Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?
Now the recent training camp injury to Khris Middleton may have taken a little of the wind out of the Milwaukee hype train, but there is no way I am missing a full season of point-Giannis. Getting a 6’11” physical freak of nature to put the ball on the floor and initiate the offense not only maximizes Giannis’ skill-set as a slasher/passer while taking attention away from his inability to shoot 3s, but is also friggin’ awesome. And, with a whole offseason/training camp to work on further building the offense around the Greek Freak, I’m more than excited for some of the creativity the Bucks will be able to unleash next year.
It helps that this team is coached by one of the greatest, non-shooting point guards of all time in Jason Kidd. (Though my boy did develop a little bit of a jumper in his lone season with the Knicks). Having Kidd around to mentor Giannis and Jabari Parker, both still just 21, will go a long way towards making this Milwaukee team feisty, if not necessarily a playoff team. It also helps that they picked up a near-perfect complementary free agent in Matthew Dellevadova who will be able to play off-ball point guard with a Patrick Beverely like 3-and-D skill set. If Middleton was available from the start of the season and the coaching staff could convince Greg Monroe to come off the bench, these guys could actually have a very dynamic starting 5.
It seems unfair to solely blame Monroe for the way Milwaukee cratered on defense last year, going from 2nd in the league all the way down to 22nd. Monroe has never been even an average defender, but it’s hard to imagine a single player having such an outsize impact on an entire teams’ performance. Monroe was also replacing Zaza Pachulia who is a fine, unspectacular team defender, not the shot-blocking monster Larry Sanders from a few years ago who helped anchor earlier Bucks defenses. Rather, it seems like more time for Jabari Parker and Jerryd Bayless in the starting line-up alongside Greg could have all contributed to a team that decided to move slightly away from the all-hectic defensive dynamo of a few seasons ago to one that could actually put the ball in the basket.
If the Bucks can convince their $20 million man to come off the bench or (please God) get something for him in a trade, and find some consistency from either John Henson or first round pick Thon Maker at center, this team could be a lot closer to the defense of a few years ago. They’re probably not there quite yet; playing Jabari Parker at power-forward means always having an undersized, minus rebounder in the lineup, but there are still reasons to think this team will be a lot more balanced than last year’s. Losing Middleton hurts, but he should be able to return halfway through the season and Milwaukee should have better continuity at three of their starting spots. Hell, that time also may be beneficial as it gives a little more playing time for Rashad Vaughan and rookie All-Defense candidate Malcolm Brogdon.
Sometimes a team just experiences success a little too soon. That Bucks team that made the playoffs in Giannis’ sophomore season wasn’t a true competitor in the East and Milwaukee made the mistake of trying to go all-in by signing an “immediate contributor” in Monroe. That approach backfired a little but it looks like the Bucks are back on track to bringing their team along naturally and letting the youngsters develop naturally. The pieces aren’t all there quite yet, but if Giannis flashes in a major way at point guard and Henson or Maker looks like they can project to a starting caliber center, these guys are going to look really good going forward.
Last year’s ranking: 13 (-8)