• The Milwaukee Bucks entered the season as one of the best young teams in the league, widely expected to comfortably make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Well the season didn’t go as planned, as the Bucks followed their 26 win improvement and playoff team from a season ago with an eight win regression and lottery bound team this season. Hoop Ball’s Post-Mortem series takes a look at what went wrong in Milwaukee this past season.

    OVERVIEW

    With enough young talent to make every team outside of Minnesota enviable, the addition of Greg Monroe was supposed be the move that pushed the extremely talented Bucks into the Eastern Conference top tier of teams. The 4th ranked defensive team was adding an offensively gifted center to help improve their 26th ranked offense. Instead, it turned out to be a move that contributed into turning a promising season into a very disappointing season.

    The team defense fell off a cliff as the 4th ranked defensive team fell all the way to the 23th ranked defensive team. The team’s defensive eFG%, TOV% and REB% all dropped. The offense wasn’t much better as it remained the 26th ranked offense in the league. Now injuries played a role in the defensive decline and lack of an improvement on the offensive end, but a lot of the blame has to be placed specifically on two moves the management made: trading Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams at last season’s trade deadline, and signing Greg Monroe to a focal point of their offense.

    A fast paced, spread the floor offense that took advantage of their athletic young players, slowed to a crawl and became reliant on isolations and post-ups by Monroe. When they did move the ball around, there was a severe lack of shooting on the floor as Carter-Williams is nowhere near the shooter Knight is. The young core of the Bucks lacks shooting from deep outside of Khris Middleton and the moves management made did nothing to address that weakness – instead they glorified that weakness.  The addition of Monroe also did nothing but hurt the defense as the aggressive of the wings backfired without an interior presence. The Bucks were wasting the abilities of their young core.

    The Bucks finally made adjustments post all-star break – far too late in the season to save it – that resulted in improvements across the board. They benched Monroe in favor of Miles Plumlee, gave the ball-handling duties to Giannis Antetokounmpo, and went back to their pace and space offense. Their young core players blossomed and the team took off. Of course, the injury to brick-layer Carter-Williams also helped. Despite the season being a disappointment overall, the final two months of the season once again showed the promise and potential of a team whose young core is freakishly athletic and extremely talented. The Bucks have the core in place to take the league by storm. Let’s hope the management helps instead of hurt that core this offseason.

    COACHING

    Jason Kidd entered the season as a very good young coach with his job completely safe. He ended the season seemingly on the hot seat with ownership growing frustrated. The Bucks clearly didn’t meet their expectations. The offense stagnated and Kidd clearly wasn’t making the best use of his younger, freakishly athletic core and the team was suffering because of it. But following the all-star break, Kidd went back to the fast paced, spread the floor offense that maximizes the abilities of his young core and the team took off. His offense is perfectly built to succeed with the players he has on his roster. The offense is very fantasy friendly and should lead to monster seasons from players like Antentokounmpo, Middleton and Jabari Parker next season.

    The defense is also very fantasy friendly, as it maximizes the length and athleticism of the Bucks players with taking away passing lanes and being super aggressive on the perimeter and on the pick-and-roll. It results in an abundance of steals and blocks. But, the addition of Monroe resulted in a drop off in defensive rating in reality, as he is nowhere near the defensive presence that John Henson and Zaza Pachulia were a season ago.

    Despite heading into next season seemingly on the hot seat, as long as Kidd realizes that his best path to success is by utilizing the unique talents of his players, he should be fine.

    THE PLAYERS

    Giannis Antetokounmpo

    ADP: 61 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 59 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 19/20 (9/8 cat), Per Game Value: 24/27 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 80

    It’s very scary to imagine how much better the Greek Freak can actually get, as he won’t turn 22 years young until December. He always had tantalizing potential with his 6’11” inch frame and ridiculously long and lanky 7’4” wingspan, but if the second half of this past season is any indication, the Greek Freak might be pushing boundaries and change the definition of a point guard as we know it.

