Throughout September and October, we’ll be examining all 30 teams in the NBA and previewing the 2013-14 season through the lens of each particular organization. I’ll be going through each team’s roster and expected outcome for the upcoming campaign in reverse order of predicted finish, starting with the worst team in the NBA. At the bottom of each preview there will be a table with each division that will link to already-completed previews.
Ah, the Bucks. A 38-44 playoff team from a year ago, the Bucks always seem to be treading water. With ownership that is simply too stubborn to bottom out with a purpose, the 2013-14 Bucks will be unquestionably mediocre.
I do think they’ll be a little better than some are giving them credit for heading into the season. After all, they’re in an Eastern Conference chock-full of teams that aren’t actively trying to win. The Bucks, on the other hand, are trying to win.
They won’t be particularly good at the whole winning thing, of course, but the roster is just good enough that they’ll find themselves piling up a few easy wins against some terrible teams. On the flip side of the coin, they won’t stand much of a chance against the many superior teams across the league.
After cutting ties with the enigma that is Brandon Jennings in a sign-and-trade with Detroit (this after Atlanta matched a four-year offer sheet for Jeff Teague), the Bucks replaced him in the lineup with another young point guard that has been inconsistent at best and failed to live up to lofty expectations in Brandon Knight. He’ll hold down the back court alongside $24 million man O.J. Mayo, who had an awful second half of the season in Dallas but still managed to land a sizable chunk of guaranteed cash in Milwaukee.
The Bucks shored up their back court with a pair of savvy acquisitions in Gary Neal (2 years, $6.5 million) via free agency and Luke Ridnour (expiring $4.32 million deal) as part of Minnesota’s wheeling, dealing, and cap space clearing to fit new wings Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer onto their payroll. A guard rotation of Knight, Mayo, Neal, and Ridnour is decent, but truthfully there isn’t much of a drop-off from the overpaid, underachieving starters to the more modestly-compensated backups. Which usually isn’t a good thing.
The front court is intriguing, as Larry Sanders emerged as arguably the top defensive big man in the league last year, and his offense improved with expanded minutes to the point where he wasn’t a clear liability on that end of the floor. On the other hand, Ersan Ilyasova saw his production take a slight hit on the heels of a brand new five-year, $40 million contract. His scoring saw a slight bump, but was overall less efficient both from the floor and from the line, and his rebounding rate took a disconcerting dive from 17.6% in 2011-12 to 13.9% in 2012-13.
Ekpe Udoh is a nice rotational piece as well, and the acquisitions of Carlos Delfino and Caron Butler will help shore up three-point shooting from the wing. Of course, Bucks fans are already regretting the J.J. Redick rental at last year’s trade deadline, as Milwaukee essentially gave away promising young players Tobias Harris (17.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 1.4 blocks per game in 27 games with Orlando after the trade) and Doron Lamb for the right to be swept by Miami in the first round of the playoffs.
Perimeter defense will absolutely be an issue for Milwaukee this season, as nobody ever accused Mayo, Knight, or Ridnour of being defensive stoppers. Sanders is the main force down low, and the depth simply isn’t there in the front court. It could be a long, mediocre, decidedly Bucksy year yet again in eastern Wisconsin.
Best Case Scenario
This team might have one of the smallest possible swings in win totals entering the 2013-14 season. It’s hard to set too high of a ceiling, or even too low of a floor, barring major injury issues. They’ll beat the tanking teams, but rarely pull out a game against true playoff contenders. A return to 35-38 wins would be a “best” case for Milwaukee, although they’d certainly be better off joining the tankers given their current un-rosy ceiling.
Worst Case Scenario
Depth and defense are the two biggest issues facing Milwaukee at the present time. If Sanders were to miss significant time, this could easily be one of the worst three or four teams in basketball. It isn’t hard to see the wheels falling off this version of the Bucks, and 24-27 wins doesn’t sound all that crazy right now.
Most Likely Outcome
As the quintessential middling NBA team, the Bucks will win the games they should and maybe pull out a couple against contenders on off-nights. It’s hard to see this team playing terribly inspired ball throughout the long season, however, and it looks as though a Bucksian 34-37 wins is the most likely endpoint.
|Toronto Raptors (22)|
|Boston Celtics (24)||Charlotte Bobcats (26)|
|Milwaukee Bucks (20)||Orlando Magic (27)|
|Los Angeles Lakers (23)|
|Sacramento Kings (25)|
|Dallas Mavericks (21)|