Welcome to the team season preview series! From today to the start of the season, I’ll be recapping the team’s season, go through their moves in the off-season, and end with a discussion of what’s to come in the upcoming season for them.
Season & Off-Season Recap
It’s tough going from winning the championship to losing in a seven-game series in the first round. It’s also unfortunate thinking you may have won if you were fully healthy. But it’s also unfortunate that you may have won if you went ahead and tried to get home court advantage.
That’s what the season felt like the Milwaukee Bucks — just unfortunate. They could (and most likely would have) have beat the Boston Celtics if they had Khris Middleton. But they also may have won if game-seven was in Milwaukee — I don’t see Grant Williams taking a career high 18 triples and draining seven of them in that scenario.
In a very small sample, the trio of Jrue Holiday, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Khris Middleton in the playoffs were plus 24.4, with a 111.8 offense(48th percentile) and a 87.3 defense(100th). And in the past two seasons, this trio was plus 11.7 in 1706 minutes, with a 121.0 offense and a 109.2 defense, per PBP.
Those three on the court usually meant you’re going to win.
Although the offensive struggles were apparent even with Middleton, once he went down, the issues on offense became significant. In the playoffs without Middleton, the Bucks had a 106.9 offense(18th).
It didn’t matter that Antetokounmpo averaged 33.9 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 7.1 assists when the team is shooting 27.9% from deep, and no one else can create for themselves efficiently.
In the off-season, the Bucks made minor moves. They signed Joe Ingles, who probably won’t be as big of a factor in the regular-season. And they drafted MarJon Beauchamp, who I don’t see contributing much on a contending team.
Their moves were simply retaining all the guys and making sure everyone is going to be fresh, and healthy for the 2023 playoffs.
What’s in Store This Season
There’s not much change in what’s in store for them this year compared to last year. They are one of the best teams in the league, potentially the favourites with everyone healthy, and are only hoping for health.
But there are some questions.
Brook Lopez is 34-years-old, who’s just missed almost the entire season with an injury. In his time with the Bucks, he has been key in their defensive dominance. The way he’s been able to protect the paint made the Bucks’ defense one of the best, especially when paired with Antetokounmpo.
Per PBP, in the three full seasons with the Bucks (not counting last year), the Bucks have a 105.2 defense with both of them on — this gets even better in the playoffs.
But how much will age and the injury matter in his defense going forward.
Even if he does regress, their defense is still not something I’d worry about the most. They have other above average to elite defenders. And speaking of elite defenders.
Holiday has been elite on defense as a point-of-attack defender. There are only seven other players with the same(or better) perimeter defensive grades. But he’s one of the two elite two-way players on that list.
Though, I wonder about his offensive production in the playoffs. Holiday in the regular season and Holiday in the playoffs are two opposites.
This is what he did in the past two years with the Bucks:
19.6 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 7.0 assists per 75 possessions on 59.3% true shooting, and 55.3/40.2/77.2(2pt, 3pt, ft) splits
But come playoff time, and it’s yikes:
16.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 7.4 assists per 75 on 47.4% true shooting and 44.4/30.8/75.9 splits
And when it comes to perimeter shooting, he goes from one of the best pull up shooters to one of the worst.
That drop off in production, and ridiculous drop off in efficiency across the board is one of the big reasons why their offense struggled in the post-season. Even if Middleton played, this kind of offense from Holiday won’t cut it.
On the other hand, it feels like it’s more scheme and style that hinders their offense in the playoffs. In the past four seasons, their offensive rating dropped in the playoffs.
And final question about the team is what’s going to happen with Middleton. This is essentially his contract year — he has a player option and many routes he can go about. Whether that’s opting in, getting an extension, or betting on himself.
But there’s one thing that should have zero questions or concerns. We know Antetokounmpo will have yet another dominant season and continue being arguably the best player in the world.
Since winning his MVP, he’s been on a tear in the past four seasons:
31.7 points, 13.2 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per 75 on 63.1% true shooting, and on 69.1/29.1/69.5 splits
What’s crazy is he’s still getting better. He had one of the best mid-range seasons of his career and is getting better, and better as a passer.
You can’t even begin to think that he may get better this season, too. And if he did, he may be in play for his third MVP.
Just like last year, this team should be considered a legit title contender, and possibly the favourite. As long as they have arguably the best player in the world, and this supporting cast, then it’s hard to place them below other teams.
We know what they’re capable off — and that is winning a championship. Most of it will come down to health, but it should be noted that their offense needs some shake-up. I think made that decision on defense to be more versatile in last year’s playoffs, so maybe, they should experiment more on offense this year.
I don’t think this team is going to have huge success in the regular-season, similar to last year, but I’d also argue that getting home-court advantage is key. And once the playoffs come around, I wouldn’t want to face them fully healthy.
And finally, I feel there’s a lot of pressure on this team making the finals. There will be questions in the next off-season concerning extending Middleton and Lopez. But this team will also be aging — Wes Matthews is 36, George Hill is 36(and a FA after this year), and Holiday is 32. Their window is now and this may be this core’s final year.