The Milwaukee Bucks are easy to overlook. The rest of the NBA is enthralled with just about everything else, from the drama in Brooklyn, to the imminent tear-down in Utah, to the pipe dreams emanating from Los Angeles; meanwhile, Giannis is simply enthralled with his significant other. The basketball operation in Milwaukee is pretty straightforward this offseason; once again, most of the same players will return to fill similar roles, and the Bucks will approach the coming campaign as a marathon towards the NBA Finals.
Long-term continuity is a staple of very few franchises, but the Bucks have embraced it. Their gamble is that not taking gambles is the surest path to get where they want to go. That dynamic expresses itself with coach Mike Budenholzer’s schemes on the court, as well as general manager Jon Horst’s strategies to build the roster. It is not a hard and fast rule, just more of a general tendency to take calculated risks rather than reckless ones. Sure, it might be more fun to fantasize about trading Brook Lopez, Grayson Allen, and George Hill for $20+ Million Borderline Star X, but the Bucks think that declining that route will win you more games, especially when it counts.
As a whole, fans are generally overrating free agency as a method of significantly shifting the team’s fortunes. People might be poring over basketball-reference or Cleaning The Glass to try and find The Guy who will solve all of our problems, but the fact of the matter is that the Bucks have seats open at the end of the bench, not at the front of it. Milwaukee has been in the opposite position before, but now we’re talking about the 13th spot in the rotation, not the 7th. In that regard, the Bucks are betting that they’ve shored up the top half of their depth chart, and it’s hard to argue that it’s anything but a safe bet.
First off, we have Giannis Antetokounmpo. He is, and will be for the foreseeable future, the Best Player On The Floor anytime he steps onto the floor. That in and of itself is an advantage that most teams won’t have in the 2022-23 season. Behind him, Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton provide steady execution on both sides of the ball; we’ve seen what happens on offense when the Bucks don’t have Khris, and he’ll start the year at full-strength. Brook Lopez might have missed most of last year, but seems to be right as rain in the last year of his contract.
Supporting that group are Pat Connaughton and Bobby Portis, both of whom have found a way to combine business and pleasure during their time with Milwaukee. The Bucks are lucky that both Pat and Bobby were willing to account for simply enjoying playing for the team into their free agency strategies, because both of them are crucial reserves that proved they can handle the spotlight of the playoffs.
Then we have Grayson Allen and Wesley Matthews, both of whom will battle for the starting shooting guard spot and offer different skillsets when they’re on the floor. With Allen, you’re upgrading shooting; with Wes, you’re prioritizing perimeter defense. Having the option is a luxury by itself; they might not be exactly what the team needs in any given playoff series, but they’ll likely play an important part in at least one playoff series.
At this point in reviewing the Bucks roster, we’ve already listed 8 names that would be reasonable members of a playoff rotation. Four of them (Giannis, Khris, Jrue, and Pat) are likely to play in every situation, while the other four (Brook, Bobby, Grayson, and Wes) will be prioritized based on the matchups. Considering the state of the Eastern Conference, that’s a pretty strong position to be in before we even start thinking about the rest of the roster.
Of the two backup point guards, Coach Bud is likely to call on only one of them consistently in a playoff scenario. George Hill has the resume and the (seemingly infinite) trust from the staff, while Jevon Carter is the younger, more dynamic fan favorite. Seeing which one is in position to get regular postseason minutes is an underrated storyline as we march towards the doldrums of the offseason, but it is a question that won’t be answered for quite a while.
It is only at this point that we’re even addressing the two new names in the locker room: MarJon Beauchamp and Joe Ingles. What we get out of this pair in the regular season is anybody’s guess; we can presume that Beauchamp will get minutes fairly early while Ingles’ return to action will be carefully managed. However, when the playoffs roll around, this expectation is likely to switch. Beauchamp, a rookie, will probably be on the outside looking in once the regular season concludes, while Ingles, a grizzled veteran, will be a welcome addition to the playoff wing rotation...provided he’s healthy and ready to go.
So, to recap, we have four players who have their names chiseled into the postseason rotation: Giannis, Khris, Jrue, and Pat. After them, we have Brook, Bobby, Grayson, and Wes written in pen. Finally, we have George and Jevon penciled in for one of the guard spots, with Joe Ingles and MarJon Beauchamp making the cut with an asterisk next to their names. That’s 12 names for 10 spots, in an environment that routinely has rotations get cut down to eight or less, and only two of those names are new this time around.
That’s why the Bucks are so content to run it back yet again, and feel perfectly comfortable both taking a swing on Ingles and rolling the dice on Beauchamp while continuing to bet on their system, their structure, their guys. This roster was already in strong position to return to the Finals last year before injury undermined them. Health is always the great equalizer, so the main question becomes this: is this summer simply answering last year’s questions, or are we proactively solving next year’s problems?
If you were asking the Bucks, the answer you might get is simply “Yes.”