As the NBA offseason plows ahead we’re taking some time to pause and assess the work each team is doing, building for the present and future. Today, we’re looking at the Milwaukee Bucks.
Last season did not go the way the Milwaukee Bucks were hoping. A slow start pushed them out of the playoff race and prized free agent Greg Monroe struggled to assimilate in an offense that was starved for space. However, in the second half of the season Giannis Antetokounmpo exploded after being handed the full-time point guard duties and hopes are high that a few tweaks can have the Bucks back in the playoff hunt.
So, what have the Bucks been up to?
Inputs: Thon Maker (PF, NBA Draft pick No. 10); Malcolm Brogdon (SG, NBA Draft pick No. 36); Matthew Dellavedova (PG, signed for four years, $38 million); Mirza Teletovic (PF, signed for three years, $30 million)
Outputs: Greivis Vasquez (PG, signed with Brooklyn Nets); Jerryd Bayless (PG, signed with Philadelphia 76ers), O.J. Mayo (SG, unsigned), Damien Inglis (SF, unsigned), Johnny O’Bryant (PF, unsigned)
Pending: Miles Plumlee (C, restricted free agent)
Milwaukee taking Thon Maker at No. 10 was one of the biggest surprises of the draft but his performances at NBA Summer League imply that he may be less of a project than was initially thought. Brogdon has potential as a 3-and-D wing, but may have a hard time finding minutes as a rookie.
The outputs are mostly addition by subtraction for Milwaukee and signing Matthew Dellavedova should more than offset whatever the Bucks are losing in shooting, defense, and playmaking without Bayless and Vasquez. Teletovic was a quiet signing but he may turn out to be the key to the summer for Milwaukee (more on that later).
3 Big Questions
To really dig deep on Milwaukee’s offseason, I’m leaning on friends with some Bucks expertise. Adam McGee (@AdamMcGee11) and Ti Windisch (@TiWindisch)are the co-editors for FanSided’s Behind the Buck Pass. Frank Madden (@brewhoop) is one of the managing editors for SBNation’s Brew Hoop.
Adam, Ti, and Frank were nice enough to help out by answering three big questions about Milwaukee’s offseason.
How are you feeling about Thon Maker after his Summer League performance?
Adam McGee: I’m fighting the urge to have any definitive feelings on him based on Summer League, but when I consider what I was expecting to see from him at this point there are definite signs of encouragement. I’m not overly interested in trying to lock in and analyze a lot of his specific skills just yet. Instead, I’ve been watching out for some key intangibles and fundamentals.
His attitude and work ethic has been praised from all corners over the past few weeks and that definitely stands up when you see him on the court. He covers an incredible amount of ground, is constantly engaged and in motion, and also moves a lot quicker than I previously realized. He’s fast. His length certainly wasn’t oversold either. Watching Maker close out perimeter shooters and denying inbounds passes is a lot of fun.
I’ve liked what I’ve seen from him defensively but, of course, there are some problems. He’s so eager to help his team win and to be a good teammate that he’s guilty of constantly hedging his rotations and cheating off of his man. He wants to make decisive plays and as a result, he gambles and gets caught out of position. It’s not a big deal, but it’s evidence of just how raw he is and how much he still has to learn.
Obviously, his body needs a lot of work in order for him to be able to compete down low but with an NBA support staff he’ll have a chance to remedy that over the next few years. I don’t expect Maker to be a sensation overnight. The potential is real, but it’s important that expectations are set and managed very realistically for him. I could see him make an impact towards the back end of Milwaukee’s rotation this season, but it would be as little more than an energy guy. If he can manage that, it’ll be a good start.
Ti Windisch: It’s important to not jump to conclusions about Summer League. Rashad Vaughn looked like a dynamic scorer in last year’s Summer League, and he went on to have one of the worst rookie seasons Milwaukee has ever seen.
That being said, Thon Maker has shown some signs of being a legitimate player. The competition is making him look far and away better than he will in the NBA, but his quickness and speed at 7-1 is impressive regardless of who he shares the floor with.
Thon has also shown a bit more defensive acumen than expected. He’s not going to be an NBA-ready starter this year or anything, but he may not be as far off as many people seem to think. I still see him as a project player, but the corners of the puzzle are in place at least.
