Jan 23, 2017; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) reacts after scoring a basket in the second quarter during the game against the Houston Rockets at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
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In the latest edition of our staff roundtable series, we review the Milwaukee Bucks’ start to the season, look ahead to the trade deadline, hand out some awards and much more.
Can you believe it? We’re already over halfway through the 2016-17 NBA season and the Milwaukee Bucks currently find themselves 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 21-27 record, following a brutal 1-9 stretch over the past two-and-a-half weeks.
There have been a number of highs, most notably the selection of Giannis Antetokounmpo as an Eastern Conference All-Star Starter, but also various low points so far, culminating in a below .500 record due to inconsistent performances and at times, questionable defensive effort.
Specifically, we discussed our most important takeaways from the first half of the season, before assessing whether our expectations for the Bucks had changed as the season has unfolded.
The focus then shifted to the trade deadline, where we considered whether the front office should be looking to make a move. Inevitably, most of the conversation focused on Milwaukee’s $42 million problem at the center position and whether it could be solved later this month.
Subsequently, a unanimous ‘best off-season acquisition’ was named, before giving our thoughts on the most impressive/disappointing players through the first three months of the season.
Of course, we finished with the Bucks’ Most Valuable Player Award, however the recipient might not be who you think…
Jan 27, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) takes a shot at the basket as Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell (24) tries to defend during the second quarter in a game at Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
What are your most important takeaways from the first half of the season?
Adam Coffman (@A_Coffee4): I find that I have to keep reminding myself to maintain perspective, particularly while the team is struggling like it is. Expectations weren’t high when Khris went down, and the Bucks are probably still outpacing most of their projections. With that out of the way, I’ve been more than satisfied with what Giannis and Jabari have added to their games, which was really more of the goal in the first place. Moose has reinvented himself, Brogdon has been a revelation, and the Beasley and Snell trades look better and better as time goes on. There are clearly some issues to be worked out, but I’m happy with how the season has gone from a talent perspective.
Travis Schlepp (@travischlepp): My big takeaway from the first half of this season? The sky is truly the limit for Giannis Antetokounmpo. He’s shown that he continues to improve year-after-year. He’s already proven to be an elite defender — something I did not expect– and every game there seems to be a new wrinkle to his offensive skillset. I no longer doubt that he’ll add a consistent jump shot, and I truly believe he’s on the verge of becoming a top five player in the league. Even during the struggles he’s been a pleasure to watch.
Rohan Katti (@rkattijr): The one consistent aspect of this season so far is Giannis Antetokounmpo being a fully-fledged superstar. While rotations have changed around him, Giannis continues to dominate in ways like no player in league history. Besides the Greek Freak, another takeaway would be how inconsistent Jason Kidd has been with the center rotation. I realize he is trying to find the right combination, but what if the right combination just needs more time together?
John Heffernon (@Silky__Johnson_): My biggest takeaway is that Giannis Antetokounmpo has officially become the face of this franchise and gives the Bucks a real chance to win a championship going forward. Everything else about the season has been relatively depressing even though the Bucks are who we thought they would be without Khris Middleton. But watching Giannis and thinking about what he might be in the future is both beautiful and frightening.
Adam McGee (@AdamMcGee11): Giannis is great. Jabari is good and improving. Thon’s potential is at least real — although whether it ever becomes more than that is a different question. Greg Monroe can fit in with the right players around him.
I’m not sure how much of the rest of what we’ve seen can be considered a takeaway. The Bucks have better role players than before, but much of the rest has stayed pretty similar. Defense remains a major issue, as does consistency. With both of those problems considered, valid questions still surround the long-term future of Jason Kidd as head coach.
Jordan Treske (@JordanTreske): While it’s easy to dwell on the team’s recent struggles, the long view of the team’s long-term direction definitely remains intact.
I keep running out of ways to describe Giannis, but he has truly risen to heights on an individual level that I haven’t seen personally in my lifetime as a follower of the team. Although his flaws, primarily defensively, are still a point of contention, the progress we’ve seen from Jabari this year has been incredibly encouraging and has confirmed his post All-Star break play last year was his leap forward into the player he’s capable of becoming.
