May 31, 2018, 12:44 pm
The 2017-18 NBA season opened as a year of growth and promise for these young Bucks. There was the drafting of a Hey Arnold! character in the first round. There was a ridiculous offseason free agent contract. There was a non-ridiculous slew of irrelevant free agent contracts. There was a big trade for a point guard. There was a small trade for a bad center. There was no trade for a good center. There was a smattering of untimely injuries and a tough moment of injury déjà vu in February. There was a coach firing. There was more growth from the exciting superstar who brightens the dreary Milwaukee winters. There was no growth from the less exciting non-superstar who might be 27 but might also need to be carded at the movie theater. There was a cameo from the son of a former NBA legend. There was a cameo from someone else’s son who may or may not have scored 55 points as a rookie and then disappointed his way all the way to China. There was an incident in a Walgreen’s parking lot. And despite all that, there was a first round playoff exit. Again.
A win in Boston to open the season was the perfect start to a season where the Bucks, led from the front by Giannis Antetokounmpo, were going to take the league by storm and assert themselves as true contenders in a tough NBA landscape of limited parity where it’s difficult to break through the upper crust in a small market. At the first road bump, a three-game losing streak, the front office made a play to solidify the lineup and shipped off a forgotten Greg Monroe for Eric Bledsoe, moving Malcolm Brogdon to a sixth man role. Bledsoe’s first game in a Bucks uniform? A win in San Antonio. In spite of the highlights, the Bucks found themselves as a .500 team at midseason. The offense was stagnating. The defense was dead. Jason Kidd found himself without a job and his replacement and longtime Bucks assistant Joe Prunty provided a jolt to the team.
That jolt lasted until the first day of February, when Malcolm Brogdon went down to a long-term injury on the same day that Jabari Parker made his long-awaited return from his second ACL injury, reminiscent of Parker’s ACL tear last season on the day of Khris Middleton’s return from a torn hamstring almost exactly one year before. The Bucks were in the hunt for home-court advantage in the first-round at the trade deadline and tried bring in a center to fill their largest need. Not only did that trade not get done, but the Bucks also faded down the stretch and settled into what seemed like a favorable matchup with a banged-up Celtics roster missing its two best players.
The Bucks were getting healthy and the Celtics were far from it. It was the perfect storm. They were primed for an upset and a chance to face a scorching 76ers team in a matchup of the two best young point forwards in the NBA. And then it wasn’t the perfect storm. The first-round loss this time around stung more than the last two. The team was improving and making the right steps on paper but they still didn’t have the juice to beat a Celtics team operating at far less than 100%. There’s a lot of work to do.
The Bucks started the year with fourth year head coach Jason Kidd pulling the strings. After mixed results in three previous seasons which included two first-round playoff exits sandwiched around a poor 2015-16 season, Kidd was let go with the Bucks sitting at 23-22 after a bad loss in Philadelphia on January 20th. Joe Prunty filled in serviceably as an interim head coach, a role which he held in the past with the Bucks. Kidd was let go for a variety of reasons (a struggling defense, issues with personnel, etc.) but the bottom line is: The Bucks were underperforming. Giannis Antetokounmpo clearly made a step to become a true superstar, Khris Middleton was playing a strong second-fiddle, they traded for Eric Bledsoe early in the season at almost no cost and Malcolm Brogdon was one of the better sixth man options in the league, but they were still only 23-22. That just simply wasn’t good enough.
Prunty came into the fold and started well as the Bucks won seven of his first eight games at the helm. The new voice seemed to be working but instead of maintaining this new norm, the Bucks squandered games down the stretch and finished at an acceptable but unimpressive 44-38 and the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Despite pushing the Celtics to seven games, Prunty was unlikely to be the one to steer the Bucks into the future and sure enough, the coaching search began in the offseason. The Bucks came to terms with Mike Budenholzer to become the new head coach. Coach Bud, a disciple of the prestigious Gregg Popovich coaching tree, was a highly sought coaching commodity this offseason after leaving the Hawks. His offensive scheme centered around reading defenses and cutting should theoretically play into the hands of his athletic wings and overall, he should be a better fit than Kidd or Prunty for the long haul.
