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Milwaukee Bucks Mailbag: Figuring Out the Rotation

Answering your questions about the Milwaukee Bucks ahead of their preseason tipoff

Milwaukee Bucks v New York Knicks Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

With the Milwaukee Bucks set to tip-off their preseason against the Chicago Bulls, I took to Twitter to solicit your Bucks-related questions. Without further ado, let’s dive in...

It was talked about a lot at Media Day and Mike Budenholzer is going to have his hands full with this roster. They are as deep as ever with 13 players having legitimate cases for regular playing time. Straightforward logic tells us Bud should play the best players regardless of experience or age. However, it’s a bit more difficult than that. He’ll have to masterfully tip-toe the line between continuing to develop his young players such as Sterling Brown and Donte DiVincenzo, as well as keep his veterans in Kyle Korver and Wesley Matthews happy. (I think Robin Lopez’s role is clear and he doesn’t have any direct competition for the backup five).

It will be a dog fight every single day in practice and games, and nobody’s role will be safe. Milwaukee has the the luxury of playing the hot hand and we saw Budenholzer cycle through different wings last year depending on who was playing well. Expect that to be the case once again.

As for shooting guard, I believe Matthews was brought in to be the starter and that’s what his role will be throughout the season. Bud has plenty of options behind him and he can choose to play Matthews sparingly. It’s unclear exactly how it will play out, but don’t be surprised to see Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown and DiVincenzo receive the first cracks at the rotation. We know what Korver brings to the table and Milwaukee will likely use him in spot duty. George Hill will also get some time at the two-further complicating things. To answer your question, Mike, I have no idea how the minutes will get split up at this point!

Pat Connaughton is in line for a big year. Although he’s entering his fifth NBA season, he’s only played real minutes in two of those years. He now knows what to expect in this league and is entering year two in Budenholzer’s system. Connaughton had an awful start to his Bucks’ career, shooting just 28.8 percent from downtown before the All-Star break. However, he broke out in a big way after the break and drained 38.2 percent of his threes the rest of the season. He also carried that momentum into the postseason where he had a few really nice games. If he can consistently hit his threes, he’ll be a staple in the Bucks’ rotation.

I’m not sure the Bucks can afford anyone to take a step back given their ultimate goal of winning a championship. They lack the star power at the top of their roster alongside Giannis Antetokounmpo and are counting on their depth to compensate. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely nobody would regress. Given their age, Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill and Wesley Matthews are the prime candidates. All three figure to have prominent roles with the Bucks this season, but they’re not irreplaceable if the right guys step up behind them.

I guess we don’t see Khris Middleton the same way. Inconsistent isn’t really a word I’d use to describe him, even if he does have a dud from time to time. With that being said, he scored in double figures in 74 of the 77 games he played last season. Even if he wasn’t scoring consistently, he’s one of the Bucks’ best playmakers and wing defenders. Sometimes his assignments go farther than we realize which might pull him away from filling up the traditional box score as we’d like.

If we had to put an over/under on the rotation at the start of the season, 9.5 would be our number. Budenholzer flirted with it to begin last year and the Bucks are even deeper this time around. The following eight players are likely locked into roles from the jump; Brook Lopez, Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Matthews, Eric Bledsoe, Robin Lopez, Ilyasova and Hill. That leaves one or two spots, most likely wings, worth fighting over.

One aspect Jon Horst has practiced and preached since becoming the Bucks’ general manager is positional flexibility. He loves to give Budenholzer multiple lineups to work with depending on the opponent. That was a large part of why they acquired Nikola Mirotic at the trade deadline last season. He brought a skillset to Milwaukee they didn’t already and gave them different lineups to play with.

Even though Milwaukee doesn’t have another traditional backup center besides Lopez, they aren’t forced to play one of the twins at all times. If the matchup is right, Ilyasova, Wilson and Antetokounmpo can fill in at the five. This positional flexibility is what sets the Bucks apart from a lot of teams in the NBA. With that being said, expect one of the Lopez brothers to be on the court the majority of the time.

Absolutely! Even though most of it will look the same, the Bucks aren’t going to trot out the exact same offense they ran last season. Budenholzer has likely been self-scouting all summer to figure out where his team can improve. He’ll certainly add a few wrinkles to the offense and add sets the Bucks didn’t run, or didn’t run regularly, last year. We already saw some new actions in the scrimmage on Sunday. It might not be apparent immediately, especially in the preseason, but expect the Bucks’ to run some different looks this season.