Those two things alone were what everyone honed in on heading into the season, especially after the news of Middleton’s injury broke. From what we’ve seen so far, it’s hard to be disappointed from that aspect.
Tim Wray (@TRW24): The Bucks are still one of the most inconsistent teams in the NBA, flaws in the defensive scheme are only becoming more evident and legitimate concerns exist over Jason Kidd’s long-term future. However, with Giannis ascending towards super-stardom, Jabari developing into a lethal offensive threat, Brogdon turning into the undisputed steal of the draft and Thon continuing to show unique flashes of potential in limited minutes, the light at the end of the tunnel is shining brighter than ever.
Feb 1, 2017; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker (7) shoots the ball against Utah Jazz guard Dante Exum (11) during the second half at Vivint Smart Home Arena. The Jazz won 104-88. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Based on how the season has unfolded, have your expectations for this team changed?
Coffman: Yes, although only slightly. With the playoffs in sight, I would much rather the team make a push to get there instead of relaxing their efforts for a higher pick. Sure, there’s little chance they make it out of the first round, but the experience would be invaluable for the younger guys.
Schlepp: Seeing how well the team has performed in big games has raised my expectations, however foolish that may be. The Bucks continue to play hard in games they, on paper, should have no business being in. I was hoping for a chance at the playoffs at the beginning of the year, now I’ll be thoroughly disappointed if they don’t make at least the eighth seed. Giannis and Jabari have spoiled me this season and 82 games isn’t enough.
Katti: My expectation for this Bucks team has changed. Before the season started, I was thinking that Milwaukee could make the playoffs, but it was not a guarantee. Based on how well the Bucks play against some of the best teams in the association, I am expecting them to get out of the slump and make the playoffs. Home court advantage may be out of the question at this point, but I am sure that this team can make some noise come the postseason.
Heffernon: My expectations for this team have changed a lot throughout the season. I thought this team had zero chance of making the playoffs when Khris Middleton went down. After the first quarter of the season I was almost positive they would make the playoffs because of Giannis and Jabari’s continued improvement, the revelation that is Malcolm Brogdon, and the small yet incredibly impactful changes from Greg Monroe. Now, once again, I believe this team will not make the playoffs. They are reeling at a bad time and even though they are close to the eighth seed, I don’t expect a hobbled Middleton will be enough firepower to get them over the hump.
McGee: Yes. I expected them to be in the mix for the eighth seed when the season finished, even with Middleton’s injury. When they really started to hit their stride (“they” being primarily Giannis and Jabari), the shape of the rest of the East made me believe that maybe as high as the 4-5 matchup could be a possibility. With the way their confidence and performance has plummeted in recent weeks, I now think we may be approaching a point where either of those would be beyond them, though.
If the Bucks can’t stabilize in the run-up to the All-Star break, the second portion of the season still sees the majority of the team’s road games against the Western Conference. That doesn’t fill me full of promise, so if the Bucks can’t get back to .500 in the next 10 days or so, it could quickly become another season where they’re destined for the lottery.
Treske: With how everything has unfolded, it’s hard not to have your expectations change.
Personally, Middelton’s injury sunk any hope for the playoffs for me this year, but with all the reasons everyone else has mentioned, I firmly believed in seeing a playoff series come mid-April, especially considering where the team stood in the East only a couple of weeks ago.
But now their recent run has seriously jeopardized that, even as seeds six through eight are easily up for grabs. Right now, the possibility of the playoffs doesn’t matter that much if the team can’t get out of their ongoing downward spiral and the run up until the All-Star break will strongly determine their fate this year.
