by Fox Doucette
The team that drives my spell check crazy won 42 games with the likes of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Mirza Teletovic, Matthew Dellavedova, Thon Maker, and Jabari Parker.
This year, all the names you know and love are back, and one of the best young cores in the league gets to try and make the leap from 42-win 6 seed to 50-win force of nature.
They’ve still got 40-year-old Jason Terry for veteran leadership. They’ve still got Jason Kidd coaching. Vegas likes them for 47, which would be good for fifth in the East, almost bang on Toronto’s 47.5 but behind the Cavs, Celtics, and Wizards. So, in essence, last year’s pecking order minus the suddenly terrible Hawks.
2016-17 record: 42-40
2018 over/under: 47
Aw, Freak Out! Greek Freak, C’est Chic
Giannis, the Breakfast Special MVP, has improved his interior scoring (52.1 percent shooting overall, 70.9 from three feet and in) while continuing to struggle outside (27.2 percent from three, and that’s his best since shooting 34.2 percent from there as a rookie.) From no distance beyond three feet did he even shoot 40 percent.
Which means he’s a wing with an interior forward’s game, and that’s a bit of a problem, but it’s not a problem that can’t be solved by a truly unholy amount of gym work (Giannis is, after all, still only 22), but it does speak to the kind of game that the 6’11” Antetokounmpo is most naturally comfortable with.
Encouragingly, he is shooting 77 percent from the free throw line, which suggests a release and a touch that can be consistently applied elsewhere on the court (watch any decent NBA shooter and his form from the stripe and watch how it translates to the jumper. Lots of overlap, as you’d expect.)
Plus, you talk about a leap, how about .210 WS/48, clearing the .200 mark that separates merely “very good” players from the superstar tier. 6.9 VORP, or if you prefer Wins Added, that’s 18.6 wins over the course of a season compared to some slug they’d haul out of the Letter League.
He’s also a massive plus defender, putting up a plus-3.5 Box Plus/Minus on that side of the ball, good for fourth in the league.
Milwaukee has a genuine superstar in the making, and if he ever learns to shoot from further away than arm’s length from the hoop, look out.
“If He Stays Healthy”…
Jabari Parker put up four Win Shares in only 51 games, clearing the starter’s Mendoza Line of WS/48 by posting .112 in that stat. It’s a shame he got hurt, because his .490/.365/.743 slash line is the kind of stat sheet stuffing that could define him as a stretch 4 in the Carmelo Anthony mold as the 22-year-old continues to grow into his 6’8” frame.
He’s got a deft touch passing the ball (a 14.3 percent assist rate), a nose for the defensive boards (15.4 percent on defensive rebounding percentage), and enough trigger discipline to avoid his least efficient spot on the floor (he shot 28.6 percent from 10-16 feet but only took 6.9 percent of his shots from there, a sure sign that most of the shots he took from that range were dictated by the defense.)
Plus, he’s improved his ability to force his way to the line, posting a career-best 6.4 FTA per 100 possessions in 2017.
If he stays healthy, he’s an excellent second scoring option. If.
Malcolm Brogdon won the Rookie of the Year more or less by default in a field so weak that Joel Embiid played in 31 games and still got votes.
That said, he cleared the bar as a legit starter (.100 WS/48), put up a tasty 40.4 percent from beyond the arc, shot 86.5 percent from the line, and even managed a nearly 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio despite not being the primary ballhandler.
He can’t finish at the rim to save his life (56.2 percent inside three feet), his midrange game is weak, but then again, he doesn’t take a lot of those inefficient shots, so the same problem Parker has where his stats are held down by the circumstances of the shot clock comes into play here.
The particularly interesting bit here is that Brogdon, by the end of the season, was playing meaningful minutes at point guard; his talent as a distributor proving better than the Aussie they hired to do the job.
If he can figure out a way to hit more than 48 percent of his two-pointers, he could become Milwaukee’s Swiss Army knife in the backcourt.
The decline and fall of Delly as he emerged from Kyrie Irving’s shadow, cashed in to the tune of $8 million a year, and immediately posted a .029 WS/48 and minus-1.4 VORP along with an atrocious 9.4 PER and a pathetic 39.0 shooting percentage, all while posting a career-worst Offensive Rating (102) when the league overall broke its own record in that stat, a just-as-horrifying Defensive Rating (114, or “worse than the Lakers combined to do as a team”), and just generally ceasing to show any basketball-playing ability whatsoever?
No wonder they had Brogdon playing the 1 for so much of the back end of the season, and even Basketball Reference’s projection tool doesn’t figure him to bounce back to any better than .053 WS/48.
Don’t Let The Injury Bug Bite
John Henson and Khris Middleton simply must stay healthy. The same is true of Parker. This is a nearly indisputable great squad when they’re all firing. When the plugs aren’t sparking because they’re in street clothes, that’s when these guys start looking a little Gatorade in terms of team quality.
Which leads us to…
…the reason I simply can’t bust out the “Confirmed” plate. The seed of doubt that comes from their tendency to turn into a MASH unit and go on a losing streak is just too strong to project these guys as any better than right where Vegas has them…mid to upper 40s in terms of win total.
Which is good, don’t get me wrong. But it’s a little too easy to see an injury-riddled season hitting them so hard that they go 35-47 and miss the playoffs because they didn’t have all hands on deck.
So I’m calling it Plausible. Highly likely, but Plausible nonetheless.