CHICAGO, USA – OCTOBER 6: Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) of Milwaukee Bucks during the preseason NBA game between Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks, in Chicago, United States, on October 6, 2017.
The stakes are high, and the window is wide-open for the Milwaukee Bucks and its 2019-2020 campaign. In an offseason that saw a ridiculous amount of players move teams, the Bucks’ core players, for the most part, stayed intact. Championship aspirations birthed last season mostly due to Giannis Antetokounmpo and his MVP season. The Milwaukee Bucks’ season preview continues the theme.
Milwaukee Bucks’ Season Preview
Recap of Last Season
For the first time since the 2010 playoffs, LeBron James no longer haunted the Eastern Conference last season. Furthermore, there was hope out east, and championship desires lit a fire in a once laughable conference. The Milwaukee Bucks, the conference’s best regular-season team, fell to the eventual 2019 NBA champions, Toronto Raptors.
To understand the final destination, one must appreciate the journey.
Credible sports sites didn’t think much of the Mike Budenholzer coached squad heading into the 2018-2019 season. Five Thirty-Eight, the same website which projected the Toronto Raptors to win the NBA Finals, predicted a 47-win season for the Bucks. Despite the growing potential of a star in Antetokounmpo, it was apparent the media and bloggers alike weren’t privy to the NBA’s best-kept secret.
Mike Budenholzer, a coach rightfully known for guiding the Atlanta Hawks to a 60-win season, gave the Bucks the three-point shot emphasized offense it needed. The floor stretched to its utmost limit in Budenholzer’s system. There were weapons on numerous sides of the court between the combined 470 three-pointers from Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon. Gifted with what seemed like a custom-fit offense, Antetokounmpo excelled.
At the regular season’s end, the Bucks earned the best record in the league. In succession, the Milwaukee franchise had the home-court advantage if the team secured a Finals berth. With teams looking for their place in the NBA hierarchy, Antetokounmpo and company had their eyes deadset on winning the title. Unfortunately, although in a commendable effort, the Bucks fell two games short of a Finals appearance.
Despite MVP and Coach of the Year performances from Antetokounmpo and Budenholzer, it wasn’t enough to capture the crown jewel of the NBA.
In light of the league-shaking player empowerment movement this past decade, it’s imperative the Bucks did what it took to appease its best player. Although Antetokounmpo is under contract until 2021, nothing is guaranteed. Anthony Davis‘ trade demand this past season put the league on notice. General Manager, Jon Horst, couldn’t afford to falter in his pursuit of an NBA championship.
Of the four-player core which sent the Bucks to the Eastern Conference Finals, three returned for another run at the coveted NBA championship. The potential penalty of the NBA’s luxury tax loomed over the ownership of the Milwaukee Bucks. Consequently, money issues caused the core to lose a meaningful piece. Even with two significant players re-signed, the glaring loss of Brogdon wasn’t replaced.
However, Horst attempted to recover by making a few smaller signings. Wesley Matthews signed for the veteran’s minimum. Perhaps, out of goodwill for its best player, the Bucks acquired Thanasis Antetokonmpo in free agency. The most significant transaction came in the form of a family reunion: Lopez’s brother, and former Stanford teammate, Robin Lopez.
It’s not foolish to assume the Bucks are aiming for the NBA Finals. With Kawhi Leonard and his clawing defense out of the picture, the Bucks are the Eastern Conference favorites. Antetokounmpo must elevate his outside shooting. By no means is the 2018-2019 MVP’s three-point shot attempts in Ben Simmons territory. However, in order to take the Bucks to the next level, Antetokounmpo needs to find a way to keep the opposing defense on its toes.
Despite not possessing an adequate jump shot, Antetokounmpo’s true shooting percentage showcased dominance. Including players with at least 70 games played, the league’s MVP finished with 64 percent true shooting, which was good enough for fifth in the NBA. If only Antetokounmpo could evolve the system in which he plays, the Bucks would be a penciled-in favorite to taste some NBA Finals success.
Even if Antetokounmpo doesn’t improve his jump shot, it’s not a complete detriment to the Bucks. The defense and the overwhelming activity of him in the paint are enough for Milwaukee to land a Finals spot. For the sake of Antetokounmpo’s fatigue, his teammates must find ways to muster up some individual success.
Expect last season’s regular-season MVP to remain relevant in the gauntlet of elite players. Giannis Antetokounmpo is now the gatekeeper of the Eastern Conference.
Milwaukee Bucks 2019-2020 Season Prediction
Although the Eastern Conference lost star power to the dominant Western Conference, the Bucks aren’t necessarily Eastern Conference juggernauts. Brogdon was never a star player for the Bucks, however, at times, relieved Antetokounmpo of ball-handling duties. Eric Bledsoe, despite his contract extension, isn’t the answer at point guard.
Barring an injury to the Bucks franchise player, the Bucks are set for the season. However, this team isn’t built to lose a player of Antetokounmpo’s stature. In all fairness, most teams aren’t. Nonetheless, it’s apparent the Bucks are in need of a player who can create for himself and others.
Don’t be surprised if there’s a trade midseason for a player who fits such a bill. If the Bucks want to hoist up the trophy, Antetokounmpo can’t break his back in the process. Winning 60 games isn’t impossible, but consider it doubtful. Expect the Bucks to win around 55-58 games.