Making Milwaukee Great Again
The Milwaukee Bucks are the NBA’s epitome of average – at least they have been for the last 30 years or so.
Immediately following their inaugural season in 1969, the Milwaukee Bucks drafted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, turning them into a championship contender overnight. The Bucks would clinch a playoff berth the following season and would go on to win their first and only Championship in just their third season as an NBA franchise. From there, the Bucks would remain one of the league’s top franchises throughout the 1970s and 1980s, qualifying for the playoffs 15 of the following 18 seasons.
Following the 1980s, however, the Bucks slipped into mediocrity and have stayed there ever since. The franchise has made it out of the first round once since 1990 and have missed the playoffs entirely 16 times in those 27 seasons.
They haven’t been good enough to make a deep post-season run (excluding a run to the ECF in 2001), and they’ve rarely been bad enough to land draft picks that would produce a franchise-altering superstar. In the handful of years where they did have the opportunity to draft high, they either drafted a bust or bad-luck would get in the way.
In 1994, the Bucks chose Glen Robinson with the first overall pick – passing on Jason Kidd and Grant Hill. In 1996, the Bucks chose Stephon Marbury with the number 4 pick (then traded him to Minnesota for Ray Allen) and passed on Kobe Bryant. In 1998, they drafted Dirk Nowitzki with the 9th pick before trading him to Dallas for Robert Traylor – a journeyman with career highs of 5.7 PTS and 4.5 REB.
More recently, Milwaukee used the number 1 pick in the 2005 draft on Andrew Bogut, passing on both Deron Williams and Chris Paul. In 2011 they passed on Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler, Isaiah Thomas, and Kawhi Leonard to choose… Jimmer Fredette.
But enough about the past.
After 30 years of mediocrity the Bucks have managed to collect enough young talent to make other teams in the NBA take notice. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Thon Maker all have the potential to be future all-stars and each of them is under the age of 23.
Young and unproven talent, however, is not enough to become a contender in the NBA. So let’s take a look at what the Bucks can do to finally shed their mediocre label, and finally return to the NBA’s elite:
Add More Three Point Shooting
If there is one thing the Bucks are severely lacking, it’s 3-point shooting. This problem has been compounded this season with the injury to Khris Middleton, but even if he was ready to play, the team still doesn’t have enough range to compete in today’s NBA. The Bucks are 25th in the league when it comes to 3-pointers made and 26th in 3-pointers attempted. This lack of floor spacing hurts guys like Giannis and Jabari as there is less room for them to score inside. Bolstering their back-court with some 3-point range would go a long way in improving the Bucks offense, which leads me to my next point…
Find a Capable Starting Point Guard
This off-season the Bucks managed to snatch Matthew Dellavedova from the Cavaliers by inking him to a 4-yr/$38M contract. The problem is that he is not the answer for them at point guard. Delly is a solid option off the bench, but the Bucks need more from the position in order to become an annual playoff threat. Having Giannis handle some of the point duties is fine, but he really doesn’t have the requisite skill-set to be the team’s primary ball-handler. Moving some of their frontcourt players to help bring in a talented point guard (Goran Dragic or Brandon Knight come to mind) could really change Milwaukee’s fortunes.
Find Complimentary Veteran Players (Who Are Good Locker Room Guys)
Let’s take a quick look at the Bucks current veteran players: Michael Beasley, Jason Terry and Steve Novak are the only players with 7+ years of NBA experience. Novak and Terry are liabilities on the court, while Beasley has been a locker-room nightmare for most of his career. The Bucks need veteran players that can still contribute, but also help develop all of the team’s young talent. Positive influences can go a long way in the NBA, and surrounding these guys with the right teammates is extremely important. Even LeBron James needed to be surrounded by winners before he could take that next step and the same is true for Parker and Antetokounmpo. Just look at what Paul Pierce was able to do for the Washington Wizards a few seasons ago, or how Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw are helping Utah’s young core win games.
Do Something about Their Crowded Front Court
The Bucks’ frontcourt is ridiculously deep – in fact, two thirds of the team are front court players. Players like Greg Monroe, Michael Beasley, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker, Mirza Teletovic, Thon Maker and John Henson are all playing for the same spots on the roster. The problem with that is the Bucks only have one point guard on the entire roster. What’s worse is that the Bucks have reportedly sent Miles Plumlee to Charlotte in exchange for Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes (two 7-foot centers) days after Coach Jason Kidd expressed the need to get Thon Maker more playing time. At some point the front office is going to have part with some of their frontcourt players in order to bring in some talent to deepen their backcourt.
Obviously it’s not easy to go out and just find the right talent. Yes, skilled point guards are hard to come by, and yes, strong leaders are few and far between in today’s more youthful NBA. But the Bucks need to start making better front office decisions and making better use of their cap space. Signing Greg Monroe was a poor decision in retrospect, trading two draft picks for Greivis Vasquez was short-sighted, and trading Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams, when the team had a record of 30-23, was another bone-headed move.
Piecing together competitive teams takes time, but the Bucks are almost there. Their core is still very young and they have plenty of time to find the right pieces. One thing is certain though, the Bucks have the talent to be great – if it is nurtured the right way, perhaps the people of Milwaukee will get to experience a second parade on shores of Lake Michigan.