It seems unbelievable that the Milwaukee Bucks 2020-21 season is tipping off on Wednesday, but it’s true. The truncated offseason, the craziness of free agency in a week, the heartbreak that led to throbbing hearts when Giannis Antetokounmpo re-signed...it’s been a wacky few months to say the least. With a cast of new characters to familiarize ourselves with, Jon Horst gave Mike Budenholzer a new set of paint, let’s see what he can do with it.
Here are our official predictions for the Bucks this upcoming season.
Bucks 2019-20 Record, Seed, and Playoff Performance
Kyle: 46-26 and still get the two seed as the new players work their way into Bud’s system and one of Boston, Philly, Brooklyn heavily chases the one seed. I think the ease of Giannis staying gives Milwaukee a better mindset and they make the finals, winning a tough seven game series against the Los Angeles Lakers thanks to the players making adjustments on their own.
Riley: Let’s say 48-24, a three seed in the East, and an appearance (and eventual loss) in the ECF.
Adam: I’ll lock them in at 45-27 to snag a two seed in the East. Like Riley, I’m expecting them to bow out in the Conference Finals.
Gabe: Give me 46-26 with a two seed in the East. I’m going to shine a light of optimism on the squad and say that the Bucks advance to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1971. Unfortunately, I see the Lakers overwhelming them and ousting them.
Mitchell: Despite a rough start (which I think is reasonable to predict), I think the team goes on an extended surge once they hit their stride. I say they go 51-21, nab the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and the playoffs are a basketball iteration of “third time’s the charm” as the Bucks blaze their way through all comers, make the NBA Finals and take home the trophy.
Kyle: Luka Doncic, unless Giannis has unbelievable numbers this season, I can see media fatigue setting in and looking for someone else. Luka was looking to be a MVP contender at the beginning of last year and I think a good Dallas Mavericks record will seal it.
Riley: Kevin Durant. They’ve been extremely limited minutes, but KD looks like he’s going to be far more of a force than you could’ve guessed after he tore his Achilles’. Combine the comeback with what could be an East-leading Nets run and he could obtain a bit more hardware.
Adam: I’m with Kyle, I think the media is more than ready to move on from Giannis as MVP after the Playoff flameouts and they want a shine new narrative to push. Luka puts up impressive numbers across the stat sheet and I don’t think team success will be as relevant this year. I expect seeding to get a little jumbled if there are any issues related to COVID absences.
Gabe: It’s incredibly difficult for an athlete to win three consecutive MVP’s in any sports league, including the NBA. With that being said, I think Luka maintains his solid numbers from last year and takes even another step forward and brings home his first MVP.
Mitchell: Luka Doncic, but I think it’s going to be close. I think Giannis is going to make enough improvements to have a strong case for himself, and the competition is going to be tighter than we expect. However, Dallas is going to be good, and Doncic is already really freaking good. The Mavericks may lobby for his candidacy whereas the Bucks won’t do so unless Giannis asks them to (and he won’t), making this Luka’s award to lose.
Andrew: I don’t think the MVP will be Giannis because of voter fatigue. I believe Steph Curry has a legitimate shot at earning an MVP with Klay Thompson slated to miss the entire season. Giannis will finish as the runner up, though.
Bucks (non-Giannis) Team MVP
Kyle: Jrue Holiday, the Bucks needed an upgrade on Eric Bledsoe and they got it, Holiday could be the piece that gets Milwaukee to the next level and while he won’t show it with his stats, his composure will give Milwaukee what it lacked the last few years.
Riley: We must once again bow at the altar of Khris Middleton: second leading man. Jrue’s value will likely show through most visibly in the playoffs, and there’s a lot of basketball between now and then. Khris is the guy tasked as a fulcrum around which to break a set defense by abusing isolated defenders. Further, when substitutes are in he often has a hand as a tall pseudo-point guard. For that, he’ll be our non-Giannis MVP.
Adam: Ya, I think it’s gotta be Khris. The amount of time he’s asked (and asks himself) to create a shot out of nothing is one of the few release valves this offense has. His effortless shotmaking is delightful to watch. He’s a solid enough playmaker too, but hopefully between Jrue Holiday and D.J. Augustin he can focus even more on purely maximizing his marksmanship.
Gabe: Yeah, give me Khris here as well. Holiday is obviously an upgrade from Bledsoe, but as Riley mentioned, that change will really (hopefully) be noticed in the playoffs. Middleton will flirt with another 50/40/90 season, and I believe he’ll earn his third consecutive All-Star nod. That will solidify him as Milwaukee’s non-Giannis MVP.
Mitchell: Are we talking about regular season? Khris Middleton, hands down. But if we’re considering the playoffs, then give me Jrue Holiday. Giannis and Khris don’t shy away from the big stage, but the point of going for Holiday was to add a top-end player who also could handle the pressure. Holiday presumes to be that guy, and I think his postseason performance will make or break the Bucks’ efforts this year.
Andrew: I want to say Khris Middleton, but I am going to go with Jrue. The Bucks have a point guard who can defend at an elite level and be a consistent offensive threat...even in the postseason! The addition of JRue will pay dividends rather quickly and I am excited to see how he matches up against the elite players/guards of the Eastern Conference.
