Can the Milwaukee Bucks Be an NBA Eastern Conference Contender in the 2015-2016 Season?
Can the Milwaukee Bucks Be Contenders in the 2015-2016 Season?
The 2014-2015 NBA season was a resounding success for the Milwaukee Bucks. Nobody expected much from the Bucks who finished the 2013-2014 season with a league-worst 15-67 record. Milwaukee, however, surprised everyone with a 41-41 regular season record and a trip to the NBA playoffs. In the playoffs, the Bucks met the Chicago Bulls and were eliminated in six games 4-2.
This hub begins by reviewing the Buck's 2014-2015 season. After examining Milwaukee's personnel moves so far during the offseason, this article first analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the Bucks. It then offers an argument on how the Milwaukee Bucks can be an Eastern Conference contender in the 2015-2016 season.
Review of the 2014-2015 Season
The 2014-2015 season began with cautious optimism for Milwaukee Bucks fans. The Bucks who finished the 2013-2014 season with a 15-67 record couldn't do much worse. Milwaukee had selected Jabari Parker out of Duke as the second overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and the Bucks new owners were able to sign Jason Kidd away from the Brooklyn Nets as their new head coach. With the addition of veterans Jared Dudley, Jerryd Bayless, and Donnell Marshall, there was hope that Jason Kidd could help teach a rather young team how to play together and start being respectable by winning some games.
With an improved defense and good play from Dudley, Bayless, point guard Brandon Knight, the Greek Freak, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Jabari Parker, the Bucks started to win games and even beat strong teams like the Memphis Grizzlies during the first month of the season.
Although Milwaukee suffered misfortune with the season-ending knee injury to Jabari Parker and the suspension and later release of center Larry Sanders from the team in December of 2014, the Bucks were able to continue playing well. Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, and Antetokounmpo were playing very well, and all members of the team were contributing to a good team chemistry.
The Bucks played their best ball from the middle of January up until the trading deadline in late February. At the time of the trading deadline, Milwaukee had a 30-23 record.
Then, right at the trading deadline, the Bucks traded their best player Brandon Knight to the Phoenix Suns. In a three-way trade with the Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers, Milwaukee acquired point guard Michael Carter Williams (MCW) from the Sixers and also guard Tyler Ennis and center Miles Plumlee from Phoenix.
After MCW joined the team, the Bucks played poorly for about a month. MCW had to learn how to play with his teammates, and bench contributors like O.J. Mayo, Jarrett Bayliss, and Jared Dudley were also injured.
By the last two weeks of the regular season, MCW was playing better and Mayo, Bayliss, and Dudley were healthier. This enabled the Bucks to finish the season at 41-41 and secure the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
In the first round of the playoffs, Milwaukee played the Chicago Bulls. After losing the first three games of the series, the Bucks came back to win the next two before falling to Chicago in game six.
Milwaukee Bucks 2014-2015 Season
The 2015 College Draft
Prior to the draft, the Bucks identified their primary needs as getting a center who could rebound and score and also a good shooting guard. When the draft rolled around on June 25, Milwaukee selected guard Rashad Vaughn from UNLV with its 17th overall pick. Although Vaughn is only almost 19, he was identified to be one of the best shooters in the draft. The Bucks did not have a second-round pick because it was traded to the Toronto Raptors.
Trades and Free Agent Signings: June-July 2015
Just prior to the 2015 college draft, the Bucks traded power forward Ersan Ilyasova to the Detroit Pistons for two players later released by Milwaukee. Ilyasova was traded due to his high salary and also because the Bucks are counting on a healthy Jabari Parker to play power forward. Milwaukee also wanted to take Ilyasova's salary and apply it towards contracts for restricted free agent Khris Middleton and a free agent to be signed.
In a trade right before the college draft, Milwaukee got point guard Greivis Vasquez from the Toronto Raptors for its first-round pick in 2017 and a second-round pick in 2015. Vasquez was identified as a good shooter and point guard who can start or come off the bench.