Wray: Adam and John nailed the ebbs and flows of most Bucks fans’ expectations over the past few months. Before the Middleton injury, I was modestly looking at roughly 40 wins and lower-seed playoff contention. Then, Khris went down for a majority of the season and I instantly reeled back my prediction to a mid-lottery bound 36 wins. Giannis proceeded to set the league on fire, Jabari began to consistently drop 20 and Milwaukee’s bench came into it’s own. Looking back, it was an awesome few weeks; the Greek Freak was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, just nailed a buzzer-beater in Madison Square Garden and the Bucks genuinely looked like a team who could fight for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Now on the back of a vicious 1-9 slide over their last 10, dropping several winnable games, Milwaukee looks destined for another year in the lottery if they can’t break out of this slump before the All-Star break. As the East stands, the lower playoffs seeds are still within reach but as the schedule becomes tougher for the Bucks, this rough patch has seriously hurt their post-season chances. The return of Khris Middleton should hopefully give the team some much needed confidence, but as he’ll likely be minutes restricted and trying to shake off some rust, I wouldn’t hang my hat on Khash saving the season from the jaws of mediocrity.
Oct 15, 2016; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Miles Plumlee (18) dunks the ball in the third quarter during the game against the Chicago Bulls at BMO Harris Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Do you think the front office should make a move at the trade deadline?
Coffman: If they can unload a center for anything resembling a reasonable price, I’m all in favor of them pulling the trigger. Of course, that’s much easier said than done, and considering how non-versatile big men seem to be valued right now, it’s pretty unlikely they’re able to entice a buyer. Taking on contracts isn’t a sound strategy either, what with a max extension for Jabari on the horizon. The Bucks don’t have too many attractive assets or roster holes, so I anticipate a quiet trade deadline this year, unless a contender wants a player like Monroe or Beasley as a bench piece.
Schlepp: There’s no way the Bucks can keep paying over $50 million to three centers. They should do all they can to shed one of those contracts at the deadline. Henson and Plumlee haven’t done the organization any favors with their inconsistent play, and Monroe is now playing like the player the Bucks hoped he would be. If you could move Henson for an expiring contract, I think you should. Even if it requires sending a second rounder to sweeten the pot.
Katti: I would expect a relatively quiet deadline from John Hammond and company. The obvious move in the eyes of Bucks fans is to move a center, preferably John Henson or Miles Plumlee. However, it is a difficult task to move players with huge long-term contracts that have not been very effective on the court. If the Bucks were to make any non-center related moves, it would most likely be for a guard or a small forward.
Heffernon: The Bucks did great work with their trades before the season began. Each trade has positively impacted the team. I am unsure if they will be able to make a deal like those again at the deadline. Like Adam, Travis, and Rohan all mentioned moving a center would be the best way to go. It will be a monumental task to move either John Henson or Miles Plumlee but if Hammond can somehow do it he deserves a statue built outside the new arena in his honor.
McGee: I don’t think it’s really a question of should. If the Bucks can make a move that makes them better now and in the future at a fair cost, that will always be something they should do. The question is can they find a deal like that.
I’d say the answer is no. Still, they should gauge interest in all of their three highly-paid centers. I’d imagine it would be minimal, but they need to decide whether they believe they can re-sign Monroe in the summer at this point. If they’re worried about the size of his next deal or his more long-term fit in their plans, moving him now for some kind of return would be the right call, even if it effectively ended their chances of making the playoffs this year.
Treske: (cracks knuckles and puts on trade hat) The time has come. There is what they should do and as everyone mentioned, that would involve trading away one of the their three centers.
Obviously, Plumlee’s deal is already a sunk cost (that was a burning bridge that we weren’t ready to cross) and even with the real threat of him opting out of his deal this summer, Monroe’s value to the team might not be higher than where it is now. That obviously leaves Henson and given his current place in the rotation, the reality of what type of player he is truly seems to be sinking in.
But, of course, there is what they will do and I find it hard to believe that they’ll make a move, even if it may suit their best interest. Of course, I’m very willing to be wrong (it’s almost a source of pride at this point), but expecting or hoping for something to happen at the deadline seems unnecessary.
