It’s the most wonderful time of the year: frost encrusts the Upper Midwest for the next four months, the Bucks are playing a Christmas day game for the first time since 1977, and of course it’s trade season.
Jon Horst might have beaten the starter’s gun with the trade that brought us cap relief and George Hill, but as a true contender with depth and out-of-place parts the Bucks are going to get wrung through the same rumor mill that awaits all great teams. The chemistry is real and this organization has tighter lips than the yakuza, but the sunken ships of the Eastern Conference and the 24-hour gossip grind will demand more flash riots on a data diet, as we saw last week with Khris Middleton.
All it takes is a ripple for us to see the whale.
Fans understand now that we can beat Boston, we can beat Philly. The Raptors are just another squad, and before we’ve won a series we turn our ravening eyes Westward, and tremble just a little.
While the East roils with controversy and chaos, the Bucks soar above on the wings of their all-timer. Giannis Antetokounmpo is that good, that we can have off nights from outside as long as nobody can shut him down. We can beat teams without our second or third options firing. When we hit on both fronts, we seem so unstoppable that the Celtics shut all doors for an intense tete-a-tete. These Bucks could well dominate deep into the playoffs, but can we take the Warriors in a series?
For Bucks fans, that such a question is on our minds in December is the greatest holiday gift of them all, but there will be those that have to draw the line for blind faith in Bud at some rational seeming border. We will get anxious, and then we will wonder what else is out there, what Bud could do with even more perfect personnel.
Sure it’s greedy, but greed is what trade season is all about. You want your team to get the most out of its assets, and the Bucks depth, contract situation, and streakiness is enough to make even the most stolid fan consider the dread trade machine.
It’s no secret that the Bucks want shooters, love shooters, gotta have shooters in Mike Budenholzer’s glimmering system, and Jon Horst has done well enough to oblige our efficiency happy coach. The issue of the Bucks backcourt is not that we lack talent, we aren’t forced by circumstance to run out a Justin Holiday or Rodney Hood. It’s more that the talent tops off and goes foamy just before the glass is filled.
Each of our shooting guards offers something useful, but what that certain quality is varies from night to night. That the super platoon has worked so well is a testament to the system and the character of our talent, but with each guy worthy of starter’s minutes on a crap team it’s good to take stock of what they offer and what their value might be on the open market.
Malcolm Brogdon 29.7 MPG 15.1 PPG 1.8/3.9 3PA/3PM 4.7 RPG 3.4 APG 16.6 PER
Role - Leadership - Malcolm Brogdon may have just turned 26, but he has the trust of Coach Bud and is a true leader on the court. With the arrival of George Hill, Brogdon seems cemented as the Bucks primary shooting guard, his ability to snag the tough board has been instrumental in firing the fast break.
Future potential - Malcolm seems to be peaking out as a solid starter who is just short of being a bonafide star, which means he should perform at or around his current level for the next half decade. If he can stay healthy, Malcolm is the kind of heady player that ages like a fine wine.
Current Value - As a former RotY with contender pedigree and no red flags, Malcolm could be worth a bit, but it might suit a patient team to try to snag the President in the chaos of free agency. With his contract, the only way the team would get back value to satisfy fans would be in a package deal. As the best fit in the system, Brogdon is most valuable right where he is.
What he can do - Brogdon does all of the little things right in this system, so his job is to make those skills more efficient. Reps lead to muscle memory leads to improvisational automatic greatness. He shoots from outside at a fine rate, but he could always take more on plays that he currently chooses to drive.
Tony Snell 17.9 MPG 6.9 PPG 1.3/3.3 3PA/3PM 2.1 RPG 0.8 APG 11.9 PER
Role - 3 & D - The closest thing the Bucks have to a prototype, Tony fires away without hesitation and makes life a little more difficult for his man every night. As for chemistry, he’s essentially inert.
Future potential - Tony Snell is not getting any better, but he found his niche. At 27, he should be roughly the same player for the length of his contract.
