2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks Preview
By Jim Brighters, NBA Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Milwaukee Bucks finished in the worst possible spot a team could finish in the NBA - the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
That kind of purgatory is jail. The eighth seed meant a playoff drubbing at the hands of eventual champion Miami Heat and also meant no trip to the draft lottery.
That kind of situation is doom. So, the Bucks made huge changes, starting with head coach Larry Drew, formerly of the Atlanta Hawks. He replaced Jim Boylan, who replaced Scott Skiles, who left during the season.
Drew made the playoffs in all three seasons in Atlanta. His resume speaks for itself, and he wasn't the only massive change the Bucks made during the offseason.
Milwaukee will bring back only one starter from opening night a year ago. That man is power forward Ersan Ilyasova. Larry Sanders emerged with the starting center job and had a remarkable season that saw him finish second in blocks, third in Most Improved Player voting and seventh in Defensive Player of the Year.
The Bucks backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings was explosive and scored a ton. They are now in Dallas and Detroit, respectively. Replacing them will be O.J. Mayo, another score-first shooting guard, and the point-guard tandem of Luke Ridnour and Brandon Knight, who was acquired from the Pistons for Jennings.
The final new member of the starting five is Caron Butler, a Wisconsin native, who became very emotional at the press conference announcing his acquisition.
"This is something that I always dreamed about, thought about. I never thought it would happen. So it's special," he said.
The Bucks even revamped their second unit, signing Gary Neal from the San Antonio Spurs, Carlos Delfino from the Houston Rockets and Zaza Pachulia from Drew's Hawks.
These moves didn't light the NBA beat on fire, but they brought in solid professionals. Ellis and Jennings were skilled, yet bordered on selfish. The plan was to build around Ilyasova and Sanders, who inked a long-term extension.
2012-13 Results: 38-44, 3rd in Central; Lost in East quarterfinals to Miami
ADDITIONS: HC Larry Drew, G O.J. Mayo, F Caron Butler, G Luke Ridnour, G Brandon Knight, G Gary Neal, F Carlos Delfino, C Zaza Pachulia, F Khris Middleton, G Giannis Antetokounmpo, G Nate Wolters
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Luke Ridnour SG- O.J. Mayo SF- Caron Butler PF- Ersan Ilyasova C- Larry Sanders
KEY RESERVES: G Brandon Knight, F Carlos Delfino, G Gary Neal, C Zaza Pachulia, F John Henson, G Giannis Antetokounmpo
FRONTCOURT: Sanders' minutes went from 12.4 per game in 2011-12 to 27.3 last season. Obviously, production soared with the heavier workload. His 9.8 ppg and 9.5 rpg numbers could actually improve and the defense will remain steady. Sanders blocked a shot in 40 straight games last season, which is remarkable.
Ilyasova had a big 2011-12 season and parlayed that into a five-year, $40 million contract. He had a solid 2012-13, but his rebounding and shooting percentage slipped a bit. Without Jennings and Ellis, Ilyasova will score more.
Butler's scoring has dipped the last four seasons and last year with the Los Angeles Clippers, he only managed 10.4 ppg. Granted, he had All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin surrounding him, but Butler is on the downswing at age 33. He will infuse some veteran leadership and professionalism.
BACKCOURT: Ridnour will probably begin the season as the starter, although Knight has a ton more upside. What it shock you to know that Ridnour has averaged double figures seven of his 10 years as a pro, including the last four? Ridnour is back with the Bucks after three seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Like many on the Milwaukee roster, Ridnour is a very capable pro who doesn't turn it over, but doesn't shoot the long ball very well.
Mayo was on pace to be a Western Conference All Star last season with the Dallas Mavericks. He averaged 22 ppg over the first 13, then took up residency in head coach Rick Carlisle's dog house late in the campaign. Mayo can shoot, score and even defend a little. If Drew and Butler can harness his wildness, Mayo can be a very productive off guard.
BENCH: This is a startling solid group.
If Ridnour begins the season as the starter, that would relegate Knight, who is only in his third season. Knight's averaged 13.1 ppg, 3.9 apg, while shooting 37 percent from three-point range and 41 percent from the field. Those numbers won't knock you out of your chair, but it's enough of a foundation to build on in Milwaukee. Detroit moved him to the shooting guard slot when it acquired Jose Calderon in season, and that wasn't a good fit. Getting Knight on the roster was a great move for the Bucks.
Delfino averaged 10.6 ppg last season for the Rockets, who dumped him to make room for Superman. He signed a reasonable contract with the Bucks and is a career 37 percent three-point shooter.
Neal is an ideal bench player when you need scoring. He's almost averaged 10 ppg in three seasons with the Spurs, but in just over 21 minutes a contest. He can score in bunches.
Pachulia is a grunt in the nicest possible terms. He is a prototypical backup big man who will give you 20 minutes a game, score a few buckets, grab some boards and antagonize the opposition.
The rookies - Antetokounmpo and Wolters - probably won't play much their rookie seasons. Both are above-average prospects.
COACHING: Drew went 128-102 in three years with the Hawks, but only advanced in the postseason once. When Danny Ferry assumed control of Atlanta, he brought in his own man, Mike Budenholzer.
Drew is a very capable man, but he's not the guy you bring in to truly elevate your franchise.
OUTLOOK: With five teams (Heat, Pacers, Bulls, Nets and Knicks) assured of playoff spots, the Bucks are stuck in the eternal hell of a low playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.
They probably have enough talent to squeeze into one of the three remaining slots, but have no chance of overtaking any of the conference powerhouses.
Still, this group could finish over .500. There's not a ton of talent, but some very good men you'd want on a roster. They'll all have to play over their talent level to get the sixth seed, but the eighth is a very reasonable goal.
10/16 13:06:01 ET