Facing hurdles isn't something that's very foreign to the Milwaukee Bucks.
In fact, last season it seemed they were doing a lot of it.
And despite a roster makeover, there will be plenty of issues to address this year.
Without Jennings or Monta Ellis, a go-to scorer will need to emerge. With the roster getting an entire new look, chemistry will need to be forged. Finally, the Bucks will need to find a way to become a much more efficient team offensively after tying for 28th in field goal percentage during 2012-13.
They'll need to figure things out in a hurry, too, because the Eastern Conference is improving.
Lacking a Star Player
As it stands, the Bucks have a collection of players that plenty of teams would love to have as second or third options.
Whether it's Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo or Ersan Ilyasova, the team doesn't have a player who has proven himself to be a go-to scorer on a consistent basis.
While Mayo is the closest thing to that, he's yet to become the star many predicted.
Though his career averages of 15.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.1 assists aren't terrible, they're also not the kind of numbers a former third-overall pick should be posting.
While his rookie year looks the best on paper, it was last season that he took the nicest strides.
In the 27 games Nowitzki missed—he returned on December 23—Mayo averaged 19.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists on 47.2 percent shooting from the field while connecting on a staggering 49.3 percent of his three-point attempts.
That's the guy the Bucks need to emerge immediately, and, looking at the rest of the roster, he's the one guy who is capable of filling the role of a go-to scorer.
Can he do it an entire year? That's yet to be seen.
But he has the talent as a scorer and the opportunity is his to take.
Forging New Chemistry
There are 11 players currently on the roster that weren't a member of the Bucks last season. In fact, the only remaining players from a year ago are Ilyasova, John Henson, Larry Sanders and Ekpe Udoh.
Added to the barrage of new faces is head coach Larry Drew, who will try to get the collection of fresh bodies to mesh quickly.
From the moves made this offseason, it's clear that the team isn't interested in a full rebuild. These sentiments were echoed by owner Herb Kohl in June (per Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel):
There are different ways teams conduct their business in the sports leagues... And I like to see that we put a competitive product on the floor every season.
It doesn't mean, as some people have thought, that maybe I'm satisfied with mediocrity. I'm not. We want to get X number of wins, and when we get there I want more wins. And then after that, you want more wins. Teams that are winning find a way to win some more.
Oftentimes teams that are really bad and losing find a bottom that they can't get out of. It works both ways. I don't have any disrespect for teams that do it in different ways. But we want to be good. And there are a lot of good players in this league.
With winning games and making the playoffs being the ultimate goal, chemistry must develop quickly.
That isn't something that can be done easily.
Even with a trio of superstars, it took the Miami Heat a while to mesh and turn into the championship caliber team they are now. Truthfully, any time a roster experiences a significant overhaul, it's going to take awhile to get everyone on the same page.
However, the Bucks aren't afforded the luxury of time and a 38-44 record likely won't earn an eighth seed again.
Yes, much of it boils down to whether or not the teams that finished behind Milwaukee a season ago will in fact reach their potential and become better. Obviously, though, that's not something the team should count on happening.
Drew must continue working hard from now through the preseason and hope that his team can operate with some level of cohesion on opening night.
If things fall apart, and there are obvious chemistry issues, it will likely impact the team's play and potentially set them back to begin the season.
Given the organization's choice to compete, that would be a devastating blow.
The Offense Must Become More Efficient
Perhaps the biggest hurdle the Bucks face once again this season is whether or not they can be an efficient team offensively.
It's something that has been an issue for quite awhile now, as evidenced below:
|Season||Field Goal Percentage||League Rank|
The Bucks were able to overcome those numbers in 2012-13 and 2009-10 to make the playoffs, but they cannot expect to keep that trend up with the abysmal efficiency they've been posting recently.
In order to remedy the problem, the Bucks must look towards their backcourt.
Neither Jennings nor Ellis were very efficient players and often found themselves settling for jump shots instead of attacking the basket.
Ellis attempted 700 shots from 16 feet to behind the three-point line while, in that same range, Jennings attempted 688. That's far too many, especially when comparing them to the number of shots closer to the hoop.
The Bucks have rid themselves of two players with poor shot selection, but now Drew must make sure his new backcourt is smarter.
Mayo and Knight aren't the most efficient replacements, but they are slightly better and tend to mix things up a bit.
These numbers show that Knight and Mayo were more aggressive and less reliant on long-range jump shots a year ago. If they can both continue to take smarter shots and convert at the rim with higher efficiency, that's a step in the right direction.
Overall, Mayo shot a respectable 44.9 percent from the field and an excellent 40.7 percent from three-point land in 2012-13. Knight, on the other hand, shot 40.7 percent and connected on 36.7 percent of his threes.
Those field-goal percentages are both steps up from where Ellis and Jennings were. Repeating—or improving—those numbers will be crucial towards Milwaukee becoming more efficient.
Meanwhile, players like Ilyasova and Sanders will need to keep being efficient while having an expanded role in the offense. Both will be called upon to elevate their game—especially early in the year—considering the team doesn't have a go-to scorer.
If both can manage to do that, the Bucks should be able to become more efficient as a team, and that will greatly influence their offensive production.
With great defenders like Henson and Sanders anchoring the defense, offensive efficiency is a top priority.
If the Bucks can manage to hurdle these obstacles early on, they have the potential to put together a solid season based on their depth of talent.