Current Value - Tony Snell is the ideal toss-in in any blockbuster trade. He’s the last of the contracts that makes this summer uncomfortable, and though his value is universal no team will ever target him in a trade. The Bucks can be expected to throw him into every possible trade negotiation.
What he can do - Get consistent. Snell has quietly put together a solid enough season, but there are stretches that he seems to fade into another plane of existence. He has a place in Bud’s system, and his length should guarantee him swing minutes, but there are hungry and capable players banging at the door.
Donte DiVincenzo 16.8 MPG 5.2 PPG 0.8/3.3 3PA/3PM 2.7 RPG 1.2 APG 8.7 PER
Role - Spasmodic Rookie Energy - Let’s face it, as much as the hardcore fans might love Donte for his effort, his rookie season has been all over the place, and that’s okay. There’s less pressure on Donte to get gud than there was on DJ last season, and he’s already shown more in his rookie season than the suddenly esteemed reclamation project.
Future potential - It’s really hard to tell with Donte. It’s safe to say that the Bucks’ 2018 first rounder is no bust, but he is horrifically unlucky at times. Brandon Knight levels of misfortune. Once he shakes off his rookie jitters and carves out a role, Donte could be a solid contributor but can he ever be more than Malcolm? Something about Donte screams career 6th man, but he understands that and accepts the role.
Current Value - Cult status aside, there isn’t a GM in the world that is giving up value for Donte DiVincenzo at this stage in the game. As a trade season sweetener he’s Sweet’N Low.
What he can do - Slow down and focus on the work. Put on Clydesdale blinders and shoot, shoot, shoot.
Sterling Brown 14.1 MPG 5.0 PPG 0.7/2.0 3PA/3PM 2.9 RPG 1.0 APG 11.8 PER
Role - N/A - Though Sterling has gotten a few opportunities of late, he’s had to scrap for them at the bottom of the pile. While fans are certainly rooting for Sterling, it’s hard to truly say he deserves to take minutes from the top of the rotation. He has been better since his return from the G-League, when he isn’t forcing the game he can contribute.
Future potential - I don’t want to say that a 23 year old that hasn’t had enough time to blossom has peaked, but Sterling’s ceiling feels fair to middling. He’s grown more comfortable in recent weeks, but that comfort hasn’t led to domination. If things break right he could be a starter in Cleveland. If they break wrong he could be in Taiwan before he turns 27.
Current Value - Sterling Brown is not a household name and he isn’t being showcased, but he has had a few standout plays that show off his athleticism and awareness. At this point, he’s not worth much more than a second rounder or a trash for trash swap that would lose value on our end.
What he needs to do - Get opportunities to prove himself. Forge bonds with his teammates. Become indispensable through dependability.
Pat Connaughton 19.0 MPG 6.2 PPG 1.0/3.5 3PA/3PM 3.9 RPG 2.0 APG 13.6 PER
Role - Deep Bench Energy - It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what is holding Pat Connaughton back, but he has not established a greater role with the team despite emphatic moments of athletitude. He has chemistry and coach seems to like him, but he seems to suffer from the team’s absurdly flat depth.
Future potential - Pat needs a certified NBA skill, but he seems closer to establishing that moment than Sterling. It could be a product of his biathletic nature, but he is a classic does everything well but nothing amazing guy. At his spot in the depth chart, the future is uncertain past the next contract.
Current Value - Planet Pat’s orbit in the Bucksiverse has been lonely of late. While he’s shown decent skill on the boards and as a dunker, those skills are extremely redundant in Milwaukee. With an impressively low salary, he would be simple enough to move, but it would be hard to recoup value without a greater package. Savvy GMs like his game, but savvy GMs are harder to swindle.
What he needs to do - Hit from three. It’s a consistent message, but for Pat it’s the only thing keeping him off the court. In his last ten games that he saw court action, Connaughton is shooting a dismal .214 from three. Pat can jam it, he can slam it, and when it does go in it is so sweet, but the hard clang of orange metal is discordant with the rhythm of the culture.