Wray: It’s no surprise, the Bucks have a very costly problem in the center rotation. However, it’s also no surprise that for one reason or another, Milwaukee is going to have a seriously tough time being able to deal one of them at the deadline. Unfortunately, as I’ve maintained for a while now, unless they can find a really desperate team in need of a big man, or are willing to package a draft pick in exchange for a dead-weight expiring contract, I just can’t see the front office prepared or required to make any changes. As it stands, I don’t think the Bucks have any obvious long-term personnel needs which could realistically be remedied via trade.
Whether they joined the team through the draft or in free agency, who has been the best off-season acquisition?
Coffman: Apologies to Tony Snell, who I think has done a great job in Khris Middleton’s absence, but in terms of value, it’s hard to go anywhere but Malcolm Brogdon. He’s arguably been the Bucks’ best guard, will finish top three in Rookie of the Year voting, posterized LeBron James, and has played like a 10-year veteran despite being a second-round rookie. Delly and Telly have both hit some rough patches, but I think both will be able to pull out of it sooner rather than later. Again, kudos to John Hammond for masterminding two trade deals that quite possibly saved the season.
Schlepp: Beasley and Snell have been solid contributors all season and were acquired for next to nothing, Jason Terry looks like a second coach out on the floor directing traffic, but this award goes to Malcolm Brogdon. POTUS has been a lightning bug off the bench and truly looks like the point guard of the future. He looks capable playing next to any of his teammates. His photo album of elite NBA players that he’s put on posters this season is something I will remember until my dying days. The Bucks got first round talent for second round value. A player of Brogdon’s skills would probably command over $10 million on the open market and the Bucks have him locked up for the next two years for chump change. He is truly the Rookie of the Year (non-Embiid Edition).
Katti: I think the correct answer here is Malcolm Brogdon. John Hammond turned a second round draft pick into a consistent player who may be worthy of being the starter. He is very mature for a rookie, and seems to know the game. An answer for the original question that is not wrong is Tony Snell. Snell has been very good this season, and he should be amazing off the bench when Middleton comes back.
Heffernon: It’s so close for me. I’d agree with my fellow writers that Brogdon is the correct choice. I think all of them gave wonderful points as to why. But I think Michael Beasley is a really close second. He has been inconsistent but when he is on he has shown that he can easily take over a game. Beasley has been kicking butt on offense and even participates on the defensive end from time to time. He deserves some recognition here even though Brogdon has outplayed him overall.
McGee: I think the Bucks made a number of worthwhile additions this summer, but if you look at his role, production and influence over his more experienced teammates, it makes Malcolm Brogdon the clear winner.
Treske: Like everyone else, I have to go with Malcolm Brogdon.
For all the grumbling regarding the team jettisoning second round picks for nothing in return the last two drafts, Brogdon has already made up for those missteps with his impressive play this year and his arrival has helped shore up a position that was in dire need of revamping. Whether it’s the handful of posters, his triple-double or his many nicknames, Brogdon has been a welcomed addition and has played well beyond his years and his few months of NBA experience (#savvy).
Simply put, you just couldn’t ask for more out of a player in his rookie season, much less a second rounder and there’s only so much more to come.
Wray: Unsurprisingly, It’s an extremely well-deserved clean sweep for Malcolm Brogdon.
Whether it’s because of his veteran-like composure on the ball, elite three-point shooting or solid perimeter defense, you’re hard pressed to find a second-round rookie who has been this productive, so early into their NBA career, not to mention the clear-cut steal of the draft and almost certain top three finisher in Rookie of the Year voting.
Michael Beasley and Tony Snell also deserve some recognition, having both exceeded the expectations of their roles on this team, particularly on offense.
Jan 27, 2017; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Bucks center Greg Monroe (15) drives to the basket as Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas (17) defends during the first quarter in a game at Air Canada Centre. The Toronto Raptors won 102-86. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Which player(s) has impressed/disappointed you the most so far?
Coffman: For impressed, I’ll go with the obvious and say Giannis Antetokounmpo. There was a lot of pressure on the Freak prior to the season what with his new contract and Middleton’s injury, and he’s risen above even the most optimistic expectations. He’s currently leading the team in just about every major stat you can think of, and has become somewhat of a household name in NBA circles (assuming the rest of the league can pronounce it by now).
