June 19, 2019, 2:49 am
We need to begin this piece with yours truly eating five plates of crow. Last year I said this team wasn’t quite a contender yet after fading into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and failing to move past a banged-up Celtics squad. All I can say in my defense is I’m a fan of the team and expected to be disappointed. Good thing I was very wrong and they waited until the end of May to be disappointing. I’m not bitter.
In reality, it didn’t end like the squad hoped, but this was a huge step forward in bringing basketball back to prominence in Milwaukee. The new building is a definite upgrade in amenities and a definite downgrade in name. There’s a true superstar locked up for the intermediate term who may end up being the best player in the league. There’s an outside chance free agent talent will decide that it’s worth braving the cold and lack of flashy pizzazz to play with the aforementioned superstar. And for the basketball fans in Milwaukee, there is hope.
This almost went really well! The Bucks got off to a strong 7-0 start and it seemed like all the question marks about the team gelling under a new system and head coach were answered. This was followed by a 11-9 lull and some bad losses to the Suns and Knicks and everyone lost their collective minds. The response? 42-13 the rest of the way. Last I checked, that’s pretty damn good.
This Bucks team was more than that. They were the best scoring and rebounding team in the league while maintaining a fairly stout defense in this high-scoring era. They were aggressive in bringing in the pieces they could attract in the offseason (Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova, Pat Connaughton), shedding the pieces everyone’s been over for years (John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova, Thon Maker) and bringing in talent to bolster a deep playoff run (George Hill, Nikola Mirotic). The Thon Maker move was particularly savvy, moving him to Detroit in a three-team deal along with four second-round picks, largely inconsequential in the grand scheme, to get a true game-breaker in Niko Mirotic. We know it didn’t pan out, but we have to commend the squad for shooting their shot.
And shoot they did. It was the best season in nearly 30 years for this franchise, matching their win total from 1980-81. Everything seemed to be going great as they cruised through the first two rounds of the playoffs. After going up 2-0 against the Raptors, it just fell apart. They were beaten by a better team for that stretch. Kawhi Leonard found a way to will that team to win the whole thing and the Deer just happened to be in his headlights. The strategy will be to run it back with most of the same pieces and hope there isn’t a 2020 version of Kawhi in the way.
If there’s ever an example of how much impact coaching has on a team, this is Exhibit A. This team under Mike Budenholzer met and exceeded every expectation of this snowy wasteland. It seems like there’s finally some stability on the bench for this team after some iffy years under Jason Kidd when it was obvious that everyone wasn’t quite on board. Also, Joe Prunty was… a guy who did some stuff.
Budenholzer also is a guy who does some stuff. The difference is that it’s stuff that’s touched by Midas and angels and happiness and love. He has been pivotal in the growth of Giannis Antetokounmpo into this behemoth of unstoppable strength and skill. He’s been pivotal in the team’s ability to exploit depth pieces and not miss a beat. The system is good and that should really drive the growth of the young wings on the roster in Sterling Brown, Donte DiVincenzo and Pat Connaughton.
With an emphasis on reading defenses and reacting accordingly, it should help young players coming into the system flash their athleticism while becoming better basketball players, which is a key to long-term success as athleticism fades. Coach Bud is our bud for years to come.
ADP: 2/3 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 4/9 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 3/6 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 72
2018-2019 Averages: 72 G | 32.8 MP | 27.7 PTS | 0.7 3PM | 12.5 REB | 5.9 AST | 1.3 STL | 1.5 BLK | 3.7 TOV | 0.578 FG% | 0.729 FT%
The Giannis Antetokounmpo story remains the exact same. He’s an amazing talent and a great player and makes us all feel very old and decrepit because he’s a freak and basically 11. This amazing season could end in an NBA MVP win, but for our purposes, it was kind of more of the same. The field goal percentage took an impressive bump in exchange for some free throw shooting. We saw career-highs in rebounds, assists and turnovers. At 24 years old, we saw the blossoming of potentially the best player on the planet who somehow wants to be in the city of Milwaukee (Someone please check if he hit his head).
