Welcome back to yet another year of the Brew Hoop Round Table, where we ask that everybody use coasters and please don’t feed the aging pugs from the table, thanks. Today, it’s finally here. Yes, that’s the sound of Milwaukee Bucks basketball trotting towards us. In a few short days, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jrue Holiday, Khris Middleton (eventually), and a roster chock full of NBA geezers will have another shot at reclaiming their title atop the world. Will they get there? Let’s see what our esteemed Brew Hoop panelists think.
Bucks 2022-23 Record, Seed, and Playoff Performance
Morgan: 53-29, 3rd, champions. I have to stick to prime numbers in the win column, and 47-35 seemed low. That said, 53 wins seems high. The Bucks won’t be listless without Khris to start the season, but they really do require all three stars to run the table. No clue about the rest of the conference, but 3rd seems about right (see: last year). And I’m hoping that the last two seasons provides visceral evidence that health wins championships, and that we can solider through the regular season in order to march through the playoffs with our roster intact. (And that the Warriors can’t say the same.)
Riley: 50-32, 4th seed, lose in the Eastern Conference Finals. Always tough to gauge just how much of an eff the players and coaches give about regular season results. We’ve enough talent to outmuscle most teams most nights, but we also have a penchant for occasionally giving away the gimme games against NBA cellar dwellers in the name of R&R. Our reaching the 2021 playoffs with a nearly spotless bill of health felt like an anomaly, and the roulette wheel of injury is ever more weighed against us the older the roster gets. We’ll do better than last postseason’s showing, but I anticipate the wheels falling off again through simple wear and tear.
Van: 54-28, second seed (ah Riley, my favorite wet blanket), East champs. A lot has to go right to win an NBA title, let alone make the Finals, but these Bucks have what it takes on paper (read: if the top end of their roster isn’t injured) to get there. Even with up-and-comers in Cleveland and Toronto, I don’t think the East improved to the point where more than four teams have 50+ victories. I also don’t see anyone winning more than 55 or 56 games due to the Bucks’ early-season injuries and the Celtics’.... um, problems. Finally, I have no faith in any roster’s playoff abilities (looking at you, Philly) beyond the tested three of stable Milwaukee, trending-down Miami, and rookie-coached Boston. Given those teams’ issues and the Bucks’ lack thereof, I’d be pretty surprised to see two (let alone three) finish ahead of the Bucks in the regular season, and I think that the Bucks could take any Eastern opponent in six games.
Kyle: 52-30, third seed, East champs. I feel confident that a healthy Milwaukee Bucks team will be favored in almost any series they have in the east. Boston will be their biggest challenge but who knows how the Ime Udoka situation can put some bad juju on that org. I have no faith in the Sixers being competent in the postseason, Miami is kinda old while Cleveland, Toronto, Chicago will be annoying but manageable in the playoffs.
Mitchell: I would be foolish to contradict myself, so I’m sticking with what I said in my preview for the SB Nation network: a 52-30 record, the 2nd seed in the East (I think the conference is going to be a bloodbath at the top!), and an appearance in the NBA Finals. I won’t call it now that they can win the whole dang thing, but the competition to get there doesn’t scare me. I have no reason to trust Philadelphia or Boston or Miami or anybody else more than I should trust a healthy Milwaukee team, and based on how many guys are sitting out right now it stands to reason that the franchise is taking any step it can to promote health and availability on the roster starting in April.
Gabe: 51-31 with the third seed. I can see Philadelphia and Boston vying for the two spots above them, but I think the Heat take the backseat and finish behind Milwaukee. Regarding playoff performance, I’m going with the Bucks winning their second title in three years. I truly think they would’ve repeated had Khris Middleton not gotten injured vs. the Bulls. Should the Bucks stay healthy this season throughout the playoff gauntlet, I like their chances.
Adam: 50-32 with third seed; losing in the Eastern Conference finals. I think there will be a lot of cannibalizing wins between the higher level of competition in the East and Milwaukee sneaks into the upper portion of the bracket. Early season struggles are getting baked in here; with likely negative players stuck slotting in at the wing until Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton return, I see them falling behind the 8-ball a bit before gaining steam. This team has the potential to win it all, but it’s hard enough to get there let alone pull off another title, and I still have questions about whether they can perform consistently enough offensively in the playoffs.
Will Giannis win his third MVP?
Morgan: He didn’t win it last season, so I guess he can win it again! But I think that either Luka or Embiid will put up enough numbers that voters will be able to convince themselves to spread the wealth. Assuming the Mavs and Sixers make the playoffs, Freudian logic - a high seed demonstrates the star leading the team to new heights and a low seed demonstrates the star willing his team to victory - will lead to a non-Giannis MVP.