As far as who’s disappointed me, Miles Plumlee immediately comes to mind. Plums was dealt a tough hand to begin the year – he’s just not a $50 million type of player, and judging him on that standard gets depressing fast. Money aside, he’s been a definite negative when he’s on the floor, shooting just 44 percent and posting a minus-15 net rating. Here’s hoping he can recapture the chemistry and effectiveness that made him so valuable the latter half of last season.
Schlepp: Greg Monroe has really impressed me this season. Before this year I danced with the idea of shipping him away for whatever we could get, but now my only concern is whether or not he exercises his player option and stays through next year as well. I didn’t think he could ever be a capable defender, he proved me wrong. I never thought he would improve his athleticism, he’s noticeably trimmer and smoother on the floor. I didn’t think he would accept a bench role, he did.
Most disappointing is Mirza Teletovic. I thought it was a very savvy signing for a team that has struggled to make three’s for years, and I think he still might turn it around, but his streakiness has really put the Bucks in tough spots. When he’s on, he kills it. When he’s off, he makes me want to pull my hair out. He’s shooting a career low in FG percentage and his Offensive Box Plus/Minus is one of the worst on the team. I think he can turn it around.
Katti: Jason Terry has really impressed me this season. When he was originally signed, I thought it was a bad signing because there were rumors that Ray Allen could possibly come back to the Bucks. For someone who was supposed to only bet a veteran presence, JET has really shown me otherwise this season. Whenever Terry takes the court, he brings a lot of energy to the team that starts to rub off on the other players. Hitting the occasional three and doing his trademark celebration also helps his case.
Heffernon: Greg Monroe has impressed me so much this year. He went from the biggest free agent signing in Bucks history to the player Bucks fans despised the most in a single season. His response? Get significantly better on defense in ways that not only make his stats look good but help his team, accept a role off of the bench, continue to score efficiently and effectively, and be one of the key facilitators on a bench unit that has been performing above expectations all season.
Miles Plumlee is certainly the easy answer for the player who has most disappointed me. He has zero confidence and has been unable to conjure the solid play he showed at the end of last season. He got payed a significant amount of money to rebound, defend, set picks, and provide energy. He just isn’t able to do any of it at a high level. It is frustrating watching him and it seems like there is very little hope that he’ll be able to turn it around.
McGee: Greg Monroe has turned into exactly what the clichéd soundbite of what the Bucks needed was heading into the summer where they signed him. He’s not just a guy they can throw it down low to late in games to work for easy scoring opportunities, he’s the only player to show an ability to score in those scenarios of late. He’s also meshing much better with teammates, and showing incredibly improved levels of defensive effort. What Giannis has done is truly impressive, but I didn’t previously see this kind of improvement from Monroe as in play.
For disappointments I’ll nominate both of Henson an Plumlee. That should speak for itself.
Treske: Apologies to Michael Beasley, whose addition I continue to eat crow about every day (in a good way, I should say), I’d like to shed some light on how well Tony Snell has played this year. He obviously had big shoes to fill upon his arrival, but Snell has been incredibly solid starting in the place of Khris Middleton this season.
He’s currently having his best shooting season since coming to the league, averaging career highs in points per game (8.2), three-point percentage (38.3 percent), true shooting percentage (59.7 percent). Sure, all of this may be coming in a bigger role than he was accustomed to prior to this year, but Snell has adjusted well in taking on a bigger workload as well as a new team.
With the backup two-spot wide open for the foreseeable future (sorry Rashad Vaughn), Snell has rightfully earned any interest the team may have in re-signing him this coming offseason, which seems like the safest bet in terms of players who could possibly return next year.
