Before the 2014-15 season began, I, as any NBA writer worth one’s salt does, put out my annual season preview and predictions. One prediction in particular stands apart from the rest. I was absolutely certain that the Milwaukee Bucks would remain among the league’s worst. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind.
No way could a team rebound from a 15-win season to make any meaningful leap in the standings. After all, their roster was largely the same. Sure, they added the overall number two draft pick in Jabari Parker to their roster, but I couldn’t see him making enough of an impact to measurably improve them, at least not immediately.
They also brought in Jason Kidd, a coach who I thought was one of the more overrated in the league entering the season, which certainly didn’t inspire any additional confidence in me.
All of these factors combined led me to believe this team would win no more than five games over their total from a season ago. I thought they’d be bad–really, really bad. Turns out I was wrong about almost everything regarding the Bucks. I know this is shocking to you, but hey, even the best of us are wrong from time to time.
In actuality, they were one of the most surprising teams in the league this season, finishing with a .500 record and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.
They relied almost exclusively on a defensive mindset and their overwhelming length to stifle their opponents. They were second in the league in defensive efficiency (0.990). Their 9.7 steals per game led the league. They were second overall in fewest fast break points allowed. They held opponents to the fifth lowest shooting percentage (43.7%). Put simply, they were one of the most dominant defenses in the league.
Oh, and they did all this without the services of the aforementioned Jabari Parker, who missed the majority of the season with a torn ACL.
The future is suddenly much brighter in Milwaukee, but there are still plenty of improvements needed to help this team make the leap from playoff qualifier, to fringe contender.
As solid as the Bucks were defensively, their offense left a lot to be desire–and I think that is putting it mildly.
They averaged a paltry 97.2 points per game, putting them at 24th among all teams. They were 27th in offensive efficiency (0.986). They were careless with the basketball, turning it over at a rate of 16.5 per game, ahead of only the Philadelphia 76ers in that category. They were just a bad offensive basketball team, and that needs to change if they want to become a true threat in the east.
Their center position could also stand to be upgraded. Zaza Pachulia would be a pretty good backup center for the Bucks, but he isn’t a good rebounder and is even worse at protecting the rim. He was a big factor in the Bucks’ finishing 25th overall in terms of defensive rebounding with 31.4 rebounds per game.
Where Do They Go Now?
The Bucks will be without a lottery pick this season to address their needs, so they will need to rely upon a shrewd draft selection later in the draft, and will need to look for bargains in free agency. After all, Milwaukee has never been much of a free agent destination, so they will need to get creative.
With the 17th pick, there will be a couple of intriguing options for the Bucks. I really love R.J. Hunter, guard out of Georgia State, as a fit with the Bucks. He is head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the draft in terms of pure shooting ability. Although his release is a bit unorthodox, he can flat out shoot the rock, which is exactly what the Bucks need.
Bobby Portis should be there at 17 and he would be a good option to add depth to their frontcourt. Kevon Looney is probably the better option, as he would instantly improve their rebounding ability as a team, although he is a true power forward and doesn’t solve their problems at center.
Sam Dekker is a less conventional option as his skill set overlaps a bit with Giannis Antetokounmpo’s, but he would add another wing scorer to the Bucks and probably has more upside than any of the other players mentioned.
In terms of free agency, the Bucks will have to strategically target some of the less glamorous names on the market. But, they only have $48 million on their books entering next season, which should allow them some flexibility to really add some great depth to their roster.
Players like Danny Green, Marco Belinelli and even Gerald Green could there for the taking, and all would add a nice scoring punch to an offensively anemic lineup.
It will also be very important for the Bucks to bring Khris Middleton back as he became a key figure in the little offensive success they had last season. Getting Jabari Parker back will also provide a significant boost.
As far as solidifying their frontcourt, Brook Lopez will be the ultimate prize for them. He would be an absolutely perfect fit for this team, providing them with a much needed offensive punch in the post, while also providing some much needed rim protection. His price tag may ultimately prove to be too much however.
His brother Robin Lopez could be a suitable alternative, as could Omer Asik.
The Bucks’ rebuilding process quickly accelerated from where this franchise was a year ago, and their future suddenly looks really bright. A few key moves this offseason and they could be right in the mix for a top three seed in the East next season. It really goes to show you how quickly things can turn around in the NBA.
And that is exactly why when I put together my preseason predictions next season, you can count on me missing the mark entirely on at least one team.