Riley: Ain’t no way. I get the sense that, while most informed individuals acknowledge Giannis as the best player in the league, there is very little anticipation of his being in position to win a third MVP unless the Bucks really surprise with their win total and he puts up ever-gaudier numbers. The thirst to anoint Doncic or Embiid as Our Basketball God is so overwhelming it’d make your average hormonal teenager blush.
Van: There’s absolutely a way, and I think he has a lot going for him. As we well know, the NBA media's unwritten rules say a player can’t win it thrice unless they win a title or something, so Giannis has that on a basic level. Dallas appears primed for a step back in a recharged West, and if that comes to pass, it would take a monumental statistical year for Doncic (if it’s even possible for him to build on his already sky-high numbers) to convince voters that someone from a sub-50 win 6th seed (or so) should win the MVP for the second year in a row. As Riley mentioned, the national thirst to crown him or Embiid is again strong; it seems like every year since 2019 people pick Embiid as their preseason MVP, but he finished solidly in second the last two seasons. He enjoyed good health in recent years, but even if his injury woes are behind him and the Sixers take the East’s top seed like they did in 2021, his numbers could drop to non-MVP levels by ceding a scoring load to Harden over a full year. Enter Giannis, who shows no signs of any statistical falloff, and could establish himself early as the favorite with a strong Milwaukee start during the absence of its second-leading scorer. My lukewarm take is that if it’s not Giannis, it won’t be either Doncic or Embiid. That sounds like a hot take... until I say that it would be Curry, a resurgent LeBron, or a healthier KD.
Kyle: I have no faith that the media will want to give Giannis or Jokic an MVP award regardless on how otherworldly those two perform. It’s likely to be Luka, Tatum, or Embiid.
Mitchell: Giannis would have to somehow outdo himself yet again to get the nod for MVP; the only player less likely to earn the award than him is Nikola Jokic. Giannis won it in two consecutive years before winning a championship and was relegated to 3rd place; Jokic has won it twice in a row and his team hasn’t made it to the Finals yet! Even more importantly than the quality of season that the MVP would require, the Bucks simply won't win enough games for Giannis to get the requisite attention over whatever other flavor du jour that’s planting stories in the media in their favor. Embiid or Luka or Tatum or KD or whoever else (sneaky interesting canidate: Kawhi Leonard), it probably won’t be Giannis, whether he’s deserving or not.
Gabe: Should Giannis post typical Giannis-like numbers, we’ll be watching a scene that everyone described above me unfold. Voter fatigue is truly a thing, and given that Embiid hasn’t gotten in on the MVP fun yet, it wouldn’t surprise me if the media drove the narrative for him, assuming he puts up worthy numbers.
Adam: Yup, I’m with Gabe on this one. The 76er slobbering has already started and I for one am not looking forward to living a full year in the thick of “one, two, three, 76ers!” before Embiid gets the crowning achievement for the team this year — his MVP.
Bucks (non-Giannis) Team MVP
Morgan: It’s not a player, but it’s the most valuable - an actual offseason. In the season before last, our second and third best players won a championship, hopped on a plane, and won a gold medal. Their reward? Extra games and an aggressively short recovery window before last season (and the honor of representing the country). This season, by virtue of our premature playoff exit and the lack of Olympics, Khris and Jrue should be fresher - and Khris will get another month-ish to boot. Besides them, the Bucks are the oldest team in the league by a healthy margin and have several players besides Khris (injured or otherwise) who hopefully reaped the benefits of a normal offseason.
Riley: It’ll be Jrue Holiday for a number of reasons. First, he’ll begin the year healthy and available to play (unlike the other (likely) option for this award in Khris Middleton); this will give him a chance to rack up numbers with greater impact on whatever early-season success we have. Second, defensive emphasis on heavy perimeter interference will rise or fall heavily on the back of how well Holiday implements said marching orders. Add on top of that another season where we won’t be carrying a true traditional point guard on the roster, and it all points to Jrue having crucial influence on this Bucks season.
Van: By the end of this campaign (including the postseason), I foresee we’ll point to Middleton as a no-brainer. The easy contrast to draw between a deeper run in 2023 and the second-round exit back in May will be his mere presence as a reliable playoff bucket-getter. His usual output eases the offensive burden on Holiday et al, plus provides another big and long-limbed body to deal with the East’s cadre of wing talent.
