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Jrue Holiday’s 2nd season as a Milwuakee Buck was even better than his championship winning 1st (Photo: Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

NBA 2022 Offseason Guide: Milwaukee Bucks

Bucks
Jrue Holiday’s second season as a Milwaukee Buck was even better than his championship winning first. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

NBA 2022 Offseason Guide: Milwaukee Bucks

A second-round exit when defending the NBA crown might seem a disappointment for the Milwaukee Bucks and in a way, it is: when you’re the champ, nothing less than winning it all over again will suffice.

That said, losing in seven tight, tense matches to a Boston Celtics team that ended up coming out of the East, whilst your second-best player watches the entire series in civilian clothing, shows just how close the Bucks were to doing it all over again.

If they overcame the Celtics, the Heat – who the Bucks have the wood on – awaited. Then the Warriors, who have no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks are still right in the mix but do have lessons to learn from the last off season.

The Roster

Led by a tall Greek chap who seems to be rather good at basketball, the Bucks are a championship calibre unit.

Giannis (29.9 points, 11.6 rebound, 5.8 assists, 1.4 blocks, 1.1 steals) put together another year just as good – if not better – than his two MVP campaigns. Combined with his usual stellar defense, Antetokounmpo is the Alpha and the Omega for Milwaukee.

Jrue Holiday’s second year as a Buck was even better than his first. His production of 18.3 points (on 50/41/77 shooting), 6.8 assists and 1.6 steals don’t even tell the whole story. His perimeter defense is just as important to the Bucks’ identity as anything that Giannis and Brook Lopez provide on the interior. The world of hurt that he put Celtic Marcus Smart through in the final few seconds of Game 5 in their recent series was spectacular.

Video Credit: Milwaukee Bucks/YouTube

Middleton was his usual steady self, with the 30-year-old pouring in just north of 20 points a night as he earned his third All Star selection. Middleton remains an outstanding closer who, despite not possessing anything close to elite speed, methodically works his way to the mid-range where he rises up and shoots over defenders. It was his injury – a sprained MCL finished his season midway through the Bucks opening round win against the Bulls – that went a long way to sinking Milwaukee’s playoff campaign.

Behind their Big Three, there’s not a lot to speak of, however.

Brook Lopez missed large swathes of the season with a back injury, to the point where the team traded the valuable Donte Divincenzo to bring in the fossilised remains of Serge Ibaka as Lopez’s insurance. When on the floor and healthy, though, the 34-year-old Lopez remains a defensive bedrock and valuable stretch big.

Pat Connaughton’s emergence over the past 18 months, though, ultimately made Divincenzo look expendable. Bobby Portis has at long last matured into a fine face-up threat at the four or five spots. Wes Mathews hits the odd three and plays good defense.

Beyond that? Yeah…not much to write home about.

Jordan Nwora shows promise as a scoring wing. Grayson Allen is a very good jump shooter and truly elite shithouse. Thanasis Antetokounmpo has a brother that’s pretty good. Sandro Mamukelashvili is a fun name to say.

Fair to say that depth is a problem in Cream City.

Team Needs

As above, really.

The Bucks have one of the most top-heavy rosters in basketball. Their main man is perhaps the best player in the world. Their supporting stars in Holiday and Middleton are two of the very best in those roles. Their veteran role players are outstanding.

The issue is that the Bucks rotation really only runs seven, perhaps eight men deep. Those problems are exacerbated when you consider that Portis and Connaughton are both able to decline their player options, whilst Nwora is out-and-out a free agent at the time of writing. We’ll cover those three and their contract situation a little later.

Assuming that the Bucks do tie down all three, then their main needs are a viable back-up for Holiday and some insurance against Lopez breaking down again.

A combination of Portis and Giannis held down the fort when Lopez was sidelined, but Portis is slightly undersized to play the pivot on a full time basis. Giannis is perfectly capable of playing as a sort of point centre, but he has so much responsibility upon his shoulders that the team should be looking to give him any respite it can from the physical toll the centre position places upon a player.

Holiday was backed up by Bucks favorite George Hill. Now 35, Hill as enjoyed an excellent NBA career, but he has no place playing 20+ minutes a night for a team with genuine championship expectations. His production cratered in the playoffs, scoring exactly one (1) point per game. There are better options out there.

The Cap Sheet

As one might expect for a veteran laden contender, this Bucks roster is expensive. Assuming Portis, Connaughton and Thanasis Antetokounmpo opt in to the final year of their contracts, Milwaukee will be handing out $156 million to 11 players. Given the team is smack bang in the window, they would be wise to re-up all three, as well as bring back Nwora, who is ready for a bigger role.

The easiest deal to work out here is the elder Antetokounmpo’s. Realistically, Giannis’ big brother is on the team because Giannis wants him to be on the team. He’s not a bad player, to be fair. He’s a decent energy player off the bench, but those types are a dime-a-dozen. There are more skilled options out there. What he is for the Bucks is cheap like the budgie. There is every chance he’ll sign a two-year deal – perhaps a team option on a third season – for something not far above the minimum.

Portis and Connaughton are far more interesting cases. The pair made around $5 million each this past campaign. Portis, at age 27, probably has a couple of longer-term deals left to play for. Connaughton though, is 29 – he will be acutely aware that this is his one chance to cash in and make life changing money. Expect him to sign a contract that pays him somewhere in the $10-12 million per season range. For Portis, who averaged a double/double in the playoffs, a two- or three-year deal in the mid-teens (allowing him to hit free agency again as a 30-year-old) is what is likely to be on the table.

Milwaukee do have expiring contracts they could play with, as well. Hill’s $4 million deal would be nothing more than salary filler, given his lack of production, but Lopez is an interesting case. He’d surely only want to go to a contender at this point of his career, but if he can prove his back problem is behind him then he’s a steal at a hair under $14 million.

Should Connaughton, Portis and the elder Antetokounmpo all opt into their player options – highly unlikely – then they’ll all be on expiring deals as well.

The Bucks also have Luca Vildoza’s minimum contract to play with. To level with you, dear reader, this writer – an apparent NBA expert – didn’t know Luca Vildoza existed until around three minutes ago.

The Draft

All of the Bucks win-now moves have left their draft cupboard somewhat bare, though they do own their first-round pick in this draft, dropping in at #24.

It’s highly likely that Milwaukee will look for an NBA ready prospect to help their championship push, though that doesn’t mean that they’ll overlook a project player that they like.

The Bucks could look to bring in an apprentice for Lopez. They could go with a Kessler Walker, a genuinely enormous man (7’1”, 255 lbs) who already walls off the paint like a young Lopez. He’s not much of a shooter, but then neither was Brook at that age. Alternatively, Milwaukee could go with the upside pick in the rail thin John Butler. He’s a supreme athlete both vertically and laterally who already shoots the rock at an acceptable NBA level. There’s a lot of Christian Wood in Butler.

If Milwaukee go small, looking for Hill and eventually Holiday’s replacement, they could look at Blake Wesley or Dalen Terry. This writer expects the Bucks to, should he still be available, go with Ryan Rollins out of Toledo.

The 19-year-old has a lot of similarities with a young Hill. Both are combo guards with similar size and wingspan. Both play very good defense, though Rollins doesn’t project to be as impactful at that end as Hill. Rollins is a better distributor, though. His court vision and working of passing angles is fantastic.

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