If I haven’t said it yet on this site, FEAR THE DEER!!
Last year the Bucks were everyone’s fun new darling baby, improving on a league-worst 15-67 record to go all the way up to dead even at 41-41 and a 6th seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Milwaukee largely achieved this 7th greatest team turnaround of all time from their Mr. Fantastic gangly-long defense, although they also benefited from huge bounceback years from players like OJ Mayo and Jared Dudley and an incredibly cohesive bench unit that was able to smoke other teams’ subs. Now, with a big addition over the summer and another year of playing together under Jason Kidd in an arguably even weaker (at least at the top) East, there’s reason to start getting really excited about these deer.
Let’s get to that addition. In an awesome example of a big-time free agent spurning the bright lights of a Los Angeles or a New York (WE DIDN’T WANT HIM ANYWAY!!) in order to sign in a smaller market with a real chance to win, the Bucks were able to lock up Greg Monroe on a three year max. The deal is worth about $50 million with a player option in the final year and should give Milwaukee the kind of reliable night-in night-out 20 point scorer it never had last year. For Monroe, Milwaukee will give him a chance to return to his more natural center position and show that he can be the guy again after an ugly swan song in Detroit. For Milwaukee, Monroe will give Jason Kidd and Sean Sweeney the challenge of seeing if they can come anywhere even close to last year’s 2nd best defense fronting a slow-footed big man with a career average of half a block per game.
The real issue though, and why a lot of analysts have predicted the Bucks as a strong regression candidate is the serious lack of space that Monroe will have to operate in. This team cratered offensively last year after using a (now) top-three protected Lakers pick to snag Michael Carter-Williams at the deadline and ship off their best three point threat in Brandon Knight. Not only that but they also lost a couple important shooting forwards in Ersan Ilyasova and Jared Dudley and are going to need a big step up from last year’s #2 draft pick Jabari Parker playing as the team’s starting stretch 4. Parker missed all but 25 games last year from a torn ACL but he should be ready to start the season and the coaching staff is salivating over the idea of that last highlight and having these two young guns spending more time on the floor together.
Personally I’m not nearly as low on these guys as Mr. Zach Lowe and prediction #6. Yes, the pre/post All-Star weekend splits are concerning but I’m not going to blame the team’s plummet in offensive efficiency entirely on replacing Knight with MCW. If you’ve been following this countdown you know that I don’t always buy into the trends that start to happen down the stretch of the season when teams have gotten complacent or are making mad dashes for the playoffs. And while Monroe will likely hurt the defense a little, again, he gets to return to playing center instead of power forward next to Andre Drummond; it should be easier for him to remain stationed under the basket and use his size and verticality instead of chasing around smaller, quicker 4 men. Plus the Bucks can always slot in last year’s killer shotblocker John Henson alongside him to cover up any weaknesses.
Ultimately, I think Monroe’s contributions on offense will be more important than whatever defensive setbacks they have. Knight was good last year, but the Bucks never had a true one-on-one scorer who they could dump the ball to and get an easy basket. The attention Monroe draws in the post should be able to free up Parker and Antetokounmpo for more open jumpers. Hell, he’s even a great offensive rebounder under the basket and might be there for some second chance opportunities and put-backs if the two of them are struggling. It may take a little while to work him into the game, but he’s a more talented player than anyone they lost and will be hugely important if they do decide to snub Zach and make the playoffs anyway.
None of that matters though. None of that matters when this team has Jabari Parker and the Greek Freak and the wildly underrated (first time I’m bringing him up here) two-way play of Khris Middleton. I mean, just look at this stuff! Everyone is athletic! Everyone is fast and long and dunking all over everyone! The sneaky great thing about the Monroe signing is how short it is. Because while the Bucks overachieved and killed it last year, they aren’t playing for a championship in 2015-2016. They’re playing for a championship when all of these young guys have been playing with one another for a couple of years and have reached the apex of their powers. If Monroe can give them a little extra help now and maybe find a little playoff success, then so be it; let him keep this team competing right now while keeping that eye to the future. Just like the Timberwolves, there’s a lot of crazy good stuff to like here and the future is bright. The only difference with the Bucks? That future looks a whole lot closer and I’m just starting to taste it.