Kyle: Jrue Holiday, this isn’t a knock on Khris but Jrue’s defense is so vital to the rest of the Bucks being able to do what they need to on defense. That and his sometimes inconsistent offensive showing might be reeled in if he is not being relied on being the second scoring option for Milwaukee.
Mitchell: It’s gotta be Khris Middleton. Sometimes the answer is so obvious that it feels like the wrong answer, and there’s another answer (hi, Jrue!) that fits...but not as well as the obvious one, and so you have to convince yourself that the question is something that it isn’t...and you eventually lose sight of what’s staring you in the face. Which, in this case, is Khris.
Gabe: I’m going with Jrue Holiday. Given Khris Middleton’s injury status to begin the year, Holiday will be relied on heavily. When that’s the case, his offensive skill set will be necessary for Milwaukee to thrive. We’ve seen what happens when he struggles on the offensive side of the ball. Plus, even if Middleton is healthy in the postseason, the Bucks are much better when Holiday has a major impact on offense. I’m not going to go as far as saying that his performance will make or break the Bucks, but it’ll definitely impact them.
Adam: I thought about getting cute and saying Joe Ingles; if he somehow comes back as the same player I could foresee a world where his passing and playmaking finally helps curb the stagnation that’s plagued this team’s offense in playoff’s past. The real answer is probably Khris Middleton though. With him back as a safety release valve, it clicks the complementary players (Jrue, Grayson, Pat) into more comfortable usage rates and roles on the offensive end. Defensively, he’s lost a step but just having length against the cadre of wings that await them is critical.
MIB (Most-Improved Buck)
Morgan: Grayson Allen has played one (1) season with the Bucks. Even in that season, save for being unable to defend Jayson Tatum, he did well for himself. I can see him syncing more smoothly with the offense beyond Giannis and having more time to improve his deficiencies in our system on the other end of the floor. I’ll also admit that most of our roster seems at or below their ceiling, making this a pretty low bar.
Riley: Jevon Carter is actually just about the same age as Grayson Allen, and I think a full offseason working on his game within the context of whatever roles the Bucks envision for him will do him well. Will he maintain the absolutely blistering shooting percentages of a year ago (.506/.558/1.000)? No. But with George Hill aging into the pasture-adjacent phase of his career and a need for proactive guard defense, Carter will have a larger spot on the rotation that anyone could’ve envisioned when he signed up as a castaway last year.
Van: Carter is certainly a popular and reasonable choice, but I’m skeptical until I see him produce from a rotation guard role over a longer period and in the regular season. Based on a now-healthy (or as healthy as he can be) Hill’s comments at media day and some nice preseason shooting numbers (.545/.556/1.000) that were actually better than Carter’s—albeit on lower volume—I like him to hew more closely to the 2019–20 version of himself than the 2021–22 version. Now that there’s a third combo guard on the roster in Carter, Hill can play either on- or off-ball in any lineup alongside either Carter or Holiday after spending significant stretches of last year as the team’s only point guard, with all the associated ball-handling and initiating pressure, which surely didn’t help his neck.
Kyle: Jevon Carter is my choice for the Brew Hoop Woodlands award. The Woodland awards is the player that every Bucks fan will scream until they pass out they should be playing more than they actually are. Previous winners are Mamadi Diakite, DJ Wilson and Christian Wood. But Carter has looked impressive this preseason and his defense will always see him get time on the court.
Mitchell: I’m going to go with Grayson Allen here, not because of any concern about Jevon Carter but because of how perspective and playing time colors the question. Carter is going to turn heads because he’s going to get opportunities; the more minutes he plays, the more chances he gets to do stuff, and therefore will have shown significant improvement from last year. Meanwhile, Grayson Allen will play a similar role as last year (his inaugural campaign with Milwaukee) but should both maintain his positive contributions on offense while also having the chance to showcase more skills in the playmaking department and (maybe) some improvement on defense. Carter will play more minutes than last year, but Grayson’s minutes will be better than last year’s minutes, which is my rationale for this answer.
Gabe: Give me Jevon Carter. I can’t tell you how many press conferences I sat in on last year where Bud & Co. sung his praises. So many times we saw him pick up opposing guards and go end-to-end with them, going hand-in-hand with Milwaukee’s defensive emphasis. Add in the fact that George Hill doesn’t have much left in the tank and struggled in last year’s postseason, I think we see a jump in Carter’s usage. He’s familiar with his teammates and I think this is the year where we start seeing Bud enlist more trust in him, especially come the playoffs.