ADP: 2/5 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 6/6 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 7/7 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 75
2017-2018: 36.7 MPG, 26.8 PTS, 0.5 3PM, 10.0 REB, 4.8 AST, 1.5 STL, 1.4 BLK, 2.9 TO, 0.529 FG%, 0.759 FT%
Giannis is in the running for the most exciting young player in the NBA and with good reason. At just 23 years old he took another step forward in 2017-18 on the heels of a Most Improved Player honor the previous year. His scoring has been on an almost linear uptick from 6.8 points per game in his rookie season to this season’s output of 26.9 points per contest. For fantasy purposes, however, he actually disappointed slightly based on his expectations. GA’s offensive game grew but his fifth overall finish in per-game value in 2016 was propped up by incredible and apparently unsustainable output in defensive counters. He scored more and shot a better percentage but lost 0.6 defensive stats per game.
To become the top player in fantasy and usurp players like Kevin Durant and Anthony Davis, Antetokounmpo had to do at least one of two things: Improve his free throw shooting or make more 3-pointers. He did neither. His 3-point output was almost identical and he lost 1.6% off his already non-ideal free throw percentage. Next year will be another big growing year for Giannis and the Bucks but for now, he should settle into a range between his 2016 and 2017 pre-draft values.
ADP: 35/40 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 13/12 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 25/26 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 82
2017-2018: 36.3 MPG, 20.1 PTS, 1.7 3PM, 5.2 REB, 4.0 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.2 BLK, 2.3 TO, 0.466 FG%, 0.883 FT%
The unsung hero of this Bucks team shined again with a full career season. After missing 53 games last season, Middleton suited up for every game this time around and posted career-highs in points, rebounds and assists. His comparatively low draft position has to be partially attributed to the previous missed time but Middleton closed the prior season strongly and looked the part to resume his ascent.
Middleton will have one more year on his deal followed by a player option which is likely to be picked up unless the 2018 season hits an early hiccup. Middleton has stressed that he would like to be a part of the Bucks rise and stick around for the long haul. In the fantasy realm, he is a prototypical under-the-radar player who quietly catalyzes success. He ended the regular season as a first-round value by total production which is just a mind-blowing number, and he’s likely to be undervalued yet again despite his consistency and availability.
ADP: 41/33 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 19/24 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 24/33 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 74
2017-2018: 31.3 MPG, 17.7 PTS, 1.6 3PM, 3.8 REB, 5.0 AST, 2.0 STL, 0.5 BLK, 2.9 TO, 0.472 FG%, 0.794 FT%
For only the fourth time in his eight seasons, Bledsoe broke the 70-game plateau and didn’t suffer a significant injury during the year. After dealing with repeated knee injuries over the past few seasons, Bledsoe’s major missed time this season was due to a fallout with the Suns organization that had him benched until the trade to Milwaukee.
He was never going to be the same high-scoring option he was in Phoenix, moving from the first option offensively to arguably third behind GA and Middleton. Instead, Bledsoe’s value was buoyed by his increased offensive efficiency (0.5 less turnovers per game and a vastly improved shooting percentage) and his presence as one of the best ball-hawks in the NBA. Going into a contract year in 2018 with an expensive deal behind him, it will be interesting to see if he’ll earn himself a raise, and it’s very possible it isn’t in Milwaukee regardless given the financial situation of the team.
ADP: 104/90 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 195/181 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 102/93 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 48
2017-2018: 29.9 MPG, 13 PTS, 1.2 3PM, 3.2 REB, 3.1 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.2 BLK, 1.4 TO, 0.485 FG%, 0.882 FT%
After an impressive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2016-17, Brogdon had set off on a similar trajectory with a very similar statistical profile to his rookie season as the sixth-man option. Of course, things can’t go right so just as Jabari Parker returned from his long ACL injury layoff, Brogdon suffered a partially torn left quad tendon on what seemed to be a harmless breakaway layup. Brogdon missed 30 games with the injury and was far from the same player down the stretch and in the playoffs.
The situation with Brogdon is this: He’s a pending RFA after 2018. He WILL get a sizable raise from his steal of a rookie contract. The Bucks are not in a good financial situation, sitting well over the salary cap as a small market team that isn’t quite competitive. This could well be Brogdon’s last year with the deer. Refocusing on 2018 production, this is kind of where he is. A borderline top-100 player on a per-game basis with limited upside as the fourth offensive option with the first unit (even if Jabari Parker leaves) or leading the bench mob with superstars Tyler Zeller and Matthew Dellavedova. It’s a high-floor profile that is just fine in the grand scheme and will fit most team molds. Don’t get overexcited.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 102/88 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 133/114 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 76
2017-2018: 25.9 MPG, 8.7 PTS, 0.0 3PM, 6.7 REB, 1.5 AST, 0.5 STL, 1.4 BLK, 1.1 TO, 0.572 FG%, 0.569 FT%
This was supposed to be the year. Greg Monroe got shipped out early in the season and Henson was gifted the starting center job. In fairness, Henson had a good season all-around. It’s just not enough for this team to get over the hump and compete. It’s not his fault, but he just doesn’t do enough and now they’re stuck with an expensive shot-blocker who is actually just a decent defender and was hamstrung by hamstring injuries throughout the year. As a complementary role player, he’s a great option. As the starting center on a championship-aspiring team, he’s not a great option. As the gangly big man who doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do with his arms but can fall into some blocks and make some backups look silly if they drive the lane, he’s a great option. As the gangly big man who doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do with his arms and will get dominated physically by a capable offensive center and will become a turnstile against skilled wings and guards, he’s not a great option. There’s a reason the Bucks were in the market for the likes of DeAndre Jordan (gross) and Hassan Whiteside (grosser).
