• Ziad Aziz

Young Bucks: Milwaukee’s 2015-16 Outlook


*Photo via USA Today

Jason Kidd’s got some pretty good kids. Kidd, the head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, took the team from a dreadful 67 losses in 2013-14, to an impressive record of 41–41 in 2014-15 along with a trip to the playoffs. With improvements to a young, budding team, the Bucks are poised to be very competitive in an improving Eastern Conference.

How competitive you ask? Well, in 2014-15 56 percent of their losses came within just two possessions. And headed into the 2015-16 season, the Bucks are tied with the Utah Jazz as the second youngest team in the NBA (average age 23.6 years). The only team younger is the Philadelphia 76ers at 23.1 years.

However, one of the more overlooked stories is the development of head coach Jason Kidd. Let’s be honest, front office executives weren’t exactly licking their lips at the chance to sign him after the Brooklyn Nets. His players didn’t appear to show him much respect, and he constantly looked unsure of himself on the bench.

It seemed as if Brooklyn made a hasty decision in giving Kidd, someone with no prior NBA coaching experience, the reigns to lead the team. Despite his premature conversion, Kidd adjusted.

In Milwaukee, Kidd became more player oriented. He inherited a young roster, which boded well for him because he could focus on their development. Immediately the Bucks’ defense picked up, ranking fourth in points allowed per 100 possessions, which was astronomically higher than the previous year.

There were individual improvements as well. Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo became a more versatile offensive player, but more importantly an improved decision maker.

We can conclude that the players aren’t the only ones improving. Jason Kidd has been substituting more effectively, using his timeouts more efficiently, running practices with added purpose, and crafting his pregame schemes with further calculation. So the Bucks’ young core, and ever-improving head coach are headed in the right direction for the upcoming season.

He missed the majority of last year due to an ACL tear, but Jabari Parker, along with Antetokounmpo, is arguably Milwaukee’s best talent. After being selected second overall in the 2014 NBA draft, Parker went on to become the Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month for October and November. Up until his injury against the Phoenix Suns on December 15, he averaged 12.3 points per game through 25 games.

Parker should be 100 percent by opening tip-off, and ready to make an instant impact. It’ll be fun to watch him grow alongside Michael Carter-Williams, the Bucks starting point guard who will turn 24 in October. Carter-Williams really started to blossom in 2014-15, asserting himself as the commander of Milwaukee’s offense, and transitioning comfortably to coach Kidd’s system.

Standing 6’6” at point guard, Carter-Williams poses many mismatch opportunities on both ends of the floor. He averaged two steals per game last season, as the Bucks were the third best team in the league at forcing turnovers. And he’s not the only one to give opposing coaches migraines concerning matchups.

As mentioned earlier, Giannis Antetokounmpo is a 6’11” small forward entering his third season in the league at just 20 years old. His wingspan is unreal at 7’4”. At times he resembles Mr. Fantastic with his 7’4” wingspan that seems to stretch into oblivion.

*Photo via NBA.com

Antetokounmpo’s lithe and sinewy frame allows him to play around the perimeter, opening up lanes for Michael Carter-Williams and other guards to penetrate. He’s also a fantastic rim protector. The Greek Freak is quick enough to get off the floor and practically touch the shot clock with those tree-like limbs, forcing ill advised fade-aways and difficult floaters from opposing guards.

The Bucks are also comprised of some “young” veterans. These players have had multiple playoff experiences, while still under the age of 30. Such players include OJ Mayo and Jerryd Bayless. These guys provide experience and depth to the bench, who can still maintain the Bucks’ high-energy offense and swarming, lane jumping defense.

The acquisition of Greg Monroe is a major offensive upgrade from Zaza Pachulia, who went to the Dallas Mavericks in a trade. Now, they have a rim-protecting center in John Henson and a guy who can get you buckets in the post in Monroe, a dynamic duo to say the least. Plus, having those two gives the Bucks versatility down low against some of the bigger teams in the league like the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies.

Though lucrative, re-signing Khris Middleton was crucial for the Bucks. He displays the versatility to play the two and three spots and he’s an excellent marksman from deep (40.3 percent for his career). He seemed to be lathered in confidence as he finished as the Bucks’ leading scorer this year (13.4 points per game).

The Bucks play in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference, which includes the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls, both star studded playoff teams. The Bucks arguably boast the third best roster on paper in that division, and could be a pesky team come playoff time.

Yet, one of few glaring drawbacks for the Bucks this coming season is consistency. Young teams have a tendency to become susceptible to losing streaks once adversity presents itself through an injury or a trade. Therefore, a lot is dependent on head coach Jason Kidd to help his young team roll with the punches through a long and tumultuous season in order to return to the playoffs.

Lastly, there’s the ambiguity of the “Big Buck”. Who will Milwaukee turn to during cold stretches or for the last shot of the game? Is it Jabari Parker, Michael Carter-Williams, or the ‘Greek Freak’? The lack of a developed star is another element coach Kidd and his staff must wrestle with as the season progresses.

Milwaukee has one of the best young cores in the league. However, their biggest hurdle is right in front of the mirror. They must sustain a hungry competitive edge, and trust each other through turbulent times. It’s up to coach Kidd to emphasize that message of continuity, and to find his Big Buck.

Stats Courtesy of: Basketball Reference and Hispanosnba.com

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