A new arena, a new (and dazzling, compared to their old ramshackle digs) practice facility and a new coaching staff suggest a new commitment from the Bucks, who need to take in 2018-19 the step they squandered last season. It felt like a plateau year, a couple more victories, same first-round exit in seven games, and a coach (Jason Kidd) firing to boot. Hiring Mike Budenholzer from Atlanta should help Milwaukee at both ends, and the clock ticking on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s contract means this can’t be any honeymoon year thanks either to the coach or the building. It’s time.
The Bucks made their biggest personnel move in May, when they hired Budenholzer to fill the spot held last season by Jason Kidd and interim coach Joe Prunty. Budenholzer, who coached the Atlanta Hawks from 2013-18, brings a defensive fdcus and is more comfortable with the 3-point game than Kidd … Villanova’s Donte DiVincenzo, the No. 17 pick overall, hit 40 percent of his college 3-pointers despite some streakiness … The Bucks and Jabari Parker were due for a break from each other, and the team that coped with Parker’s two extended ACL-surgery layoffs let him sign with the Chicago Bulls … Milwaukee brought back a familiar face in Ersan Ilyasova, a former Buck who played for Budenholzer in Atlanta … They also added veteran center Brook Lopez to further bolster the frontline.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo is ready to take over the Eastern Conference, if not quite the entire league. The “Greek Freak” filled up most of the stats categories last year and should be a legit Kia MVP candidate — if he gets enough help for the Bucks to win 50 or more. Everybody wants to see him develop a reliable outside shot, but having teammates who can space the floor with theirs is the next best thing.
2. Hey, Giannis, if Brook Lopez can do it … Through his first eight NBA seasons, Lopez was 3-of-31 from 3-point range. Over the past two seasons, Lopez is 246-of-712 from deep. Credit his time in the gym and a couple of coaches in Brooklyn and Los Angeles who trusted him with his newfound skill. Budenholzer figures to do so as well.
3. Khris Middleton will take a few steps back. Literally, not figuratively, that is. Middleton’s true-shooting percentage (57.7) was the best of his career, while his 3-point accuracy (35.9) was his second-worst. But the percentage he plans to focus on is the share of his shots that came from beyond the arc. While his 407 3-point attempts were the most he’d ever taken, they still represented just 32 percent of his overall attempts. That left 68 percent as 2-pointers. A 60/40 or 55/45 would boost the Bucks’ attack.
MAN ON THE SPOT
The Bucks’ powerful point guard, Eric Bledsoe, will have his reputation and his future on the line this season. Defensively, he’s a disruptor. Offensively, he’s a scorer more than a playmaker, and the latter will be essential in Budenholzer’s system. Having a training camp with his Milwaukee teammates should help, as should his looming free agency and remind shoppers of his worth.
Eric Bledsoe | 17.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 5.0 apg
His 4.7 net rating was solid for a team that was a mere 0.7.
Malcolm Brogdon | 13.3 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 3.2 apg
Tough but productive 2017-18 season for unheralded former Kia Rookie of the Year winner.
Brook Lopez | 13.0 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.7 apg
Don’t bother asking him about twin bro’ Robin playing 90 miles south.
Khris Middleton | 20.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.0 apg
Back to his iron-man ways after debilitating hamstring tear in ’17-18.
Giannis Antetokounmpo | 26.9 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 4.8 apg
As entertaining as any star in the NBA heaven.
Ersan Ilyasova | 10.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 1.3 apg
Hefty deal (3 years, $21 million), unless he plays like it’s contract year.
Tony Snell | 6.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 1.3 apg
Longball attempts went down, due more to coaching than Snell.
John Henson | 8.8 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.5 apg
Henson’s long-wingspan D might get reset with new coaches.
Enough with the hurry-up-and-wait. Antetokounmpo will be playing in the second year of his four-year deal, and both Bledsoe and Middleton could hit free agency next summer. Milwaukee needs real, tangible results, like, yesterday. This needs to be a season capped by two or three rounds of playoffs. Expected W-L record: 51-31.