Our offseason plan for the Milwaukee Bucks

 

The playoffs are here and we should all be soaking up every minute (and every blowout) out that. However, there are a few teams that have already entered their offseason — 14 lottery teams that we’ve already covered, and 8 more teams that got sent packing in R1.

Today, we’re going to take a look at the last of those R1 losers:

MILWAUKEE BUCKS

giannis antetokounmpo
Giannis Antetokounmpo has emerged as one of the NBA’s biggest stars.

Think what you want about Jason Kidd as an in-game coach or Jason Kidd as a person, but give him credit for being a forward-thinking basketball mind.

In an age when all his contemporaries are prone to sitting around the studio and whining about how “soft” the league is and how dumb three-pointers are, Kidd has been ahead of the curve. According to rumor, he tried to push his Brooklyn Nets to trade star Brook Lopez for Larry Sanders. And while he may have been “off” on the stability of Sanders, specifically, he was right on about the trends in the league and the need for faster, more position-less play, specifically on defense.

In Milwaukee, Kidd (along with standout assistant Sean Sweeney) has the opportunity to build the perfect modern and position-less basketball team from scratch. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to land a Greek Freak with a post-lottery pick either.

Here are some ways the Bucks can continue their upward trajectory and continue to be the Team of Tomorrow:

(1) ignore the numbers

The Bucks don’t have much cap room this summer, which will force a few hard decisions in regards to their current free agents. With a few of them, I’d recommend going against what the stat page suggests.

Let’s take backup Michael Beasley for example. On paper, Beasley played quite well as a scoring spark off the bench for the Bucks. He scored 9.4 points (on 53% shooting) in only 16.7 minutes a night, good for a PER of 17.9. But personally, I don’t find Beasley to be an effective rotation player, despite those numbers. Every time he comes into the game, it feels like the team hands over the keys to him and sits back for Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. The fact that his real +/- on offense was a net -1.04 implies that I may be right about that and that Beasley is thriving to the detriment of the team as a whole. I wouldn’t pay him much to return.

The opposite could be said about restricted free agent Tony Snell. Despite a healthy 29.2 minutes per game, Snell only managed 8.5 points and 3.1 rebounds a game, leading to an anemic PER of 9.7. Even the advanced stats don’t like Snell much, as even his DEFENSE charted poorly at a -0.86 according to ESPN’s real plus/minus metric.

Again, I’m going to side with what my own eyes tell me. When I watch Snell hound ballhandlers (like DeMar DeRozan in the playoffs, for example), I see a good, long, aggressive defender. Couple that with a solid three-point stroke (40.6% for the reason), and you have a good 3-and-D man.

He may be an expensive re-signing, but I’d recommend paying up to keep Snell. Khris Middleton should be fully healthy next year and soak up minutes, but there’s still PT to go around with Jabari Parker injured again. Snell will be a helpful player next season and a 30-minute starter. Keeping Snell for the short-term value helps your long-term flexibility as well. The Bucks can wait until next summer to decide whether they want to flip one of those assets, be it Snell or Parker, who both should have trade value. Given all that, Snell fits this team, regardless of what the stats may say.

(2) ignore the contracts

In general, the Bucks have done a solid job managing their salary cap, but there are a few mulligans they may want back here and there.

Among them: Mirza Teletovic. He’s a competent stretch four (for a team in desperate need of shooting), but he doesn’t really jive with the lineup or playing style. If the Bucks are going to be a top 4 team in the East, they’re going to have to do that with a suffocating defense, and Teletovic leaves too much breathing room there. His contract isn’t terribly bloated ($10.5 million for the next two years), so he may be tradeable. There are some teams out there in need of his skill set, so I’d try to find him a new home next year.

Meanwhile, last year’s “big splash” acquisition of Matthew Dellavedova didn’t quite go according to plan, either. Like Teletovic, his contract isn’t ridiculously expensive, but he’s still overpaid at $9.6 million over the next three seasons. In fact, Delly was outplayed by a bargain basement rookie in Malcolm Brogdon, who will only average $1 million over the next two years of his deal.

