The Bucks got off to a 14-14 start last season yet decided to let go off head coach Scott Skiles who had led the team for the previous four years. Changing the head coach 28 games in didn’t turn out to be a particularly good thing. The Bucks replaced Skiles with his assistant, Jim Boylan, a longtime assistant around the league with just 56 games of experience as an NBA head coach. The Bucks went just 22-28 the rest of the way, making it to the playoffs (the perks of being an Eastern Conference team) but being quickly bounced by the Heat in four games.
To say the Bucks look very different this season is an understatement. Last season’s team is scattered throughout the league. The Bucks sent Brandon Jennings to the Pistons for Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton. They shipped Luc Mbah a Moute to the Kings for draft picks. They sent J.J. Redick to the Clippers in a 3-team trade and allowed Monta Ellis and Mike Dunleavy to walk away in free agency.
There are only four players left from last season’s squad; Larry Sanders, Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, and Ekpe Udoh. Bucks GM John Hammond brought in Hawks coach Larry Drew and gave him a lineup of imported vets ready to start and lead the team now and a bench filled with youngsters with sky-high potential. Let’s take a look at how the brand new Milwaukee Bucks are shaping up as they enter the 2013-14 season.
Points Per Game: 12th
Points Allowed Per Game: 20th
Rebounds Per Game: 5th
Point Guards: Luke Ridnour, Brandon Knight, Nate Wolters – Grade: B-
Ridnour is a reliable backcourt vet who shoots around 45% from the floor, averages 11-12 PPG, 3.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, and the occasional three. He has primarily played the two-guard so the assists aren’t there but he has the court vision and ability to start as the one-guard as well. He can lead the team off the bat while Brandon Knight continues to develop.
Knight could well end up the starting point guard but he needs more time to season after being shoved into a starting job immediately in Detroit. His 41% shooting and 4.4 APG are far from what you want in a one-guard and the other tools need seasoning as well. The ability is there but at 21, he still needs some time before it can translate to production.
Wolters, a second-round pick, is a bit of a project because he lacks the quickness and defensive ability you’d like in a starting guard but he has the intangibles to be a solid contributor – though likely in the future, not this season. He started all four seasons in South Dakota State and averaged 22.3 PPG, 5.8 APG, 1.7 SPG, and 1.9 3PPG while nailing 48.5% of his shots. Obviously the Summit Conference isn’t the NBA but he was still good enough to go 38th in the draft and would’ve been a first-rounder out of a bigger school.
Shooting Guards: O.J. Mayo, Gary Neal, Giannis Antetokounmpo – Grade: B+
Mayo exceeded a lot of expectations last season on the Mavs, shooting a very solid 45% from the floor and .407 from three-point range. He added 4.4 APG and 3.5 RPG, improving in every single category from his last season in Memphis. Mayo is a sleeper and is only a couple of years removed from putting up 17.5 and 18.5 PPG when he first came out of USC.
Neal has been extremely consistent in three seasons on the Spurs and each season’s stat line looks almost exactly like both other season’s stat lines. He’s primarily a shooter and doesn’t contribute much on defense or in the other categories but his stats extrapolate to 15.6 points and 2.2 three-pointers per 36 minutes and that’s all he’s really there for.
Antetokounmpo isn’t just a name that makes your spell check throw its hands up in the air, he’s the 15th overall pick in this year’s draft and a rare 6-foot-10 shooting guard/small forward. He’s very raw but has great offensive abilities and can attack the ball in the paint. There’s not much of an outside shooting game, defense, or maturity but there is more than enough talent and ability to mold into a force to be reckoned with.
Small Forwards: Caron Butler, Carlos Delfino, Khris Middleton – Grade: C+
At 33, Butler is on the decline and it’s hard to see him as a starter anymore. After playing great on the Wizards, Butler just hasn’t been the same player on the Mavericks and Clippers. A strong three-point shooter, he has shot just 41.5% from the floor over the last two seasons and is averaging just 11.1 PPG with no other stats to show for himself. I really can’t see him as the starter but he has the shooting ability the Bucks desperately need, I suppose.
The reason Butler is listed as the starter is because the alternative is Delfino. Both make the very raw Antetokounmpo look like a better option here. Delfino is a decent three-point threat off the bench, averaging 2.4 3PPG over 25 MPG last season. He doesn’t offer much else, though, so he should remain a rotation player.
Middleton shot a decent 44% last season while playing just 27 games for Detroit. A second-round pick a season ago, he has the ability but needs the development. He figures to spend most of his time on the bench again this season, if not the D-league, but at just 22, there’s plenty of time to mold him into a serviceable forward.
Power Forwards: Ersan Ilyasova, John Henson, Ekpe Udoh – Grade: A-
Ilyasova has really come into his own over the last two seasons, shooting a very impressive 47.5% from the floor and a staggering 45% from three-point range since 2011. He’s averaging 13 PPG and 7.9 RPG and is a very solid option at power forward.
Henson is a former 14th overall pick out of North Carolina and showed a ton of promise last season. He improved every week and after the All-Star break, averaged 14 MPG, 6.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 0.9 BPG. His season stats extrapolate to 16.5 points, 13 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per 36 minutes. In his final season in North Carolina, he averaged 13.7 PPG, 9.9 RPG, 2.9 BPG, and shot 50% from the floor. There is a ton to like about this kid and this could very well be his breakout season.
Udoh will not be breaking out. A former sixth-overall pick by the Warriors, he hasn’t shot above 43.7% from the floor while playing mostly center. That’s tough. His 3.3 RPG are hardly the stuff of legends and even extrapolated over 36 minutes his numbers don’t come close to double digits. He’s a decent shot blocker but that’s about it.
Centers: Larry Sanders, Zaza Pachulia, Miroslav Raduljica – Grade: B+
Sanders broke out last season, improving with every game. In the second half, he averaged 12 PPG, 11.1 RPG, and more than two blocks per game. It took him a couple of years to figure it out but he looks like a keeper. If Henson develops like it looks he can, they can make for a ridiculous big man combination.
Pachulia is a solid contributor off the bench, averaging 5.9 PPG and 6.5 RPG last season. That’s right around where he’s been since 2007 and that’s a good-looking 9.7 PPG, 10.7 RPG when extrapolated over 36 minutes. He’s a solid backup.
Raduljica is only 25 but he’s been playing pro ball in Serbia since 2005. A 7-footer, he’s a very strong shooter and very good rebounder in the paint. There is a lot to like here but, despite playing in the pros in Europe for a while, there is still a lot to work on. I think he could surprise a lot of people though, there is a lot of big talent on this Bucks club.
Coach: Larry Drew – Grade: B
Drew comes over after coaching the Hawks for the past three seasons, never once finishing with a W% below .537. Still, he lost in the semifinals in 2011 and got bounced in the first round the last two seasons so the Hawks decided it was time to move on. He wasn’t the Bucks’ first choice but he’s a good one after coaching a similar team, filled with a lot of veterans and up-and-coming young stars, in Atlanta. He has a lot to work with, only time will tell if he’s the guy for the job.
Team Grade: B