We didn’t see, however, the development of a 3-point shot or an improvement to the free throw percentage. This is broken record talk, but it’s the reality. Giannis is deficient in three categories. The turnovers will be tough to bring back down much given how much he handles the ball and the laser focus opposing defenses put on him. Adding range to his game would make Antetokounmpo the most unstoppable force in the NBA. Also make your free throws dude. Let’s figure that out.
ADP: 35/29 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 41/47 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 57/63 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 77
2018-2019 Averages: 77 G | 31.1 MP | 18.3 PTS | 2.3 3PM | 6.0 REB | 4.3 AST | 1.0 STL | 0.1 BLK | 2.3 TOV | 0.441 FG% | 0.837 FT%
This was kind of an interesting season for Khris Middleton. The playing time got rolled back a full five minutes from the previous year as the Bucks had much more depth to give their stars more rest. Middleton had some stretches where he just couldn’t get a shot to fall as evidenced by almost a career-low shooting percentage, but he made 3-pointers in more volume and at a better clip. Even with fewer minutes, we saw career marks in rebounds and assists without sacrificing the turnovers. It was a well-deserved All-Star appearance for a city and team that doesn’t always get their fair share of attention.
The All-Star appearance and the team-friendly salary on the player option means that this will be the summer to get a max contract for Middleton. He will almost definitely see something in that ballpark and the Bucks have shown interest in bringing him back to take this show from the top. From a fantasy angle, the drop-off in performance is tied to the shooting efficiency piece as well as a drop off in points and steals. The steals may come back but it’s hard to see Middleton playing 36-plus minutes per game again if he’s in the same uniform.
ADP: 67/42 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 29/30 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 45/43 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 78
2018-2019 Averages: 78 G | 29.7 MP | 15.9 PTS | 1.6 3PM | 4.7 REB | 5.5 AST | 1.5 STL | 0.4 BLK | 2.1 TOV | 0.484 FG% | 0.750 FT%
Bledsoe’s second year in Milwaukee was a step back from his inaugural season with the squad as his usage went down. With more pieces in the fold, the efficiency was higher (a career-high 48.4% from the field and the lowest turnover numbers since he became a regular starter) but we’re here for the steals and that was the number that took a big dip.
As Bledsoe locks into a new four-year deal starting this upcoming season, it’s important to recognize that this could just be the new normal. It’s very obvious that Bledsoe will be at best the third offensive option on this team unless things go incredibly wrong this summer. With that in mind, a top-50 caliber fantasy option is the new expectation unless the theft rate bounces back closer to two per contest.
ADP: 136/115 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 99/88 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 74/64 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 64
2018-2019 Averages: 64 G | 28.6 MP | 15.6 PTS | 1.6 3PM | 4.5 REB | 3.2 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.2 BLK | 1.4 TOV | 0.506 FG% | 0.928 FT%
We said last season not to get excited because Brogdon was a rock-solid. Brogdon was rockier and more solid than we could have asked when he was on the court in 2018-19. As far as we can tell, joining the 50-40-90 club with six current or future hall-of-famers and Mark Price (who arguably should be) is a good time.
The torn plantar fascia, on the other hand, was specifically not a good time. Brogdon played well even with some lingering effects from the injury, but finally had to undergo surgery and miss the last 13 games of the year. He looked acceptable in the postseason coming off the bench instead of starting for many of those contests, a shift from the regular season. Now, the main question is whether the Bucks will be able to bring him back as an RFA in addition to the other question marks on the roster.
ADP: 111/68 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 164/149 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 69/50 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 46
2018-2019 Averages: 46 G | 27.1 MP | 15.2 PTS | 2.5 3PM | 7.4 REB | 1.2 AST | 0.7 STL | 0.7 BLK | 1.0 TOV | 0.439 FG% | 0.847 FT%
Oh, Niko. A Hoop-Ball favorite and a player that seemed like a great deadline acquisition for the Bucks, who gave up a three cheese sandwiches and some stale chips to rent him for the stretch run. The pre-packaged ham was too valuable to move in the deal. The goal was to keep up in the Eastern Conference arms race with the Raptors’ acquisition of Marc Gasol and the Sixers’ acquisition of Tobias Harris.
