Finally, at long last, the NBA regular season is on the precipice of a return. With that return comes games of consequence for the Milwaukee Bucks, once-champions and again-contenders with serious NBA Finals aspirations.
Every team starts the season with a simple goal: win basketball games. Not all teams are created (constructed?) equal, and some are going to win way more than others. This rings particularly true in a year when a generational prospect is the potential prize for drawing the top overall pick in the draft, and will likely factor into team’s re-interpreting that goal; maybe they’ll win basketball games later, rather than right now. The Bucks are the furthest thing from that, and have been for some time. With one title added to Giannis Antetokounmpo’s resume, the Buck Of All Bucks wants to collect all the hardware he possibly can, which is what make’s last season’s premature ejection from the playoffs all the more disappointing.
So what now? The Bucks are basically the same team we saw last year – and the year before that – so we know what their ceiling is. What does this upcoming season have in store for us?
What’s the ‘Best Case’ scenario for the Bucks this season?
To put it concisely, the years’ long bet on continuity wins out as Milwaukee’s reinvestment in the roster they built last year pays dividends in the form of a return to the Finals. Fans and pundits alike are pretty consistent in their acknowledgement that, had Khris Middleton not been unavailable for the Celtics series, the Bucks would probably have advanced instead of the Celtics. Some of this is certainly a coping mechanism for those who refuse to recognize Boston’s worthiness and no matter how you slice it, they earned their trip to the championship round. Likewise, the Bucks have earned the presumption of success if healthy, which really is the core of their best case scenario this season.
After all, the parts are all there. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best player in the world. Jrue Holiday is the perimeter menace who can also score at all three levels. Khris Middleton, upon his return, is the smooth operator on the wing who can get a bucket on his own better than nearly anyone. The supporting cast is deep and diverse; Bobby Portis, Brook Lopez, Grayson Allen, Wes Matthews, Pat Connaughton, Jevon Carter, Serge Ibaka, and George Hill all know how to play with this group and within the scheme. Joe Ingles might even help open up the offense on his return, and MarJon Beauchamp has the young legs to give the defense an injection of (wait for it...) energy and effort, should they need it. But anything these two guys can add is a bonus; the top-end talent is what carries this team to their ultimate destination.
What’s the ‘Worst Case’ scenario for the Bucks this season?
The easy answer is “a repeat of last year,” but it actually comes down to Milwaukee’s strategic approach going from holding steady to growing stale. Bringing back the same crew as last season isn’t a guarantee that they’ll avoid the same result as last season. There is value in comfort and familiarity, but does it come at the risk of complacency? The defense is reportedly shifting to make up for last postseason’s flaws, but are those changes sufficient to keep pace with their competitors?
The Bucks have the best known path to get through any opponent: force the other team into sub-par shots on offense, while funneling everything through the Big 3 and open shooters on the perimeter. Everyone knows what to expect from them, and there’s a world where that insistence on existing as a “known quantity” gives another squad an edge, and then it comes down to matchups. Does the Harden-Embiid combination click in Philadelphia? Does Ben Simmons give Brooklyn a necessary ingredient to mix with Durant and Kyrie? Will Boston navigate the morass their franchise was dragged through and use their improved depth to support Tatum and Brown’s bid to return to the Finals?
What’s the ‘Most Likely’ scenario for Milwaukee this season?
Barring the ever-present specter of injury, the Bucks are going to be really good. As was the case with the Duncan-era Spurs, this Milwaukee team should be penciled in for 50+ wins, a top-4 seed in the playoffs, and anything short of an NBA Finals appearance will be considered a disappointment. Without any bad luck on the health front, this Bucks team should be able to beat anybody and everybody they cross paths with.
Luckily, Milwaukee has spent years developing their entire basketball operation around keeping guys healthy for the postseason. Middleton slipping on a wet spot (a bad habit of his...) and missing the Conference Semifinals is the exception, not the rule. Brook Lopez punted on the 2021-22 regular season in order to be back to his regular self in the postseason. Jrue Holiday, Pat Connaughton, Bobby Portis, and Wes Matthews all managed to avoid any nagging injuries that would put their availability in jeopardy. George Hill couldn’t shake what still is a serious neck injury, and it was Bud’s insistence on playing him anyway (despite a healthy Jevon Carter on the roster) that was the problem. Even PJ Tucker, who was the lynchpin of the Bucks’ championship run in 2021, bristled at being held out for long stretches of the regular season...but had no issues going full-throttle in the playoffs because he took the time when he could afford to. And Giannis? Don’t worry about Giannis.
What are you most excited for going into this season?
Can I be real for a second? For just a millisecond? The thing I am looking forward to the most from the regular season is for it to be over. In all honesty, an unknown downside to following a team that is firmly in the top tier of the league is treating the regular season with relative indifference compared to the playoffs. (You can imagine how we feel about the preseason!) The Bucks accumulated 60 victories in the first year of Mike Budenholzer’s tenure as head coach; if you were to ask any fan if they’d prefer a dominant regular season or a dominant postseason, you would barely finish your question before receiving an emphatic preference for rings over wins. The games technically matter now, but they really matter starting in April. The regular season is just a vehicle to get to the playoffs in one piece.
Predicted regular season record:
Predicted conference seeding:
2nd in the East
…Rayjon Tucker, I guess? Seriously, out of 19,755 total minutes played last season, the Bucks are bringing back the same 14 players who logged 87% of that total; only 2,568 total minutes were given to the 15(!) players who spent some time on the roster in 2021-22.
Last season’s team record
Last season’s conference ranking
Last season’s offensive rating (ORtg)
115.86 (3rd overall)
Last season’s defensive rating (DRtg)
112.56 (13th overall)
What seed do you think the Milwaukee Bucks will earn for the 2022-23 NBA playoffs?
This poll is closed
5th seed (or lower)