Adam: MAMUUUUUUUUUUUUUU. JK, I’ll actually go with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Did you know he shot 44% from the long midrange on almost 2.5 attempts per game? For comparison, Bobby Portis shot 45%. He also was at almost 40% between 4-14 feet (floater/hook shot range). He also got up to 72% on free throws with his new routine; if he gets it up to 75% that’d be a major development. His midrange wasn’t working for him in the preseason, but if he couples the threat of that shot, alongside refinement around the basket while still pummeling the rim at a 75+% clip and benefiting from the new take foul rules, I think he’s in line for the most improvement. This is also mostly a reflection of the fact Milwaukee boasts a significantly older roster with players who have likely reached their highest skill level.
Offensive/Defensive League Ranking
Morgan: Ugh, more numbers. Using last year’s numbers as a baseline, I’ll say we dip to 5th offensively with the known absence of Khris, and tick up to 11th defensively with more regular season Brook minutes offsetting the experimentation.
Riley: Giannis will still be capable of scoring and creating a gazillion points all by himself, and while we won’t have Khris to start the year we will have Jrue to play off him. I’m expecting a 4th place finish in offensive rating while we continue to take a step back in (regular season, at least) defensive rating to bang-average 15th overall.
Van: Oh ye of little faith, Riley. There is nothing about this team that is “average.” Milwaukee is primed to return to defensive prominence this regular season after two stifling playoff runs that weren’t fluky, despite middling regular season numbers due to Bud’s experimentation two years ago and Brook Lopez’s nearly season-long absence last year. On paper, the Bucks are capable of a top-ten rating in both. Lacking Lopez torpedoed them to 14th in DRtg last year, and as we saw with their elite playoff numbers, that really seemed like the main factor to their regular season mediocrity on that end. Though their dalliances with a less help-heavy scheme in the preseason—featuring a cast that included several characters who likely won’t see much rotation time soon enough—underwhelmed, mixing that in with their base and proven to be effective drop-zone should easily place them back among the league’s better units. I’ll go with 7th, given the blasé attitude we’ll see from them at times toward the regular season. Offensively, the pace Bud demands and the outside shooting they retain from last year shouldn’t drop them out of the top 5 after finishing 3rd last year, even if Middleton misses a longer stretch than originally envisioned after his early July (non-shooting) wrist surgery. I’ll say 4th to account for how carefully they’ll treat their key players’ minutes, plus the aforementioned blasé attitude.
Kyle: 8th on offense, 11th on defense. I dont know this is a tough guess considering I don’t know how much energy and effort will go into the regular season.
Mitchell: The offense without a non-Jrue secondary ball-handler is subpar, and the two players who can fill that void are Middleton (out for a few weeks) and newcomer Joe Ingles (out for a few months). The offense is simply going to slip down the rankings by virtue of other teams enjoying marginally better production while Milwaukee finds its sea legs upon the return of their injured wings. The defense, though, should enjoy a nice boost from a full season of still-capable Brook Lopez and much-improved Bobby Portis behind Giannis, so that will at least help level things out for the team in terms of win-loss record. But for the predictions, I’ll say the team will fall to 10th in offense but rise to 6th on defense.
Gabe: I think defense will be once again a strong point of emphasis for the Bucks, as it always is. I also think that Giannis will flirt with another Defensive Player of the Year award, catapulting Milwaukee into a top-10 defensive finish. As for the offense, I think it’ll be in the 10-15 range, sitting just outside the top-10, mainly due to injuries to start the year. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that efficiency rise come the mid-way point of the campaign.
Adam: The offense will be top ten, probably closer to top five. They always feast in transition with Giannis, the new take foul rules will benefit them and three-pointers usually fall at decent clips for their players during the regular season. I’m more interested how they shake out defensively. We all saw the dropoff without Brook last year before they ratcheted it up in the Playoffs. I anticipate experimentation may put them just outside the top ten around 11th or 12th on that end.
Morgan: Jevon Carter was not going to single-handedly lead us over the Celtics. But, by virtue of spending a conspicuous amount of time on the bench during that series, he avoided the tar-and-feather treatment that Grayson and George received. That alone does not a fan favorite make, but Jevon has endeared himself to Bucks fans with his tireless defensive motor and ability to hit basically every shot he takes. Call it an anomaly if you want, but a consistent anomaly ain’t an anomaly. Plus, he’s a vegetarian now, which makes him a favorite for this fan at least.
Riley: Bobby Portis isn’t a mainstay in all Milwaukee-related tourism ads for nothing — bowling with local yokels one minute, enjoying a Bloody Mary at the Public Market the next, frequenting the Art Museum after that. We’re starting to reach the point where expectations are outstripping what Bobby is capable of as a mere mortal, but so long as he’s a Buck he’ll be the “get the people going” guy every team needs.
