker improves under a new coaching staff. Rumor has it that he’s undergone a terrific transformation over the offseason by adding 10 pounds of muscle to his frame. The question is, will he finally bring forth #PlayoffThon in the regular season?
S: The entire Bucks squad. The best part of interviews throughout the preseason was the inclusive and goal oriented language used by just about everyone. Top to bottom everyone is on board, and that is when greatness happens.
AG: Christian Wood! Although he didn’t play for the Milwaukee Bucks last season, his profile fits very well with this Bucks team. He had a fantastic preseason, and although I don’t expect him to play more than 15 minutes per game, he’s a very underrated piece for the Bucks to have available off the bench. It’s incredibly hard not to root for him considering the long path he’s taken to get to this spot.
Mike Budenholzer: Coach of the Year?
R: The Brad Stevens hype is going to be real this year, especially if the Celtics are able to take the massive leap forward most pundits have pegged them for this off-season. Last year, Dwane Casey won it as a belated recognition for the years of pretty good Toronto teams he helmed before topping his tenure with the best year yet. Something tells me Stevens will benefit from a similar situation, even if Bud is able to get the Bucks over the 50 mark.
M: The Bucks have been on the radar of the NBA intelligentsia for a few years now, due mostly to Giannis’ transcendence. But everybody has been disappointed by them lately...and Budenholzer’s offense is going to blow everyone out of the water. Can the defense keep up? The answer to that question will guide any individual recognition bestowed upon Bud.
A: I could see Nick Nurse taking this award. He’s gotten plenty of NBA intelligentsia buzz the last few years for his schemes and even though Dwane Casey hilariously won this award last year, it’s possible his protege’s new coach status and improved potency for Toronto may mean the award is heading across the border again. I wouldn’t count out Igor KoKoskov either if the Suns somehow sneak into the playoffs despite their front office lunacy.
K: If the Bucks can win 50+ games and bring stylistic basketball, then Budenholzer will be a strong contender. I am afraid Stevens will get it as a make up decision from last year and Quin Snyder will be another frontrunner.
G: It’ll be tough. There are going to be many well-deserving coaches around the league. However, if the Bucks’ offense immediately blooms and remains steady, the secret of how Jason Kidd and his staff didn’t know how to utilize Giannis will become mainstream knowledge. If the Bucks scrape the 50 win mark, there’s a solid chance Bud will earn COY honors.
S: He’s certainly a front runner. Voters like seasonal contrast, and the Bucks should be a media darling thanks to Giannis and beautiful ball.
AG: Yes, Budenholzer will win Coach of the Year. You’d think Celtics HC Brad Stevens is the alpha for this award, but if Milwaukee wins 50+ games Bud is practically a wrap to win the award. Also, with the Bucks garnering more national media love, it will only help his case.
Offensive/Defensive League Ranking
R: Without putting on the preseason-tinted glasses, you have to imagine this team has a chance to improve on both ends of the floor. Last year they ranked 9th (109.8) and 19th (110.1) in offensive and defensive rating respectively. That the offense will take a leap forward is a given, so I'll say they can jump up to a sixth-place attacking unit. Defense will be a bit more suspect and harder to glean from exhibition games. The Hawks were worse defensively last year, but had inferior talent, so maybe Bud will make slight adjustments and have the team up to 16th.
M: Offense, Top-6; Defense, Top-12
A: Offense, top-5; Defense, 15
K: Offense, top-5; Defense, top 15
G: Sign me up for a flourishing top-5 offense. I have strong faith in Bud changing the system up and wringing the most out of his players. I could see a longer adjustment coming on the defensive side of the ball, but nothing that scares me. I’ll say a top-15, perhaps a top-10 defense if everything goes smoothly.
S: Offense, top-4; Defense, top-12
AG: Offense, top-3, Defense, top-15.
R: Jodie Meeks, because the only way to be universally loved as a basketball player in Milwaukee is to either not be on the team or be Giannis. (I reserve the right to change my answer if/when Meeks actually joins the team this season)
M: Ersan Ilyasova. The third time is the charm, right?
A: Donte DiVincenzo. He does all the intangibles things that dads like, mine included.
K: Brook Lopez; he’s going to hit some three and be the type of consistent center the Bucks haven’t seen since Bogut got injured.
G: Definitely Ersan. The nostalgia with the fans will translate into positive RPM’s off the bench. I’m also excited to hear Eric the P.A. Guy belt out his signature “Ersannnnnnnnn Ilyaaasooooooooovaaaaaa” again.
S: My vote is for the President. Malcolm Brogdon is the ultimate glue guard, and he seems to have gained Bud’s total trust. He does the little things right in the big moments, and what fan doesn’t love that?
AG: It’s gotta be Thon Maker! I am probably in the minority with this one.
R: The discontent with Thon not living up to his potential will be even more brutal this year if he's stuck behind Brook Lopez, John Henson, and Christian Wood. That he's shown flashes previously makes it hurt all the more and it'll only get worse when a guy who was slogging it in the G-League arrives and instantly gives consistent production. D.J. Wilson might be the trendy pick here, but there's something to be said for hiding away by never playing.
M: It’s gonna be Thon Maker. My faith in Thon has been shaken to the core, and this season may truly make or break his NBA career. Without any significant regular season contributions this year, what exactly is the point of keeping him around? There’s only so much runway you can give to a “young” prospect before it’s flight-or-fall time.
A: Just to switch it up, I guess Delly? I have no idea if he’ll get enough playing time to garner vitriol, but we’re one injury away from seeing far too much of the Aussie.
K: Thon or Snell. Both guys already come with a lot of scrutiny and with both unable to impress in preseason, the patience is wearing thin.
G: I think there’s a scenario where Tony Snell might falter. As much of a saint as we all might think Budenholzer is, it’d be pretty wild for him to get everybody playing to their full potential. Statistically, there’s a strong chance that somebody will be left out of the fun, and right now, I can see the arrow pointing at Snell.
S: The fans have turned on DJ Wilson, so he takes the spot until the team catches up or he catches on. The hamstring injury seems to have doomed him to trade toss-in at best, but young guys get all the chances. Matthew Dellavedova is still the fan punching bag.
AG: For me, it’s Tony Snell. Bucks fans are relentless when it comes to Tony Snell’s performance.
And there you have it. Our opinions vary, but the overriding theme is a general sense of optimism about the season about to be. All that said, definitely don't come back to this article in six to seven months and hold us to account for our outrageous claims.
Enough about us. How are you feeling heading into tonight? Perhaps your hopes are even higher than that of the staff; alternatively, you could be falling back on that age-old maxim known to countless generations: Never trust the Bucks.