There are questions the Milwaukee Bucks will have to answer heading into what should be an exciting 2015-16 season. This is the final installment in a five-part series as we begin thinking about next season. – JS
- Part I: Will the addition of Greg Monroe hurt the Bucks defensively?
- Part II: Who plays the four if Jabari Parker isn’t ready to start the season?
- Part III: Can anyone other than Khris Middleton be a reliable outside shooter?
- Part IV: Who will make plays at the end of the shot clock and late in games?
And finally, the biggest question.
Coming off of the worst year in franchise history, last season’s Bucks didn’t exactly have the look of a darkhorse playoff team. Aside from the addition of Jabari Parker, the roster was largely unchanged with plenty of uncertainty still surrounding then-NBA player Larry Sanders. What transpired under Jason Kidd and a retooled coaching staff caught the entire league by surprise, and by mid-March Milwaukee was a team most contenders in the East hoped to avoid in Round 1.
Whether the Bucks won a game or a series in the postseason never really mattered. An 82-game sample was more than enough to prove they belonged in the discussion of the NBA’s best young teams. Just last month, ESPN crowned Milwaukee’s young core the best in the league, leading with the headline: “Bucks project to be class of NBA.”
Richard Nixon was Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” the last time Milwaukee was the class of the league. The future is bright, there’s no doubt about that, but this season the Bucks won’t be sneaking up on anyone. This collection of talent proved capable of breaking through, though the more difficult task is sustaining a high level of play, especially on defense.
The Bucks’ core is as strong as it is young, but what it lacks is experience. It’s now Year 3 for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Michael Carter-Williams, the year when it starts to become clear whether a player “gets it” or not. The former has only 25 games of non-tanking basketball under his belt, while the latter just had 300-odd words written about his broken jumper. On top of that, Milwaukee is placing a large chunk of its faith in a 20-year-old coming off of major knee surgery.
Greg Monroe’s arrival signals a new day for a franchise that has for years embodied the lack of small market appeal, but he hasn’t so much as sniffed the playoffs in five NBA seasons. He’s never even been in a playoff race. Since selecting Monroe seventh overall in 2010, Detroit hasn’t finished better than 10th in the East or within six games of the eighth seed. Much of the reason he jumped to Milwaukee, spurning offers from big-market teams, was to join a playoff-ready club.
“If they’re hungry, I’m starving,” Monroe declared, soberly, at his introductory press conference.
He echoed the same tone in a Q&A with ESPN’s Scoop Jackson a few days later.
“You have to remember they were in the playoffs without Jabari (Parker), which is a big factor. So you get him back, and I knew I could come here and help,” Monroe said. “I saw them and thought I could fit in here and give them what they need to help them keep moving in the right direction. They’ve been somewhere that I’ve never been before.”
Those are the words of a player desperate to snap his personal postseason drought, but Monroe and the Bucks have to do more than talk about returning a franchise to the playoffs that hasn’t played in consecutive postseasons in more than a decade. Adding a player of Monroe’s caliber means Milwaukee’s style of play, by default, is going to change. Maintaining their identity as an unselfish team on both ends is what must stay the same.
The last time the Bucks had “expectations” even close to what they’ll have this season was in 2010-11. They were coming off their Fear The Deer thrill ride, Brandon Jennings was a still a potential star and the team added guys like Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette to take them to another level. They went to another level in 2010-11, but it was a level down. Milwaukee went from being a great defensive team and a bad offensive team to a great defensive team and one of the worst offensive teams in franchise history. Players began to quarrel with coach Scott Skiles and right when Milwaukee thought they had something to build on, it was gone.
There was talk last season about how Kidd instilled a new culture, the same way there was talk of a new culture when the Bucks showed up to camp in October of 2010. When a team is outperforming its expectations, it’s easy for everyone in the locker room feel good and put aside their own egos. Without key veterans like Jared Dudley and Zaza Pachulia and with a whole new set of expectations, Jason Kidd has a huge challenge in front of him this season.
If he can continue to keep the locker room harmonious and the W column growing, the Bucks will move into the conversation as a top-5 team in the East. If the Bucks can do that, we should be even more impressed with Jason Kidd this year than we were last year.