Bucks preview: The six keys to success for Milwaukee this season
Can the Bucks keep improving and establish themselves as a second-tier team in the East?
As the final seconds ticked down in the Bucks' Game 4 loss to the Raptors in last season's first-round series, a roar echoed around the cavernous Bradley Center: "Bucks in six! Bucks in six!"
Not only was the chant a show of confidence that the Bucks would win the series in six games, it was also a reference to the ill-fated prediction by Brandon Jennings before Milwaukee took on the Miami Heat in the opening round of the 2013 postseason, which has become a well-versed joke in the NBA community.
So, in honor of "Bucks in six," here are six ways Milwaukee can have success this season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo makes a(nother) leap
Five years ago, Antetokounmpo was a 17-year-old kid playing in the Greek second division. Now, he enters his fifth NBA season with real MVP buzz. After averaging 22.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.9 blocks, and 1.6 steals last season -- and becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to lead their team in all five major stat categories, and the first ever to finish in the top 20 in the NBA in each category -- perhaps it is unfair to expect him to make another leap.
He's improved every single season, both statistically and skill-wise, so why will he stop now? The one missing piece to his Swiss Army Knife-type game is a consistent jumper. It's the one thing he's never been able to add, and if he managed to do it this offseason, opponents simply won't be able to guard him. Even if that doesn't happen, however, it would seem unwise to bet against Antetokounmpo being even better than he was last season.
Defense, defense, defense
The Bucks have the talent and personnel to be a force on defense, but they haven't managed to put everything together on that side of the ball yet, at least not consistently. Last season, they were tied for 17th in the league with a defensive rating of 106.4. Not terrible, but certainly not great.
There were times last spring, including in their playoff series against the Raptors, where the Bucks were outright terrifying on that end. The starting lineup in that series -- Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell, Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker -- had a defensive rating of 98.4. During the regular season, that group sported a 99.8 defensive rating in 135 minutes. With that group and all of their length (all five have a wingspan of 6-10 or greater) figuring to play even more minutes this season, the Bucks should be better defensively.
Greg Monroe continuing to lead the bench
As ESPN's Zach Lowe wrote recently, "Monroe might be the single most important bench player in the league." When Milwaukee signed Monroe two summers ago, it wasn't for him to be a sixth man, but that is what he's become. Last season he was quite solid in the role, averaging 11.7 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. With the Bucks' depth rather suspect, especially until Jabari Parker returns, they'll need Monroe to once again give them solid production as the lead reserve.
Parker suffers a torn ACL in 2014-15. Middleton suffers a torn hamstring in 2015-16. Parker suffers a torn ACL, again, in 2016-17.
We haven't truly seen what a full squad looks like for the Bucks because in each of the past three seasons a key player has suffered a long-term injury. And with Parker out until at least January, it will be a while until we see it this season. The key for the Bucks until Parker returns is for the rest of the team to stay healthy. This will let them see what the trio of Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Parker on the floor, but also because they don't have the depth to sustain any key injuries. If they are able to stay healthy, it will go a long way toward having a successful season.
Keep it consistent
Last season the Bucks were .500 by Christmas, seven games under .500 by March 1, and finished at 42-40, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference. They were, suffice it to say, inconsistent. While it was impressive to see them go 16-7 to close the season, having to go on late-season runs to make the playoffs is not a habit they want to get into. Finding a way to be consistent, and not play to the level of their competition, will be a key factor in whether or not they can establish themselves as part of the second tier in the East.
A hero emerges?
As mentioned previously, Antetokounmpo led the Bucks in every major stat category last season, and there's a good chance he does it again this time around. And while that's awesome, and he's awesome, the Bucks can't rely on him to do everything; they need someone else to step up. Whether that's Middleton returning to his pre-injury form where he was scoring nearly 20 points per game, a role player like Mirza Teletovic having a strong season shooting the ball from the outside, or a youngster such as Thon Maker, Rashad Vaughn or D.J. Wilson contributing in a way they weren't necessarily expected to, the Bucks will need someone to show some improvement from last season.
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