The Milwaukee Bucks went 44-38, finished seventh in the Eastern Conference, took the Boston Celtics to seven games in the playoffs, and did all of the above with a lousy coach (Jason Kidd) fired midway through the season and a who-dat interim coach who had two fewer wins in eight fewer games (Joe Prunty, who coached the Bucks to a 21-16 record after Kidd started 23-22) during the stretch drive.
So, in essence, Milwaukee played half the season at a 46.5 win pace.
Guess what the over/under is for the Bucks this year.
Now, of course, there are more factors that play into this discussion than meet the eye here.
For one thing, Mike Budenholzer, who is a better coach than either Kidd or Prunty, is in charge here.
For another, Giannis Antetokounmpo is still only 23 and somehow manages to improve every single year; if he ever gets that three-pointer to drop on anything resembling league average, he could score over 30 points a game.
And for a third, the rest of the team has that same “young core” vibe and aesthetic, such that any one of them could make the leap this year and history has taught us that if you throw enough talent out there on the court, some of it will eventually pan out (you’ve heard of Chekhov’s Gun? This is Hinkie’s Shotgun.) Could be Malcolm “ROY*” Brogdon, could be Thon Maker, could be a still-only-27 Khris Middleton if his long-range shooting gets back toward his career average.
Oh, and the “elder statesmen” of this team are Eric Bledsoe, who is only 29, and a 31-year-old “hey guys, I’m back, wait, where is everyone?” Ersan Ilyasova, who returns to a team that has just about nothing in common with the squad he left after the 2015 season.
So, yeah, we haven’t even gotten to the analysis yet, so…
2017-18 record: 44-38
2018-19 over/under: 46.5
A Word About Vegas
The Pacers (we’ll get to them Monday) are favored to win the division, sitting at 47.5 wins for their over/under, and no prizes for guessing how that one’s going to turn out.
The Bucks are just one win below them.
Both of these predictions seem a bit conservative. What’s Vegas got against a suddenly LeBron-less Central Division?
Ahhhh, GREEK OUT!
Good ol’ Antetokounmpo, the bane of every editor in every NBA copy room across the media.
His counting stats were in “holy crap” territory (to the tune of 26.9 points, 10 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks a game, the king of kings on FanDuel on any given night.)
His advanced stats? 27.3 PER, .207 WS/48, 5.8 BPM, 5.4 VORP, my gods, he’s the Mike Trout of basketball, a Hall of Fame-caliber player on a mediocre team.
If the Bucks get a top-three seed in the East, Giannis should be the MVP.
A Large Collection Of Question Marks
We grade the Bucks on potential because they’re so young and so inevitably destined to advance that we forget that this team…well, it just wasn’t very good last year besides Giannis and his 16 wins he added with that VORP.
Bledsoe (2.5 VORP), Middleton (1.8), and even John Henson (1.2) were very good, but Matthew Dellavedova was one of the worst players in the entire league (-0.7 as he saw only 712 minutes of action after losing the confidence of the coaches), and Brogdon didn’t exactly set the world on fire in Year 2 (14.3 PER, .091 WS/48, -1.3 BPM, 0.2 VORP, basically we should just retroactively give Ben Simmons the 2017 Rookie of the Year and let Donovan Mitchell have 2018’s award.)
But then again, if .100 is the litmus test for a starter in this league, and four Bucks starters achieved that level with the worst of the potential fifth men getting mighty close, isn’t that the stuff that 50 win teams are made of?
Addition By Subtraction
Jabari Parker was an injury-prone disaster in Milwaukee. He’s Chicago’s problem now, and that means the Bucks don’t have to figure out how to use him when they shouldn’t be using him at all.
Parker was a zero-VORP guy, meaning “as good as a competent player fished out of the G-League”, in 743 minutes across 31 games.
It does leave the question open of who’s supposed to play the 4 without Giannis having to play 48 minutes a night like he’s Wilt Chamberlain, but that was never going to be Parker.
Ehh…you see the problem. 55-win starters and 20-win reserves don’t win titles. 82-win starters and 20-win reserves can (looking at you, Golden State), but not 55 and 20.
Look, I can talk myself in circles until I’m blue in the face, but the simple fact remains that the Bucks could make a huge leap this year, win 55 games, sneak through the playoffs, shock the Celtics in Game 7 in Boston with Giannis scoring 50 points and grabbing 20 rebounds…
…or they could be plagued by injuries, limp to another seeming underachievement, and lose to Boston in 4 after being the 8 seed in the East.
I think they’re more likely to be good than not, and I can totally see 48 wins and a 5 seed here…but I’m once-bitten twice shy here.
I’m predicting 45 wins, taking the under, and calling this team Plausible. But I have no confidence at all in that prediction. This is a stay-away bet, but I have to say something more definitive.