For 2018, assuming he holds his position as the starting center on this club, the shot-blocking prowess and good field goal shooting maintain Henson’s value as at least a specialist in all fantasy formats. He is a must-own in every league and a much more valuable player in fantasy than he is on the court, especially at his cost.
ADP: 105/97 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 285/282 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 145/144 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 31
2017-2018: 23.9 MPG, 12.6 PTS, 1.0 3PM, 4.8 REB, 1.9 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.3 BLK, 1.5 TO, 0.481 FG%, 0.740 FT%
The curious case of Jabari Parker is in a strange place going into the summer. The speculation was that his relationship with Jason Kidd was poor and that played a factor in his dismissal. Even after Kidd’s firing, Parker never saw the consistency in playing time and performance from interim coach Joe Prunty and even lashed out in the postseason about his lack of usage. Usage is the key component to Parker’s game. While he was supposed to blossom into an All-Star (we’re waiting) and his skillset looks very similar to an early Carmelo Anthony, that has never been a fantasy star skillset. In his current mold, if Parker scores a high volume of points at a high percentage and rebounds his position, he can hold value. If one of those things doesn’t happen he’s hard to justify as a fantasy stud. If he can add a reliable 3-pointer to his game (He has made some strides but it’s still not quite there.) there’s a chance he can overcome his bland production.
To complicate matters, Parker tore his left ACL… twice. What was a promising guaranteed max extension from the Bucks two seasons ago is now a wishy-washy middling offer for a player that may never hit his ceiling. He will hit restricted free agency this summer and will definitely be getting calls, it just isn’t a certainty that the Bucks will be one of the callers. With Parker, the Bucks have three small forward-types that are good and then whatever Tony Snell is contributing. This would clear some space on the payroll and allow the Bucks to refocus on the center position, which is absolutely the biggest need for the club.
ADP: NA/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 207/176 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 253/220 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 75
2017-2018: 27.3 MPG, 6.8 PTS, 1.4 3PM, 1.8 REB, 1.3 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.3 BLK, 0.5 TO, 0.435 FG%, 0.791 FT%
Four years, $44 million. If someone is curious why the Bucks are entering salary cap hell, here’s Exhibit A. This cap hit is just a shocking overpayment for a mediocre player who just does a serviceable job in a 3-and-D role. He’s good for two terrible plays every night and a completely uninterested game face. The career year in 2016 that earned him this ludicrous raise put him as a borderline late-round value. The feasible strides that Snell could take to be even fantasy-relevant are rooted in his shooting. If he can become more efficient with his jump shot, make more 3-pointers at a better clip (and a free throw percentage hike would also be great), there’s some potential appeal as a specialist. Otherwise, so long and thanks for all the bricks.
ADP: 140/139 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 253/246 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 326/310 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 74
2017-2018: 16.7 MPG, 4.8 PTS, 0.4 3PM, 3 REB, 0.6 AST, 0.5 STL, 0.7 BLK, 0.6 TO, 0.411 FG%, 0.698 FT%
We learned one thing this season about Thon Maker. He probably sucks. The tools are right there. A true 7-footer with a big wingspan and tantalizing athleticism. But he’s raw, lacks offensive polish and isn’t strong enough to compete with other centers at the NBA level. That wasn’t a snippet from his draft profile. That’s just what he still is. He can’t score, he can’t keep his hands to himself so he would foul out before he put together a complete stat line and he’s prone to getting bullied on the defensive side of the ball. If you can’t guard your position adequately, you better make sure you’re damn good at something else. Maker is making sure his legacy will be his age-gate saga of 2016.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 306/295 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 345/323 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 50
2017-2018: 16.2 MPG, 3.3 PTS, 0.8 3PM, 0.9 REB, 1.1 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.2 BLK, 0.5 TO, 0.383 FG%, 0.888 FT%
It’s still amazing that Jason Terry didn’t crumble into dust at some point on a trip up the floor. Even at the ripe old age of 40, JET was somehow more involved in the Bucks rotation and found himself on the floor to close out games late in the year (23.7 minutes per game in March). Terry says he has no plans to retire and feels he can still contribute to a team. Wait, but here’s a better plan: This is over dude, just retire.