Milwaukee also traded center Zaza Pachulia to the Dallas Mavericks.
Finally, in a trade during the first week of July, Milwaukee traded forward Jared Dudley to the Washington Wizards for a 2016 second-round draft choice. Dudley was considered to be expendable after the Bucks acquired Vasquez.
In its biggest free agent signing in many years, Milwaukee signed unrestricted free agent center Greg Monroe who played for the Detroit Pistons last year. The Bucks finally have a good center now because Monroe is a good scorer and rebounder.
Another key restricted free agent signing was that of guard/forward Khris Middleton. After Brandon Knight was traded, Middleton became the Bucks best offensive and defensive player. For these efforts, he signed a five-year contract for $70 million.
Bucks Strengths Entering 2015-2016 Season
Entering the 2015-2016 season, Milwaukee's strengths are as follow:
1. Improved Rebounding and Scoring from the Center and Power Forward Positions
With the free agent signing of center Greg Monroe and the return of power forward Jabari Parker from injury, the Bucks have improved their rebounding and scoring at the four and five positions.
2. Versatility of Giannis Antetokounmpo
During the 2014-2015 season, the "Greek Freak" or Giannis showed that he could score, rebound, handle the ball, block shots, and play all around good defense.
3. Good Defensive Play
Last year the Bucks ranked among the top five NBA teams in team defense. With a lineup of Giannis, Middleton, John Henson, and Michael Carter Williams on the floor, Milwaukee has the length and defensive prowess to challenge any offense.
4. Good Bench
Milwaukee will have a good experienced second team to keep its starters fresh. O.J. Mayo, Jarett Bayliss, Greivis Vasquez, and John Henson are all capable bench players.
5. An Excellent Coach
In the 2014-2015 season, Jason Kidd took a 15-67 team from the previous year and produced a 41-41 record. Kidd taught a good defensive style of play which made the Bucks winners.
Bucks Weaknesses Entering 2015-2016 Season
Milwaukee is still not a top-notch team because it has the following weaknesses:
1. Unsteady Point Guard Play
Last year Michael Carter Williams or MCW had a lot of turnovers and was a bad shooter at the point guard position. The Bucks must cut down on turnovers and get improved play from its point guards.
2. Offensive Scoring
Although Milwaukee was good defensively last year, it ranked near the bottom of the NBA in team offense. The Bucks must score more points if they want to win more games.
3. Poor Defense from Center and Power Forward Positions
With the exception of Giannis and bench player John Henson, there aren't any other shot blockers. Greg Monroe and Jabari Parker have also been known for their poor defense.
How Bucks Can Become an Eastern Conference Contender
I believe Milwaukee can become an Eastern Conference contender if the following happens:
1. Improved Scoring and Rebounding from Center and Power Forward
2. Excellent Play from Point Guards
MCW and Greivis Vasquez must be good distributors, shooters, and rebounders as well as play good team defense.
3. Continued Good Defensive Play
It is especially important for the Bucks to play good team defense, and especially get defensive play from its power forwards and centers.
4. Continued Good Bench Play
Bucks reserves must contribute when called upon.
5. Avoid Injuries to Key Players
Any long-term injury to Giannis, Middleton or one of the point guards would be very difficult to overcome.
The Milwaukee Bucks are stronger in 2015 then they were at the start of the 2014-2015 season. The addition of Greg Monroe, return of Jabari Parker, and a continued good team chemistry will make the Bucks Eastern Conference contenders in the 2015-2016 season.
Milwaukee Bucks During First Half of 2015-2016 Season
Since I published this hub before the beginning of the 2015-2016 season, the Bucks have played a little more than half of their games. As of January 16, 2016, Milwaukee has a disappointing 18-25 record. As pointed out in this hub, rebounding, inconsistent point guard play, horrible defense, no contribution from bench players, and injuries have doomed the Bucks as reflected in their bad record. In the past few games, the team has rebounded better and played better defense. Milwaukee must continue to do this as well as get better bench play if the Bucks are going to make the playoffs this year.