On paper, it was a great move. Mirotic was still dealing with some injury woes (right calf and right ankle) that were plaguing him in New Orleans, but this added a depth component in the fronctourt that may have been lacking even with the Bucks’ deep bench. To be completely frank, it didn’t really seem to work well at any point in Milwaukee. The numbers were muted, inefficient, and didn’t quite inspire. Mirotic also dealt with a fractured thumb late in the season which can’t have helped matters. Fortunately, he isn’t Frank, he is in fact Niko, and Niko should be able to use this as a blip on his radar and find a better landing spot in the summer to hop back into mid-round value for fantasy purposes.
ADP: 124/83 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 31/19 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 53/32 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 81
2018-2019 Averages: 81 G | 28.7 MP | 12.5 PTS | 2.3 3PM | 4.9 REB | 1.2 AST | 0.6 STL | 2.2 BLK | 1.0 TOV | 0.452 FG% | 0.842 FT%
If there’s a defining move for this year’s Bucks, it’s the absolute steal of a deal they (and fantasy owners) got on Brook Lopez. It seems like a millennium ago that he was a reliable 20-point scorer on a nightly basis. Newsflash: That was two years ago, his last year in Brooklyn. In 2016-17 Lopez averaged 20.5 points per game while adding a 3-point shot to his repertoire and making them at a reasonably strong clip. Milwaukee Brook was back on track with a better fantasy season than that last 20 PPG campaign despite slashing his usage from his peak years in The Big Apple basically in half.
The next steps for Lopez are possibly on another team, as this single-year deal at less than $3.5 million was a total coup for the Deer and he expects to get paid significantly more after this renaissance. As his age advances, Lopez might get exposed even more for being a slow-footed, plodding big man in an era of high-octane action who somehow doesn’t realize he’s seven feet tall and can’t average five boards per game. It’s a strange combo that seemed to work here but we’ll see if that works if Lopez has a different address. Also, Splash Mountain is a winner.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 210/189 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 216/192 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 61
2018-2019 Averages: 61 G | 20.7 MP | 6.9 PTS | 1.1 3PM | 4.2 REB | 2.0 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.5 TOV | 0.466 FG% | 0.725 FT%
This was an excellent free agency find for the Deer this season. Connaughton played important minutes for this team and really brought a lot to the table when the shots were falling. He’s deceptively athletic and works hard on the court. A career year at just 26 means we could see yet another step forward for Pat next season as one of the first wings off the bench. He’s committed to working on his 3-point game and with a more consistent jump shot in tow, he could easily bump up a few more spots as a fantasy asset and be a late-round value.
ADP: 142/139 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 228/212 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 223/215 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 60
2018-2019 Averages: 60 G | 21.7 MP | 7.6 PTS | 0.8 3PM | 2.5 REB | 2.3 AST | 0.9 STL | 0.1 BLK | 0.9 TOV | 0.452 FG% | 0.824 FT%
We remember George Hill for being the guy that got traded for Kawhi Leonard (Your 2019 NBA Finals MVP for those uninitiated. He’s quite good. Cool move Indiana.) but we sometimes forget that Hill has carved out a pretty solid career with six seasons as a solid starter, including time running the point for a competitive Pacers team in the early part of this decade. There’s a reason the Bucks coveted him enough to bring him in via trade, although some could argue just dumping off the Matthew Dellavedova and John Henson contracts was worth it.
Hill played a pivotal role steadying the second unit on this loaded roster and was often on the court in crunch time in the playoffs. The veteran savvy is clearly a factor, but we’ll have to see if it’s enough of a factor to be paid $18 million dollars. The initial guess is that answer is no, and Hill will find himself on the outside looking in on July 2nd. Maybe he’s a late-round guy if he finds a few more minutes on a mediocre team.