Frank Madden: Encouraged is probably the best word. Fouls and some overzealous ball-handling moves aside, he hasn’t been overwhelmed by the pressure and physicality of facing grown (if not always NBA-caliber) men, and for the most part he’s shown he can rebound, defend in space and roll to the rim well enough to get on the court this season. That alone is worthy of a big sigh of relief, and it also suggests Maker can be a valuable NBA big even if his offensive game never develops much beyond what it is now. Defensively, the biggest x-factor remains position — we’ve seen him mostly play power forward in Vegas, but he’ll need to add weight and become more of a five to truly unlock his highest potential in the NBA. If he does that, his floor as a prospect seems pretty high.
On the flip side, his offensive development seems much more up in the air. While I think he has a pretty good feel for where he needs to be on the court, he doesn’t seem skilled enough to be dangerous off the dribble or finish with advanced moves in the post, and I’m not sure if those things will ever evolve enough for him to be a major offensive threat. Still, there’s no reason to think he can’t be a good roll man, and he’ll hopefully become a more consistent pick-and-pop threat as well. Pair that with his obvious potential as a defender and you have a really interesting prospect who seems increasingly worthy of being a mid- to late-lotto selection.
Matthew Dellavedova will be for Milwaukee next season.
Adam McGee: Important. We all know Dellavedova’s limitations and I think both the Bucks and the player himself know them too. In discussing his fit with the Bucks, I do think there’s a danger of getting too wrapped up in that.
With Giannis taking control of the offense, there’s been this consensus of what Milwaukee’s ideal point guard should look like and the truth is that Dellavedova is going to come closer to that perception than most. He’s been a good three-point shooter throughout his three seasons with the Cavaliers. He may not technically be the greatest defender in the league, but his high intensity style lends itself to him at least making a regular impact on that end.
Of course there are questions over how his performance will be impacted by not having LeBron James alongside him, but if the Bucks are fully committed to running a system with a point forward, there should be the same type of opportunities for Dellavedova to contribute.
I think he’ll probably start the season coming off of the bench but will quickly prove himself to be a better starting option than Michael Carter-Williams on this team. Dellavedova’s style isn’t going to change, nor is he likely to show major improvements as a player, but the Bucks need what he brings to the table. His success or failure will be more significant to Milwaukee than most observers will be eager to acknowledge.
Ti Windisch: Invigorating. Aside from Jerryd Bayless, the Milwaukee Bucks did not have a point guard who could shoot consistently last season. Michael Carter-Williams, Tyler Ennis and Greivis Vasquez were all below-average shooters, and Bayless had a career year but is sort of a ball-hog at times.
Matthew Dellavedova is neither a ball-hog or a non-shooter. Despite his struggles in the 2016 NBA Playoffs, he’s a career 39.8 percent three-point shooter. He also knows exactly how to let a point forward run an offense — he’s worked with the best one ever in LeBron James.
Delly is unselfish and will work tirelessly to make the Milwaukee Bucks better. His biggest contribution will be allowing Giannis Antetokounmpo to really run the show while spacing the floor and hounding opposing point guards. That must be music to the Greek Freak’s ears.
Frank Madden: Useful. Spot-up shooting and defense will be the obvious litmus tests for Dellavedova in Milwaukee, which is good news considering he won’t be asked to do things he hasn’t done well already. And while it’s understandable to ask whether leaving LeBron James and a title-winning team in Cleveland will expose his flaws a bit more, it’s tough to think of a better fit for him than playing alongside Giannis and the young Bucks. I’m not sure if he’ll start — that would be my preference simply from a fit perspective with Giannis — but as long as he knocks down threes and annoys opponents he’ll hopefully be a valuable rotation piece.
If he doesn’t do those things…well, that’s not good. Guys like Delly don’t have a high margin of error, and a prolonged shooting slump would make him tough to play at all; as a paranoid Bucks fan, I can’t help but think back to what happened with post-contract Charlie Bell and Steve Blake as potential worst-case scenarios. Of course, both of those guys also had off-court things going on when they slumped, so you’d imagine Delly will come into camp without any of that kind of baggage.
Given their moves to this point, how do the Bucks get more shooting on the floor next season?