    By all accounts, this was true breakout season for Antentokounmpo. Considered extremely raw and a project when selected with the 15th overall pick in the 2013 draft, he has improved by leaps and bounds and posted career-highs of 16.9 points, 7.7 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.2 steals, and 1.4 blocks on 50.6% shooting. He posted career-highs in the advanced stats of 18.8 PER, 56.6 TS%, 12.4 REB%, 20 AST%, 1.7 STL%, 3.4 BLK%, and 22.3 USG%.

    As impressive as those season averages are, when he was handed ball-handling duties post all-star break, Antentokounmpo absolutely took the league by storm and did things that people his size simply shouldn’t be able to do. He posted post-break averages of 18.8 points, 0.4 treys, 8.6 rebounds, 7.2 assists, 1.4 steals and 1.9 blocks on 50.9% shooting from the field.

    He used his size and freakish athletic ability to become nearly unstoppable in transition, faking out and routinely putting defenders on highlight reels as he created for himself and his teammates. He broke down defenses with ease and got to the rim at will. His playmaking improved drastically as he routinely made the right play and found open teammates whether guarded straight up or even double-teamed. Add in his fantastic defensive ability and you have a bonafide superstar in the making – all at the age of 21.

    Jason Kidd already stated that Antentokounmpo will handle the point guard duties next season – a fantastic decision that will maximize the abilities of one of the most unique players the sport of basketball has ever seen. Moving forward, an improved jump shot will make him a near unstoppable force. He also needs to improve his free throw shooting as he left way too many free points off the board. The Greek Freak is just starting to realize his limitless potential and he already finds himself a near lock to be one of the first players taken off the board next season in fantasy leagues. Draft him and enjoy watching him continue to push the boundaries of what we expect from players his size.

    Khris Middleton

    ADP: 72 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 61 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 25/25 (9/8 cat), Per Game Value: 27/29 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 79

    Middleton proved that he was worth every penny of the 5-year, $70 million contract extension he signed prior to this past season. Already one of the better young players in the NBA, he showed remarkable development and improved on his numbers nearly across the entire board. He posted career-highs in 18.2 points, 1.8 treys, 4.2 assists, 1.7 steals and 88.8% shooting from the charity stripe. He posted career-highs in free throw rate, PER, AST% and USG%.

    Similar to the trajectory of his team and fellow teammates, Middleton struggled a bit out of the gate but really turned it on as the season progressed. He is by far the best shooter on a team that severely lacks shooting. But he also become of their better playmakers as well, showing the ability to the put the ball on the floor and make plays for his teammates. Pair his offensive improvement with his fantastic defensive ability, and you have a 24 year old stud worth building around.

    His overall shooting efficiency dropped as his shot attempts spiked up, so moving forward he needs to work on improving his efficiency as his workload increases. He needs to come into next season ready to go from game one and continue his remarkable all-around development. Don’t be afraid to use an early-round pick on Middleton next season, as he is a stud in both reality and fantasy.

    Greg Monroe

    ADP: 56 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 60 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 34/38 (9/8 cat), Per Game Value: 40/52 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 79

    Monroe is a fine basketball player, but sometimes a player and team just do not fit. That is what we saw with Monroe and the Bucks this past season. A team filled with super-athletic and young players who like to go up and down the court, Monroe’s skill set just didn’t match. He needs the ball in his hands to be successful on offense and slowed down the pace of the team, keeping the ball out of the hands of players like Antentokounmpo, Parker and Middleton. Defensively, Monroe didn’t provide them with a stout interior presence and their defense collapsed. The Bucks struggled while featuring Monroe, and didn’t see improvements till he moved to the bench.

    But despite his lack of a fit, overall Monroe still put together one of the best seasons of his career and contributed early-round value in fantasy leagues. Now most of this was prior to his move to the bench as he slowed down considerably down the stretch, but Monroe still provided owners with great draft day value. He posted up averages of 15.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.3 rebounds, 0.9 steals, and 0.8 blocks on 52.2% shooting from the field and 74% shooting from the charity stripe.