MIB (Most-Improved Buck)
Kyle: Jordan Nwora will surprise some people and get some rotation minutes. Even if he doesn’t, people will demand it.
Riley: DJ Wilson. The thing about going from zero production to one is that your year-on-year rate of increase is mathematically exponential. He’ll have a stretch of 10 games where he looks like he knows how to dribble and will inevitably earn himself a second guaranteed NBA contract.
Adam: For all our sakes, I hope it’s Donte DiVincenzo. The botched Bogdanovic trade places unfair pressure upon The Big Ragu, but his shooting needs to tick up for him to become the additional weapon Milwaukee needs for eventual postseason success. His defense is already top-notch, but he needs to become more reliable on a night-to-night basis on the offensive end this season.
Gabe: Donte DiVincenzo. So far, we’ve seen only flashes of what he can bring to the table. His agility on the court has made impacts here and there, as he always seems to be in the right place at the right time. If he can couple that and build upon his offensive skillset, it adds another exclusive option the Bucks can rely on. I really am optimistic with his 3-point shot. If that can take a large step forward, this Bucks squad is going to be tough.
Mitchell: I have high hopes for Sam Merrill, but I think Bobby Portis is going to surpass all of our expectations. I think Donte still needs a little more seasoning before he reaches his ceiling, and I don’t know if this season is enough for him to get it. However, Portis is going to be a main engine of the bench unit’s offense and he’s the presumptive PF in Giannis-at-center lineups. Between his transition efforts and his three-point prowess, I think Portis is going to be an unexpected cornerstone of this season (as long as he survives on defense).
Andrew: Brook Lopez. He turned up his play offensively in the bubble after strugging in the regular season prior to the COVID-19 stoppage. We know what we are going to get from him defensively, but Lopez being a consistent threat from deep again would do wonders for the Bucks.
Offensive/Defensive League Ranking
Kyle: Offense 7th, defense 2nd.
Riley: Uh... 6th in offense, 7th in defense? We’re looking like a team that’s going to need plenty of time to figure out their spots early in the season, and that will show in ratings.
Adam: Ya, I’m right around the same ranges as Riley offensively. I do think the defense will get into the top five though, even with drop coverage’s deficiencies, the number of teams who can consistently rip it to shreds with their personnel is limited.
Gabe: Due to Bud’s nature of preaching defense, I can see them cracking the top five in that category. Offense will be a bit of a different story, solely due to the fact that it’s going to take a bit of time for chemistry to develop. However, when it’s all said and done, I still anticipate that to be in the top 10, just due to the offensive talent of Antetokounmpo and Middleton.
Mitchell: I think the offense will be much improved thanks to the additions of Holiday, Augustin, Forbes, and Portis, and I think that improvement will allow Giannis to be even more efficient. I’ll predict 3rd in offensive rating for Milwaukee, but a fall all the way to 5th on defense. The starting lineup will be firm and Torrey Craig will be an important bench piece, but I think the reserves are going to give up too much for the Bucks to maintain their lofty statistical standing on D.
Andrew: Offense (9), defense (3).
Kyle: Torrey Craig, I think his hustle and defensive ability will be highlighted and appreciated.
Riley: Donte DiVincenzo as the guy who was on the outs, only to be brought back in. Plus, he’ll do all the little stuff that fans get excited about, even if he still can't hit the broadside of a barn from three. His taking another sizable step forward will be critical in anchoring Milwaukee’s guard rotation.
Adam: Bobby Portis. He’s a walking meme machine with those peepers and he offers the same sort of potential for instant offense that Michael Beasley did a few years ago. Your dad is probably already lauding his hustle during a transition dunk.
Gabe: I’ll take Bobby Portis. He really fits the mold of the type of player that you could hate if he’s not on your team but love if he is. You know Giannis is going to really form an appreciation for him as well, so there will surely be some great postgame media availabilities with that. Portis’ energy is going to really rub off well on fans.
Mitchell: ...can we not list Giannis here? Is that unfair? If so, then I’ll take Sam Merrill. Everybody loves a rookie that outperforms expectations, and Merrill’s shooting seems to be the real deal. He also seems like a mature guy that teammates will enjoy playing with, and if he can survive on defense I think the whole “60th pick in the draft becomes a rotation piece” story is one that a lot of people will latch onto.
Andrew: LANKY SMOOVE.
Kyle: You mean besides the obvious landlord who probably will gentrify Milwaukee?
Riley: More than an athlete.
Mitchell: It’s clearly already Pat Connaughton.
Adam: How quickly things turned for Mr. Connaughton.
Gabe: Pat Connaughton. From the sketchy landlord stories from the offseason to the contract he signed, he hasn’t done much to stay on the good side of fans. I laughed that the one of the first highlight videos that the Bucks showed from training camp showed Connaughton flying by on a pump fake. It’s going to take a lot from him to get back on the good side of Bucks fans.
Andrew: The only acceptable answer here is Pat Connaughton.