With new faces, a new coach and a new court, a lot has changed during the offseason for the Milwaukee Bucks. But even with all of said changes, the goal remains the same: make the playoffs.
And while many of the changes are aesthetic, a shift an attitude marks a new direction for the franchise.
In order to understand how the Bucks will move forward, though, we must first take a look at how things ended in 2012-13:
- Record: 38-44 (.463)
- Third in Central Division
- Eighth in Eastern Conference
- Swept by Miami Heat in Eastern Conference First Round (4-0)
Looking back, the greatest success the team had last season was making the playoffs. It wasn't pretty and, at times, it was painful to watch. But they managed to battle through all of the turmoil and at least had a chance to compete in postseason play.
That said, it's hard to get excited about playing a juggernaut like the Heat.
And though making the playoffs gets the fans excited and has a monetary impact, making the playoffs as the eighth seed was also the greatest failure for the Bucks in 2012-13.
Certainly, with players like Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, as well as the emerging Larry Sanders, the cupboard wasn't bare when it came to talent.
However, problems with efficiency and getting along detracted from the team positioning itself better when it came to the playoffs.
Change was clearly the word of choice during the offseason, and with all of the moves that were made, the Bucks should be in better shape for 2013-14 if they can mesh and become one cohesive unit.
The 2013-14 Bucks will be defined by the many moves that were made over the summer.
In fact, just four players from last year's squad return, and the team dynamic—both on the court and off—will be significantly different when the team tips things off on opening night.
The team gained some youngsters while getting rid of a few veterans who, while talented, struggled with efficiency and attitude problems.
O.J. Mayo, Brandon Knight, Caron Butler, Gary Neal
J.J. Redick, Mike Dunleavy, Monta Ellis
Caron Butler Will Be Involved Offensively
Perhaps the biggest and most interesting storyline to come out of the preseason and training camp was tweeted by Gery Woefel of The Racine Journal Times shortly after he spoke with head coach Larry Drew at media day:
Larry Drew on Caron Butler: "In Los Angeles, he was the third or fourth option. That won't be the case in Milwaukee."— Gery Woelfel (@GeryWoelfel) September 30, 2013
This means that Butler will play a vital role in Milwaukee's offense, which likely came as a surprise to most considering the fact the Racine, Wis. native is 33 years old and several years removed from being able to serve as one of any team's top options.
Still, he appears to be healthy and excited at the opportunity to play for his hometown team. If he can manage to average close to what he has for his career, the Bucks will have gotten a massive bargain.
Nonetheless, it'll be interesting to see if the wear and tear of the regular season changes Drew's plans at all.
Brandon Knight Must Continue Embracing His Role as a Point Guard
Last season, the Bucks battled the inconsistencies of Jennings as a distributor. Throughout the year, he flashed signs of being one, but he was never consistent enough in this role for the Bucks to get into a groove offensively.
It's likely that he felt the need to do everything in Detroit given the lack of depth and good shooters around him. Now, though, he has assets and will need to be more willing to facilitate.
For his career, he has assisted on just 21.1 percent of teammate field goals, per Basketball-Reference.com. Increasing that number to 30 percent would be a great start, especially since John Henson and Sanders are still rather raw offensively. They'll need someone to hit them on pick-and-rolls or pick-and-pops.
Larry Sanders Needs to Score on His Own
One of the biggest questions from last season that has carried over to the preseason is Sanders' development as a legitimate threat in the post.
The 2012-13 campaign was undoubtedly a coming out party for the 24-year-old, but he still has a long way to go if he wants to live up to the four-year, $44 million extension he signed this summer.
According to SynergySports, Sanders posted up 7.5 percent of the time, knocking down just 17 of the 47 field goals he attempted from a post-up position.
In contrast, he was the pick-and-roll man on 22.8 percent of the possessions he touched the ball.
While a good pick-and-roll is nearly impossible to defend, Knight and Sanders aren't exactly John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Eventually, Sanders will need to develop a back-to-the-basket game and use finesse to get hoops instead of relying solely upon his athleticism.
If he can do that, he'll be worth the investment Milwaukee made.
Depth Chart Breakdown and Grades
|Brandon Knight||O.J. Mayo||Caron Butler||Ersan Ilyasova||Larry Sanders|
|Luke Ridnour||Gary Neal||Carlos Delfino||John Henson||Zaza Pachulia|
|Nate Wolters||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Ekpe Udoh|
Now that we've taken a look at the full depth chart, what grade does the team warrant at each position?
Point Guard: C+
The Bucks have a solid backup point guard in Luke Ridnour, but the uncertainty over whether or not Knight can fully embrace his role as floor general is one of the biggest questions marks for the team this season.
He has plenty of potential, though, so this could easily get bumped up one whole letter-grade depending on his progress throughout the year.
Shooting Guard: B
Mayo and Neal provide the Bucks with two very solid shooting guards. While the depth ends with them, barring injuries, that should be all they need.
Last season with the Dallas Mavericks, Mayo thrived in Dirk Nowitzki's absence, averaging 19.8 points over the first 27 games. This proves that he has the ability to be a team's go-to scorer; he just needs to do so with more consistency.
Neal, on the other hand, is an excellent player off the bench.
Nearly a 40-percent shooter from three-point range for his career, he provides pretty efficient shooting and, as he showed in the 2013 NBA Finals, he can heat up in a hurry.