    But despite his personal success, Monroe still scores almost of his points around the basket and doesn’t provide much spacing, doesn’t contribute much off the ball and isn’t much of a defensive presence. For these reasons, his personal success came at the expense of team success. Moving forward, he really needs to extend his jump shot and improve his off ball movement, as the NBA continues to move towards a pace and space landscape. A trade from the Bucks to another team would also be the best for both his real life and fantasy value’s sake. If he were to stay with the Bucks, he’ll be nothing more than a low-ceiling late-round value.

    Jabari Parker

    ADP: 93 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 107 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 101/106 (8/9 cat), Per Game Value: 110/113 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 76

    Parker’s season can be split into two distinct halves: pre-all star break and post-all star break. Pre-break Parker was a player lacking the confidence, lateral quickness, and shooting touch expected from a player one year removed from being the second overall pick in the draft and expected to be a franchise cornerstone. But the struggles were expected for a player coming off an ACL injury that forced him to miss the majority of his rookie season, and thus forced him to miss crucial developmental time. He averaged just 11.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 0.8 steals, and 0.4 blocks on 48.8% shooting from the field (0% from deep) and 76.8% shooting from the line.

    Post-break Parker was a completely different player. He improved in almost every category across the board, posting averages of 18.9 points, 0.3 treys, 6.1 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.1 steals, and 0.3 blocks on 49.8% shooting from the field (32.1% from deep) and 76.7% shooting from the line. His Offensive Rating, AST%, REB%, eFG%, TS%, USG% and touches per possession all increased post-break. His game grew in confidence as he saw himself become one of the focal points of the offense. His quickness improved as the season progressed and step-back mid-range jumper became lethal. He began to understand that he is far too skilled and quick for most power forwards in the league to guard him, and he took advantage of that. He reminded everyone across the NBA why he was mentioned with Andrew Wiggins as a franchise changer in the 2014 NBA draft. But with all of the improvements seen in his offensive game as the season progressed, the same improvements weren’t seen in defensive game. He lacks the lateral quickness to stay in front of players and just doesn’t possess the defensive IQ yet that is necessary to be a good defender when it comes to switching and helping at the right time.

    With a healthy summer of development ahead, Parker will surely be one of the best offensive power forwards in the game, thus making him one of the best power forwards in fantasy. Adding a consistent three-point jumper would boost his value, but he has already stated that the 3PT won’t be a big part of his game going forward.

    Michael Carter-Williams

    ADP: 81 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 85 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 144/182 (8/9 cat), Per Game Value: 73/116 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 54

    For the first time in his short three year career, MCW saw himself moved to a permanent bench role. The move was primarily due to his lack of shooting ability on a team whose stars need to be surrounded by shooters to maximize their potential. The move to bench saw his numbers drop once again, posting career-low averages of 11.5 points, 0.3 treys, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 65.4% shooting from the line.

    But it wasn’t all negative for MCW this season. He shot a career-best 45.2% shooting from the field, 47.2% on two-point field goals, and still terrible but career-best nonetheless 27.3% from deep. The improvement in his percentages was primarily due to the improvement in his shot selection. He reduced the frequency of his 3PTA from 16.7% to 9.9%, reduced the frequency of his pull up jumpers from 29% to 24.9%, and increased the frequency of his attempts from within 10 feet of the basket from 55.8% to 62.7%. Considering the fact that he shot just 27.3% from deep and 36.2% on pull up jumpers, it made sense to substitute those shots for shots within 10 feet of the rim which he converted at a 52% efficiency clip. He realized his weaknesses and adjusted his game to make him a far more efficient player.