Van: This might seem overly optimistic given how many months he’s away from returning, but Joe Ingles has attributes that any NBA fanbase surely loves: he’s from Australia, he’s balding, plus he’s quite a pest to other teams and fanbases. Like Alex Caruso, if he was from down-under and had more of an offensive game. If Ingles is healthy enough to provide the Bucks with what became his hallmarks in Utah—shooting, physical (if not athletic) defense, trash-talking, plus great playmaking and passing from either forward spot—Ingles seems like the next Milwaukee cult hero. Carter is more of a Bucks Twitter favorite, especially among the folks who like to loudly express their disdain of Allen and Hill any chance they get. I’m not sure if the usual crowds at Fiserv Forum are at all into Carter—yes, there are many Bucks fans beyond the ones on Twitter—compared to a true fan favorite like Portis.
Kyle: Bobby Portis for the foreseeable future.
Mitchell: This should be renamed the “Non-Bobby Fan Favorite” for our preview because there’s no way that Bobby Portis isn’t the crowd’s preferred player, just like there’s no way Giannis isn’t the team’s MVP. After him, I think that Jevon Carter is going to inspire cheers with his frantic defensive energy and (hopefully) creating some turnovers while continuing to knock down threes at an unsustainable rate.
Gabe: There’s no way it isn’t Bobby Portis. I was just at Cactus Club for a Packer game the other weekend and a guy named Bobby won a raffle prize. The entire bar immediately ignited a “BOB-BY! BOB-BY! BOB-BY!” chant.
Adam: I’m with Van that I think Joe Ingles is going to take this one. He’ll be a star on Milwaukee’s social media all season long, he trash talks opponents mercilessly and old man games are always endearing to the fans. Add in the fact he’s one of the few new faces and a half season of anticipation for his return, and I think he’ll find himself not having to buy a single Foster’s during his time here.
Most Cooked Player on the Roster
Morgan: Brook and his back looked good in the playoffs last year, but only after playing a total of 13 regular season games since the championship. What will he look like over the course of a full regular season and (hopefully) playoffs - especially with heightened expectations to close out three-point shooters? To be fair, I think that Bud and Co are aware of Brook’s cookedness; they’ll monitor his minutes and lean on Bobby during the regular season. Moreover, a cooked Brook is still seven feet tall. But, even though Suki is a good chef, he’s still cooked.
Riley: Don’t be confused: George Hill is (officially, at least) the oldest man on the roster and carried a neck and back injury to close out last season. The second a guy says he contemplated retirement, the sirens should be screaming in your head. Respect for returning to collect every dollar of the $4 million owed him this year before he calls it a career.
Van: I’m giving Hill one more shot to prove it isn’t him now that he’s healthy. I’ll cross my fingers it isn’t Ingles’ recently-turned 35-year-old body with its rehabbed ACL or Lopez’s 34-year-old one with its surgically-repaired back. That leaves Wesley Matthews, a few months younger than Hill at 36 and already nursing an ankle injury that kept him out all postseason as the choice here. Expecting all four of these elder statesmen to remain healthy over 82 games and a playoff run is silly, but Matthews is the only one who didn’t deal with significant injury last year, so it’s not hard to imagine that luck running out before long. The good news is that with a hopefully healthy top (and younger) end of the roster, the Bucks won’t need to rely on him so heavily come playoff time, so they can take it easy on his old bones until then.
Kyle: I’m a bit worried about the 35-year old dude who didn’t have much athletic ability coming off an ACL injury so sorry Joe Ingles.
Mitchell: Nobody has mentioned Serge Ibaka yet, and that’s probably because he’s got so little left in the tank.
Gabe: I think I’m going with George Hill. We know of his neck issues and how he contemplated retirement this offseason. Given his struggles in last year’s playoffs, I’ll go with him.
Adam: God there are a lot of options here. We just went through almost a third of the roster. Is it too cruel to say Jordan Nwora? Probably. I’ll ride with Serge Ibaka over George Hill by a hair. The latter’s preseason dunk attempt puts him over the former.
We gave our thoughts, now it’s your turn. Copy the categories below and let us know your answers in the comments below!
- Bucks 2022-23 Record, Seed, and Playoff Performance:
- Will Giannis win MVP:
- Bucks (non-Giannis) Team MVP:
- MIB (Most-Improved Buck):
- Offensive/Defensive League Ranking:
- Fan Favorite:
- Most Cooked Player Currently on Roster: