Having hired Mike Budenholzer as head coach and acquired several players who can help space the floor around Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks appear poised for a breakout season in the Eastern Conference. With LeBron James taking his talents west and depleting the Cavaliers’ chances of competing, the Bucks will look to take the next step and become a serious playoff contender.
After adding Eric Bledsoe during the 2017/18 season, the Bucks continued to struggle with inconsistency despite Antetokounmpo blossoming into a perennial MVP candidate and Khris Middleton enjoying a breakout season alongside him. While Bledsoe fit in well and averaged 17.8 points, 5.1 assists and 2.0 steals per game to complement Middleton and Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee’s supporting cast failed to provide quality depth and a mediocre defense continued to hold the team back.
After finishing 25th in the NBA in 3-pointers attempted per game last season and 22nd in the league in 3-point percentage, the Bucks focused on adding shooting and floor-spacing bigs in the offseason. They were successful in achieving this goal, signing Ersan Ilyasova to a three-year, $21MM deal (the last year is non-guaranteed) and Brook Lopez on a one-year, $3.4MM contract to fill in at center.
Both Ilyasova and Lopez are capable shooters, providing more offensive weapons for Budenholzer to use alongside Bledsoe, Middleton and Antetokounmpo. Ilyasova shot 36% from beyond the arc in 2017/18 for the Hawks and 76ers, while Lopez hit 34.5% of his 3-pointers last season, attempting 4.4 per game.
With Budenholzer brought in as head coach, the Bucks should implement a more diverse and modern offense, utilizing the increased floor spacing and ball movement to maximize the talents of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Bledsoe.
However, the more pressing issue regarding the upcoming season for the Bucks will be their defense, which must improve if they hope to become a legit threat in the playoffs. If Thon Maker can show more development this season and earn more minutes at center, Milwaukee would be able to utilize a more switch-heavy defensive scheme, a scheme in which Bledsoe, Middleton and Antetokounmpo could thrive.
The Bucks will also need strong supporting contributions from Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell and John Henson, while recent draft picks D.J. Wilson and Donte DiVincenzo will look to buck the recent draft struggles Milwaukee has had.
With a more modern offense and improved defensive strategies implemented, the Bucks could make a big jump in the Eastern Conference. Competing for the third seed in the conference isn’t out of the question, and the Bucks should certainly be aiming for home-court advantage in the playoffs this season, although the top three Atlantic teams and the Pacers will provide tough competition.
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