The fact that Brogdon is so underpaid actually makes Delly’s contract manageable; between the two of them, you can get a decent point guard for $10 million a year. However, I’d make sure to play the better player between the two, regardless of what their contracts suggest. This year, that was Brogdon. He’s a little bigger and better on defense, and he’s a better shooter as well. Brogdon may not be a pure point guard, but this team doesn’t need one with Giannis Antetokounmpo handling the ball so much.

The Bucks actually learned this way late in the season, as Brogdon’s minutes crept up to 28.9 after the All-Star Break. Still, I’d push that even more. This year Brogdon and Dellavedova basically split even time (26 minutes each) but I’d spread the gap on that with Brogdon at 30 and Delly at 20.

(3) ignore the hype

Perhaps no player in the League right now is more universally beloved than the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo. Everyone thinks that he’s a superstar destined to be a future MVP. As a result, the Bucks are seen as a team with one of the brightest futures. I suspect that they’ll be a trendy pick to finish #2 or #3 in the East as soon as next year.

But we should slow down that hype train some, and keep realistic expectations (and timelines) in mind. The team closed out the season 20-10 (with Middleton’s return as a huge boon), but there’s no guarantee that this team will automatically keep that end-of-the-year momentum going, as Detroit showed us last year.

Right now, Antetokounmpo is great (as the stat lines of 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.9 blocks indicate), but his lack of shooting ability is still a major hole in his game. He shot only 27.2% from three last year, which needs to be improved. Even bumping that up to 33% is a big difference, as teams will have to start respecting him from that distance. People take it as a foregone conclusion that Giannis will improve from beyond the arc, but that may take years.

Meanwhile, there are other parts of this machine that will need time to be properly oiled up. Jabari Parker is injured again, with the team suggesting that he may miss months and maybe half of next year. 2017-18 could very well be a lost year for him. “Young” Thon Maker is still a long way away as well; he flashed loads of promise, but it’s going to take 2-3 years for a rookie who only logged 9.9 minutes a night to develop into a truly solid starter for a playoff team.

Given all that, I’d seriously consider re-signing Greg Monroe to be a short-term stopgap. Bucks fans (and Coach Kidd) may groan at that, but it makes sense to me.

Right now, Monroe has a player option for $17.9 million. People presume that he’ll leave for greener pastures, but I’m not sure how green those pastures will be. The league’s not hot on offensive-minded centers right now. The reason that Bismack Biyombo and Ian Mahinmi got overpaid last summer is because they were agile, shot-blocking big men, which Monroe is not.

In a way, skilled big men may be undervalued by the league, and savvy investments to make. Coach Kidd doesn’t appear to appreciate Monroe, limiting him to 22.5 minutes a game. But Monroe’s skills shine through despite that. He’s an effective post player with 11.7 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, relying more on his skill and basketball IQ than brute force. That headiness also helps him hang on the defensive end. He’s always seen as a defensive liability because he’s not a quick-twitch athlete or shot-blocker, but he usually stays in position and can often snatch some steals. In a sense, he’s the black Pau Gasol. Smart teams, like the Spurs, value that. The Bucks should as well. Renegotiating with Monroe and keeping him around for 2 years (if possible) would be a smart move. Monroe may not make more than $17.9 million per year on the open market, but he’ll want more years. Giving him a 2 year, $35 million extension doesn’t sound unreasonable to me. By the end of that window, you’d hope that Thon Maker is ready to man the position full time. And if there’s a team out there that completely buys into Monroe and wants to give him a long term deal (maybe 4 years, $80 million), then you let him go.

And, of course, that is the true destiny of this Bucks team – 5 agile and lanky wings all playing at once. Everyone gets excited about Giannis Antetokounmpo the point guard, but I’d be excited to see Giannis Antetokounmpo the center. After all, Giannis has the length and shot-blocking ability to be a small ball center, a la a Draymond Green. Even if he doesn’t improve much as a shooter, he’d be lethal in a lineup where you can surround him with 4 shooters and let him penetrate and go to work. That dream could be a nightmare for the rest of the East.

 

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