ADP: N/A/139 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 237/220 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 268/282 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 67
2018-2019 Averages: 67 G | 18.4 MP | 6.8 PTS | 0.9 3PM | 4.5 REB | 0.8 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.3 BLK | 0.7 TOV | 0.438 FG% | 0.824 FT%
Confession: Ersan Ilyasova is one of my top-five favorite players for no reason. I also recognize this makes me lose credibility as a basketball guy, but there’s just something about him that I can’t quit. He’s not even that good and his jump shot is kind of ugly. He did his job well enough as a depth forward but it’s clear that the Bucks don’t feel the same way about him as I do.
They’ll be working hard to move the guaranteed $7 million Ilyasova is owed this year and a new team and eight more minutes of playing time could push Ilyasova into low-end value averaging around 11 points and seven boards while knocking down a few long-distance darts. It’s an acceptable profile.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 253/222 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 319/282 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 74
2018-2019 Averages: 74 G | 17.6 MP | 6.0 PTS | 1.1 3PM | 2.1 REB | 0.9 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.2 BLK | 0.3 TOV | 0.452 FG% | 0.881 FT%
Don’t worry friends, Tony Snell still made an exorbitant amount of money to be the exact same dude he’s been forever. If I’m not emphasizing that enough, here it is to reiterate. He’s the exact same player. Nothing is different. Last season Snell played 10 more minutes per contest and barely did more statistically. Given that, maybe it’s unfair. The same popcorn numbers while losing more than a third of the playing time is fairly good. Again, fairly good is not worth a double-digit cap hit.
The Bucks will look to move on from Snell to clear up this overcommitted cash both this season and for the player option next season. There’s an outside chance Snell lands in a spot where he can play volume minutes and make some 3-pointers but it’s just not that exciting to sit on the fringes of fantasy contention depending on who breaks their leg or gets a really aggressive case of the flu.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 285/276 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 306/301 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 58
2018-2019 Averages: 58 G | 17.8 MP | 6.4 PTS | 0.9 3PM | 3.2 REB | 1.4 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.1 BLK | 0.8 TOV | 0.465 FG% | 0.690 FT%
It feels like Sterling Brown is the forgotten man on this roster. There were a lot of moving pieces to the Bucks’ depth this season with George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, Tim Frazier and Pat Connaughton all swinging through as new faces. Snell is unforgettable because of his salary. Brown secretly had a decent season — very similar to the one we saw from Snell for 10 percent of the salary. There’s still some growth potential for Brown in coach Budenholzer’s system. It probably doesn’t lead to much fantasy appeal, but will be paramount to the depth chart going forward.
ADP: 139/134 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 368/358 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 339/327 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 30
2018-2019 Averages: 30 G | 12.0 MP | 3.9 PTS | 0.2 3PM | 4.6 REB | 1.7 AST | 0.2 STL | 0.5 BLK | 0.5 TOV | 0.447 FG% | 0.700 FT%
Don’t blink. Just like that you’re six years old and you take a nap and you miss that Pau Gasol was a Buck. It’s because he played three games and then suffered an ankle injury that ended in a stress fracture in his left foot (after already dealing with a stress fracture in his right foot earlier in the year) that ended his season. Gasol was originally brought over off the buyout market from the Spurs to provide some depth minutes at the center position and show off his veteran moxie in the postseason. Only one of those things happened and now Gasol’s NBA future is cloudy. At least for the fantasy community, his fantasy future is definitively not cloudy. He’s dead, Jim.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 255/264 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 267/293 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 59
2018-2019 Averages: 59 G | 19.0 MP | 5.3 PTS | 0.6 3PM | 2.8 REB | 4.2 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.1 BLK | 1.3 TOV | 0.444 FG% | 0.759 FT%
Tim Frazier started the season with the Bucks in training camp but didn’t end up cracking the roster, beaten out by the likes of Christian Wood. While he awaited his fateful return to Milwaukee, he went back to a familiar stomping ground in New Orleans and cautiously stepped through 47 generally fine games with the Pels before coming back through the Bucks organization for the stretch run.
