2015-16 Milwaukee Bucks season preview

Expectations are much higher for the Milwaukee Bucks than they were one year ago at this time.

David Richard/David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a year makes for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Heading into last season, safe to say there weren’t a lot of expectations for a team coming off a 15-win season. Now, after an incredible turnaround under first-year head coach Jason Kidd and an appearance in the playoffs, the postseason is a definite goal and not just being happy with making it to the first round.

The Bucks had a solid core, but didn’t stand pat in the offseason, adding some veteran complementary players such as Chris Copeland and Greivis Vasquez, as well as free-agent coup Greg Monroe.

The success of Milwaukee might well rely on the progress of its younger players, such as Khris Middleton, who got a big contract in the offseason, Giannis Antetokounmpo, now in his third season, Jabari Parker, rebounding from an injury and Michael Carter-Williams, in his first full year with the team.

A look at the 2015-16 Bucks:

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Greg Monroe F/C

There is no better example of the change in landscape in Milwaukee than Monroe, a free agent who chose to sign with the Bucks because they had the best chance to win and go to the playoffs. Monroe gives the Bucks something they haven’t had in years — a presence in the post. In his five years in the league, Monroe is nearly averaging a double-double (14.3 points, 9.2 rebounds), although last year he did reach that mark (15.9 points, 10.2 rebounds). The one question entering the season was how would he fit into Jason Kidd’s up-tempo offense, which is not Monroe’s style of play. If the preseason is any indication — 12.7 points, 8.2 rebounds (and 12.8 percent offensive rebounding percentage) while averaging just 23.7 minutes — it should work out just fine.

STORYLINE TO WATCH: The return of Jabari Parker

Last year’s No. 2 overall draft pick missed most of his rookie season after tearing his ACL. He played in just 25 games but showed a glimmer of his potential, averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in 29.5 minutes. Bucks fans not only await seeing Parker on the court again — supposedly sometime in November — but also seeing how long it will take for him to round back into the form which made him a no-brainer high pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. A healthy Parker certainly gives Milwaukee a much more formidable front line.

UNHERALDED PLAYER TO WATCH: Grievis Vasquez, G

The Bucks dealt Brandon Knight last year and added Michael Carter-Williams, presumably because Carter-Williams was more a point guard in the fashion that head coach Jason Kidd wants. But then in the offseason, Milwaukee traded for Vasquez. Carter-Williams certainly has the length the Bucks want from their players. But Vasquez is the same height (6-foot-6), has a better assist per 36 minute rate (7.3 to 7.0), turns the ball over at lower rate (1.9 per 36 minutes compared to 3.7 for Carter-Williams) and over his career is a better shooter from 3-point range (35.6 percent to 25.2 percent). In fact, Vasquez has increased his 3-point percentage every year he’s been in the league, up to 37.9 percent last season. Vaszquez, like Carter-Williams, can score (13.8 points over his career), but does he better fit Kidd’s style? His minutes and role will be something to monitor.

THE PRESSURE IS ON: Khris Middleton, F

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At one point, Middleton was seemingly a throw-in to help with salary-cap relief in the Brandon Jennings-Brandon Knight trade. But Middleton emerged as a solid player in Milwaukee and was given a five-year, $70 million contract in the offseason. In two seasons with the Bucks, Middleton has averaged 12.7 points per game while making 41 percent of his 3-point attempts. However, with more money comes more expectations. Middleton will be counted on to be Milwaukee’s go-to shooter, especially from 3.

STAR IN THE MAKING: Giannis Antetokounmpo, F

We list Giannis as a forward, but head coach Jason Kidd has said the 20-year-old "Greek Freak" will play every position on the court. Antetokounmpo worked on his outside game over the summer while playing for the Greek National Team and he did make 3 of 7 3-point attempts during the preseason. He has the height, the length and the skills to be an impact player no matter where plays, but the key for Giannis is being more consistent. And once again, let’s not forget he’s only 20 years old. We’ll have to wait until Game No. 2, though, to see his star rise, as Antetokounmpo is suspended for the opener due to his shove of Chicago’s Mike Dunleavy in the playoffs.

RED-LETTER STRETCHES: Circle Feb. 5 on your calendar. If the Bucks are in good shape record-wise by then, their playoffs chances are good. Why do we say that? Well, from Dec. 11-Feb. 5, Milwaukee plays 20 games on the road and just nine at home. This includes twice having four games in six days — Dec. 15-20 at Lakers, Clippers, Warriors and Suns and Dec. 28-Jan. 2 at Mavericks, Thunder, Pacers and Timbewolves plus another four-game road swing from Jan. 16-23 at the Hornets, Heat, Rockets and Pelicans. . . . Naturally, the Bucks will also have a couple of nice homestands and fortunately for Milwaukee they come at the tail end of the season when a playoff push/better seeding comes into focus. The Bucks have a pair of five-game homestands: Feb. 27-March 6 vs. the Pistons, Rockets, Pacers, Timberwolves and Thunder and March 26-April 5 vs. the Hornets, Suns, Magic, Bulls and Cavaliers

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