Adam McGee: Staying healthy will be a start. All four of their acquisitions via both the draft and free agency (five, if you include the inevitable Steve Novak re-signing), have seen them add capable shooters to the roster.
The starting lineup will still present spacing challenges if we don’t see consistent three-point improvement from both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, and as a result staggering their rotations throughout the 48 minutes will prove very important.
Dellavedova starting should ease some of that pressure. Coming from the bench, Mirza Teletovic holds the record for bench three-pointers from his play with the Phoenix Suns last season. Malcolm Brogdon was a reliable shooter in Virginia and maybe (clutching at straws here) Rashad Vaughn can be something other than totally inept too. The Bucks have done a good job of bolstering their shooting options, the challenge will now be figuring out what the best way to build rotations around that is.
Ti Windisch: First off, as much as I like what I’ve seen from him so far, Thon Maker cannot be relied on to do much of anything right away. He definitely shouldn’t be seen as a shooter yet. Still, Malcolm Brogdon is a proven shooter from his college days, and Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic are proven NBA shooters.
That’s a huge step in the right direction for the Bucks right away. So is removing O.J. Mayo and Greivis Vasquez, both of whom were atrocious from beyond the arc last year. Both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams showed signs of having a reliable jumper last year, but they can’t really be relied on either.
Even without them, Dellavedova and Teletovic add a ton to Milwaukee’s spacing. Khris Middleton is another uber-reliable shooter, and will continue to force defenses to account for him. Adding one more shooter in free agency could make the Bucks a real force from long-range as soon as next season.
Frank Madden: No one is going to be taking minutes away from Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker, so the most important thing that can happen from a floor-spacing perspective would be one or both of those guys becoming more consistent threats from the perimeter. For now, I think Parker is the better bet in that regard, and he’s probably the more important guy given Jabari will be off the ball more. Giannis’ lack of consistent range hurt less after he started handling the ball more, so that’s also another major plus of the Point Giannis tactic. The Bucks’ starting units with him at the point had no problem scoring last year, so I don’t think the Bucks necessarily have to shoot tons of threes anyway.
Aside from simply hoping for Jabari and Giannis to improve, the Bucks’ offseason moves also offer some hope on the shooting front as well. Swapping Dellavedova for Jerryd Bayless is likely a wash given both were among the league leaders in catch-and-shoot effectiveness, and it’s hard to imagine the Bucks ever being a high-volume shooting team as long as Michael Carter-Williams is in the rotation. Still, adding Mirza Teletovic to the forward ranks provides a totally different dimension that will hopefully give Giannis some less congested driving lanes to slash through, especially when you consider how many minutes they gave to Johnny O’Bryant the past two seasons.
I imagine they’ll add at least one more guard who can (hopefully) be a spot-up threat as well, and beyond that they have to think that Rashad Vaughn will improve on a woeful rookie campaign where he shot just 29% from deep. We also know that Thon Maker thinks he can shoot threes, and down the line I have grandiose hopes of him being able to provide stretch five minutes. Still, both the “stretch” and the “five” part of that dream appear rather optimistic in the short term.
From a spacing standpoint, their best bet is probably starting Dellavedova as an off-ball PG with Giannis and then bringing MCW (as long as he’s around) off the bench with Teletovic at the four.
The stretchiness of Mirza Teletovic
The acquisition of Mirza Teletovic has gotten much less press than the Matthew Dellavedova signing, or Thon Maker’s Summer League adventures, but it could prove to be the most important offseason move the Bucks made. Last season, the Bucks ranked last in three-pointers attempted and 22nd in three-point percentage. One of the central reasons for this was a lack of stretch in their froncourt. Greg Monroe, John Henson, and Miles Plumlee manned the middle and many of the forward minutes went to Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo. No one in that group is even in the ballpark of being a reliable outside threat.
Enter Teletovic, who last season attempted more three-pointers per 100 possessions than anyone in the league classified as a forward or center by Basketball-Reference.
Teletovic was accurate as well as prolific — making 39.3 percent of his threes. In total he made 181 last season, nearly 40 more than any players on the Bucks, backcourt or frontcourt. Teletovic played some small forward in Brooklyn three years ago but has spent the vast majority of his minutes at power forward the past two years. Getting his shooting ability onto the floor should take a huge amount of pressure off the Bucks’ offense.
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