Frazier saw a lot of playing time over the last week or two of the year as the Bucks locked up the top overall seed, culminating in a huge 29-point, 13-assist performance in which he played the entire game. This begs the question: why doesn’t Timmy play 48 minutes per game? Jokes aside, it’s a little surprising that Frazier has had such a tough time latching onto an NBA job. As another one in the pile of free agent questions for the Bucks, there’s a chance we see him back to bolster the bench depth, especially if George Hill moves on.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 316/309 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 316/304 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 48
2018-2019 Averages: 48 G | 18.4 MP | 5.8 PTS | 1.0 3PM | 4.6 REB | 1.1 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.7 TOV | 0.414 FG% | 0.553 FT%
It’s mighty impressive that D.J. Wilson was able to maintain an NBA career in between filming sessions of the live action Hey Arnold! film but he’s managed to do an excellent job of at least swinging by to punch the clock and show up for half the year. Unfortunately for the Michigan big man, there just weren’t enough minutes to go around after the acquisition of Nikola Mirotic. As it stands, Mirotic and Brook Lopez are no longer on the roster and the Bucks are working on moving Ersan Ilyasova, essentially making Giannis and DeVante Jaylen the only two true forwards on the roster (Note: This is bad.). If there isn’t a push to bring back at least one and hopefully more of Khris Middleton, Lopez, and Niko, then Wilson will have to be an important bench option.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 383/384 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 354/357 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 27
2018-2019 Averages: 27 G | 15.2 MP | 4.9 PTS | 0.8 3PM | 2.4 REB | 1.1 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.2 BLK | 0.7 TOV | 0.403 FG% | 0.750 FT%
It wasn’t the season we drew up for 2018 Final Four Most Outstanding Player as he struggled with poor shooting and myriad injuries. Bursitis in his right heel was the nail in the coffin for the Bucks’ rookie in late March. DiVincenzo spent time with the Bucks’ G-League affiliate as well and scored with more volume (albeit similarly poor efficiency, especially from distance), but could never find a groove on the big club. With some departures to the depth coming this summer potentially via trade or free agency, we’ll need to see The Big Ragu find some consistency shooting the ball to become any sort of fantasy-relevant asset.
New update: The Bucks are much closer to contention than previously expected on account of leading the Association in wins last season and also being two games away from the Finals. However, the cap crunch is real. There are huge questions among the impending free agents. Malcolm Brogdon is a restricted free agent who will get a significant offer from another team. Khris Middleton will decline his player option, priced in at $13 million, and get sizable interest in the form of a potential max deal. Brook Lopez revived his career after a down year and should get at least a more-lucrative offer that the Bucks may not be able to compete with. Nikola Mirotic is looking like a pure rental.
Not only are these key pieces in flux, but the depth that the Bucks were so blessed with is uncertain as well. George Hill had an excellent season running the second unit but could find himself off the roster to save a large chunk of money. Tony Snell and Ersan Ilyasova are expensive and replaceable. The team could realistically shed more than $25 million dollars off their current payroll sitting right up against the salary cap to accommodate at least two of these big pieces. If not, a splash needs to be made for the squad to keep up with the class of the conference. The Sixers will be targeting a big name, the Celtics could be distraction-free and competitive as ever and the Raptors just won the whole thing, hello. Not only that, the scrappy Pacers will get Victor Oladipo back and the Nets and Knicks are drawing interest from big names in free agency.
It was a golden year for this Bucks team and they brought a lot of excitement to Milwaukee basketball. For now, Giannis is the beacon of light but he’s going to need some help to take this team to the pinnacle. To many folks both inside and outside the organization, this seemed like the year. On a team level, 60 wins is no joke. Competitively, the Warriors dynasty was showing a lot of cracks with some inconsistent play and deficiencies exploitable by a good basketball mind. Unfortunately, there was no fairytale ending for this group as the Raptors turned into an unstoppable force two games into the Conference Finals series and the rest is history. There’s a sour taste in the mouth after this one as many feel this was the shot to get it done. They might be right.