ADP: N/A/N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 247/239 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 270/264 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 66
2017-2018: 16.7 MPG, 6.6 PTS, 0.1 3PM, 4.6 REB, 0.7 AST, 0.2 STL, 0.5 BLK, 0.7 TO, 0.559 FG%, 0.721 FT%
Screw the Eric Bledsoe trade. The real blockbuster for the Bucks was trading Rashad Vaughn and a second-round pick for Tyler Zeller to shore up the center position. Zeller has a superpower. No matter what the stats say, he’s ALWAYS on the floor and he’s NEVER contributing. He just looks out of place and rarely pops up with a big impact play. His repertoire is hard-working, lead-footed big body with a bit of scoring touch who can hold his own against backup big men. The repertoire of the modern big man is hard-working, quick-footed big body with a lot of scoring touch who can destroy the aforementioned repertoire with speed and shooting range. If there were a litany of injuries in front of him, theoretically Zeller could do a job in fantasy as a low-end option scoring and rebounding and the Bucks would theoretically be very bad because of it.
ADP: N/A/151 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 340/353 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 337/373 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 38
2017-2018: 18.7 MPG, 4.3 PTS, 0.7 3PM, 1.7 REB, 3.8 AST, 0.3 STL, 0.0 BLK, 1.3 TO, .361 FG%, 0.925 FT%
Lukewarm take: Matthew Dellavedova is one of the most unlikable players in the NBA. He’s a bulldog who plays ugly with an ugly jumper and an uglier contract. In his defense, he never got going this year due to injury as the Bucks flushed his $9.6 million right down the toilet. Knee tendinitis caused him to miss a month early in the season and then a severe ankle sprain shut him down for good later in the year. Originally the de facto top true point guard for the Bucks until the Eric Bledsoe trade and his injury thankfully spared everyone of that disaster, Delly slid into a solely backup role when he was healthy and missed a lot of shots and turned the ball over a number of times. It’s hard to see the Bucks being able to move this contract and it’s harder to see Dellavedova as any more than an assist specialist in the deepest leagues as long as he is behind Bledsoe on the depth chart.
The idea is that the Bucks are on the fringes of contention. Unfortunately, that idea is misplaced. Many of the contracts on the books are hideous and the cap situation is poor. The new arena is built and ready to go (and looks great!) for next season, but it’s no secret that Milwaukee is a small market without much free agent appeal. The biggest internal piece in question is Jabari Parker’s restricted free agency. At this stage it’s hard to justify the Bucks committing to the near-max contract that Parker is expecting on the free agent market. Tearing the same ACL twice is no joke and there are serious concerns Parker won’t ever hit his potential. If Parker ends up on another roster, the rotation right now looks very similar to how it did to start this season.
Antetokounmpo is a true superstar. Khris Middleton is his wingman (literally). Eric Bledsoe is the third option and that’s good enough for now. Malcolm Brogdon is a solid sixth man or fill-in starter. John Henson is overpaid and fine. Tony Snell is overpaid and bad. Matthew Dellavedova is overpaid and worse. Thon Maker and D.J. Wilson are paid like rookies and play like rookies. Tyler Zeller is the only true center on the roster, and therein lies the biggest problem. The Bucks HAVE to address the center position and get a true center who can fill the heavy minutes and compete down low with someone like Joel Embiid for the foreseeable future and at minimum rebound at a high level. That solution isn’t internal so expect them to be making some phone calls. The other end of that spectrum is a lack of shooting ability on this roster. There was a glaring lack of spacing for the Bucks this year and that will be the second major concern that will draw some attention in the offseason. This solution could be internal, but it would require a large step forward from a number of players on the roster and most definitely from Antetokounmpo.
Now that new coach Mike Budenholzer is in the fray, there will be some acclimation as he starts to put his fingerprints on this roster. It’s a tough ask to make a team in an undesirable market a contender but in the right system with a true defensive anchor at center and a multi-dimensional offense it’s only improbable. Hopefully the Bucks will be able to buck this trend of mediocrity and reach the championship-caliber aspirations they will surely be burdened with.