    The problem heading into next season is that if he intends to return to the starting lineup and maximize his potential as a player, he needs to improve on his weaknesses, not minimize them. He provides the Bucks with energy, effort and defense, but it’s his shooting that is holding him back. With Giannis Antentokounmpo taking over the ball handling duties, he needs to be surrounded by shooters – which MCW clearly isn’t at this point. MCW needs to work really hard to improve his outside shooting – as well as his free-throw shooting – if he has any hope of returning to the starting lineup next season. Otherwise, he will remain in a reserve role and return late-round value.

    Jerryd Bayless

    ADP: N/A, Total Value: 202/208 (8/9 cat), Per Game Value: 123/129 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 52

    Bayless flipped the script from a year ago, going from a shooting liability to a three-point sniper – averaging 1.9 treys on 43.7% shooting from deep. His ability to space the court and specifically knock down the corner three was a primary reason why the Bucks were able to hand the ball handling duties over to Giannis Antentopkounmpo. Overall, Bayless put together arguably the best season of his eight year career, averaging 10.4 points, 2.7 boards, 3.1 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.2 blocks on 42.3% shooting from the field and 77.8% shooting from the charity stripe. His defense still was and probably will always be a major liability, as it is unlikely that he improves his defense if he still hasn’t at this point in his career. For this reason, Bayless’ best path to consistent minutes and fantasy relevancy is to continue to improve his shooting and become a very good shooter who is active enough to contribute across the board.

    John Henson

    ADP: 139 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 140 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 206/206 (9/8 cat), Per Game Value: 162/173 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 57

    Henson did Henson things again this season: suffer from both injuries and inconsistency with flashes of brilliance sandwiched in between. Not only was Henson passed on the depth chart by new arrival Greg Monroe, but as the season progressed, he was also passed by Miles Plumlee. Henson saw his minutes dwindle to 16.8 minutes and grabbed a career-low 13.2% of total rebounds (3.9 rebounds per game). He is still a force defensively as he still averaged 1.9 blocks despite the limited minutes, but his defensive presence wasn’t enough to secure his playing time. Henson needs to head into next season healthy, in great shape, and focus on turning himself into a great rebounder. There isn’t much place in basketball for a 6’11” center with a 7’5” wingspan who isn’t a good rebounder, even if he is an elite shot blocker.

    O.J. Mayo

    ADP: 138 (Yahoo! 9 cat) & 140 (ESPN 8 cat), Total Value: 279/301 (8/9 cat), Per Game Value: 187/229 (8/9 cat), Games Played: 41

    Mayo saw his season cut short in disappointing fashion after fracturing his leg. But even before the injury, Mayo was performing miserably on the court. His averages of 7.8 points, 1.3 treys, 0.8 free throws made and 1.0 free throws attempted, 37.1% shooting from field, and 32.1% shooting from deep were all career-worst marks despite the fact that he started over half the games he played in. The Bucks needed shooting to help space the court, but Mayo did nothing but lay bricks. Mayo’s best days are clearly behind him but he isn’t this bad of a player. Heading into next season, Mayo needs to find his shooting stroke if he wants any resemblance of consistent minutes and fantasy relevancy.

    Miles Plumlee

    ADP: N/A, Total Value: 238/255 (9/8 cat), Per Game Value: 237/260 (9/8 cat), Games Played: 61

    Playing sparingly over the first few months of the season, it wasn’t until Plumlee was inserted into the starting line-up that he became relevant in both fantasy and reality. His ability to contribute off the ball with movement, screens, cuts and offensive rebounding was a breath of fresh air for a Bucks team that saw their offense slow down with Monroe as the starting center. With Plumlee in the lineup, it allowed the ball to remain in the hands of their playmakers and the offense flourished. For Plumlee to take a step forward and find himself on the standard league radar, he needs to be work on extending his jump shot and more importantly, work on improving his free throw shooting.

    DOCTOR’S ORDERS

    The Bucks need to continue to mold both their offense and defense after Antentokounmpo, Parker and Middleton. The keys of the offense also need to permanently be given to Antetokounmpo. They need to move on from Monroe and must add multiple shooters. Lastly, they need to fortify what was a very weak bench.

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