Wray: There’s no doubt that Giannis and Jabari have both taken an impressive leap forward this season, but given Greg Monroe’s near-incompatibility with the Bucks style of play last season, Moose deserves a ton of credit for embracing his role off the bench and adapting his game to a point where he has become seriously productive with the second unit, not only due to his offensive efficiency, but because of a completely unexpected impact on the defensive end. The turn-around has been incredible, especially considering the thought that the Bucks needed to trade him in order to salvage some value, whereas now it’s clearly in the team’s best interests that he opts-in to the last year of his deal.
On the other hand, although they have been victims of inconsistent minutes to a certain extent, for plainly obvious reasons, I’d have to say that Miles Plumlee and Rashad Vaughn have been the most disappointing Bucks so far this season.
Jan 23, 2017; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker (12) takes a shot against Houston Rockets guard Patrick Beverley (2) in the fourth quarter at BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks beat the Rockets 127-114. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Of those not named Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is your Most Valuable Player?
Coffman: This is a very hard decision between Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe for me. Both have improved drastically from last season, Parker adding a 37 percent three-point stroke and Moose reinventing himself as a defensive ace. In a vacuum, Jabari is the better player and would be assigned a higher value, so I’ll go with him, but it’s very close in my mind. Although he gets overshadowed by Giannis frequently, there have been nights this season where it’s easy to see why many had him pegged as the next LeBron coming out of high school. Defense is still a work in progress and consistency hasn’t quite yet been achieved, but Major Cat is looking like a lethal second option for the Bucks going forward.
Schlepp: Greg Monroe is my inaugural Not-Named-Giannis-MVP. Whenever the offense stagnates or shots just don’t fall, Greg is there for the consistent points. He’s still one of the most skilled post players in the world and he’s finally showing off his elite passing skills. He looks quicker than he’s ever looked and he has excellent chemistry with his fellow bench players. He’s contributing on both ends of the floor and aside from Giannis, that can’t really be said of any of the other players on the team.
Katti: It depends on how you define “valuable.” Greg Monroe has had a vastly improved second season in Milwaukee, and has been a strong veteran presence for the young Bucks. If you look back at the Celtics game on January 28th, the reason the Bucks had a chance to win that game was because of the Moose. He has been criticized for his defense in the past, but this season, he has not been a defensive liability. Whether this is because he is in a potential contract year or not, Monroe has been solid this season.
Heffernon: It has to be Jabari. He has floundered a bit as of late but he has truly had a fantastic third season. He can score all over the court and he is going to be an elite scorer in the NBA as soon as next season. He has shown in spurts this year that he can play solid defense, rebound, and facilitate the offense. If he can become just a bit more consistent in those areas of the game next year, especially defensively, he will likely be an All Star.
McGee: I’d go Jabari, but only just. It hangs in the balance between him and Moose right now. Jabari needs to have a strong second half of the year for the Bucks to have any chance of success, but his improved shooting and effortless scoring played a major role in the good they’ve shown up to this point too.
Treske: For me, it has to be Greg Monroe, with Jabari just on his heels.
Everyone, including myself, were already writing off his time in Milwaukee by the end of last year, thinking that his signing was worth the risk but one that ultimately wouldn’t work out in the long run. Now, as Adam and I talked about in this week’s Win in 6 (breaks out conch shell and yells “SHAMELESS PLUG!”), he has become exactly what all of us were hoping for two summers ago and then some if you consider his incredible impact on the defensive end.
Given how Miles Plumlee and John Henson are essentially a wrestling tag team that replaces one another on a bi-weekly basis and leave everyone disappointed (I’m accepting tag team names, by the way), it only makes Monroe’s turn that much more valuable for the Bucks and you can only imagine where they’d be without him this year.
Wray: This is really tough. With the deciding vote, I’m going with Johnny O’B…Jabari, just.
It’s too hard for me to look past the rapid improvement to his three-point shooting, from virtually ignoring the shot last season to flirting with 40 percent for most of the year on more than three-and-a-half attempts per game is exceptional. Obviously, there are valid defensive concerns, but there is no questioning his offensive talent as he’s already a potent 20-points per game weapon and definitely on track to evolve into the All-Star caliber scorer he was projected to be when the Bucks drafted him.