Again, depending on whether or not Mayo can take that next step, this is an area which could see an improvement on the grading scale by season's end.
Small Forward: B-
Experience is the top reason for the given grade in this category.
Together, Butler and Delfino have combined to play 19 seasons, and they will provide the Bucks with a wealth of veteran experience and quality offensive output.
Assuming both players can stay healthy and be on the court for the majority of 2013-14, the team will have a solid rotation at small forward.
Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton round out the depth chart at the 3, and, though they don't have experience, each possesses a decent level of potential—especially the 18-year-old Greek.
At one point during the summer, small forward looked to be the team's weakest position. However, with the additions made this offseason and the promising preseasons from the youngsters, that's no longer the case.
Antetokounmpo is averaging 6.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks and 1.2 steals through five preseason games. Middleton is scoring slightly better at 7.6 points per game, but he is rebounding at a much lower rate of 2.8 per game.
Power Forward: A-
Though not super deep, power forward is arguably the team's strongest position heading into the start of the season.
Ersan Ilyasova provides efficient scoring and solid rebounding without making a ton of mistakes, and he can score from behind the three-point line, in the post or off the dribble. His versatility makes him a valuable commodity, and he just needs to learn how to become more aggressive offensively.
Off the bench, Henson provides a different style of play.
Though not as versatile or seasoned offensively, he provides another excellent presence in the post on the defensive end. That alone is enough to earn him more minutes while his post play continues to develop.
When Henson and Sanders are on the court at the same time, the Bucks have one of the longest, most intimidating defensive frontcourts in the league.
If Sanders can elevate his play to another level, center will be a pretty solid position for the team in 2013-14.
Sanders already greatly influences the game defensively, and now, he just needs to make serious strides offensively. If he can, he'll continue developing into one of the best centers around.
While Sanders is the man, though, the Bucks do have some depth behind him.
Zaza Pachulia and Ekpe Udoh are both willing to get after it under the basket and provide the team with a certain level of toughness, defense and rebounding.
Assuming Sanders does improve, this trio should be more than enough to make a formidable rotation at center.
What to Watch For
Breakout Player Prediction: John Henson
Henson captured a lot of attention during the Las Vegas Summer League with his stellar play.
Over a three-game stint in Sin City, he averaged 14.7 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.0 blocks, proving he has a well-rounded game, per NBA.com.
While his numbers haven't been as good this preseason (10.2 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 1.2 BPG), he has shown that he can play at a high level and, if given the minutes, could have a massive coming out party this season.
Team MVP Prediction: O.J. Mayo
As mentioned above, Mayo proved that he could lead a team offensively last season when Nowitzki was injured.
From a scoring standpoint, he has regressed every year since his rookie season. But he's far too talented for that trend to continue, and with the Bucks, he'll finally have an opportunity to be the focal point of a team's offense.
He has struggled shooting the ball from the field a bit this preseason—just 37.5 percent—but he's picking up where he left off from behind the three-point line, knocking down 42.9 percent of those shots so far.
Look for him to bounce back in a big way in 2013-14.
Most Disappointing Player Prediction: Larry Sanders
As painful as it is to say, this award could easily end up in Sanders' lap by season's end.
Last year, he demonstrated how he's emerging as one of the best—if not the best—shot-blockers in the NBA, and he'll continue to be that dominant interior defender in 2013-14.
However, that's not where the issue rests.
Offense, temperament and defending without fouling were the three areas in which Sanders needed to make big strides over the summer.
So far this preseason, he hasn't shown much improvement. He's shooting an atrocious 38.2 percent from the field, has managed to accumulate two technical fouls and is averaging 3.4 personal fouls over the course of five games.
If improvements don't begin to show soon, Sanders may be in for a similar season to 2012-13. That wouldn't be bad, it'd just be a massive disappointment.
Player Most Likely to Be Traded: Ersan Ilyasova
Even though Ilyasova has been very efficient offensively for the Bucks over the past few seasons, with the continued emergence of Henson, he is becoming more and more expendable.
Henson far exceeds what the 26-year-old Turk brings to the floor from a potential standpoint. Not only that, but Ilyasova would likely have quite a bit of value at the trade deadline.
If Henson plays well, the team could possibly package Ilyasova and someone like Butler in an effort to get an even better talent at small forward.
Biggest Rivalry: John Henson vs. Ersan Ilyasova
Within the team, Henson and Ilyasova will battle it out the most.
Ilyasova is essentially playing the 2013-14 season in hopes of sticking around in Milwaukee, while Henson is trying to force him out of town by continuing to improve at a rapid rate.
If Henson struggles and Ilyasova steps up, that may not happen.
However, if it is the other way around, Ilyasova may be wearing a different uniform when the trade deadline rolls around.
Best-Case, Worst-Case Scenarios With Predicted W-L Record
Knight fully embraces the role of point guard, Mayo exceeds expectations and Henson and Sanders both take their game's up another level. Butler proves he still has it and scores around 14 points per game while providing veteran leadership. The rest of the team fills their respective roles and, with the struggles of other teams in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks grab the sixth seed.
How will the Bucks finish in 2013-14 compared to last season?
Sanders doesn't progress much at all, Mayo and Knight fail to build on their career numbers and players like Butler, Delfino and Ridnour begin showing their age, making the roster less deep than originally thought. They limp through the regular season and end up finishing well out of the playoff hunt and near the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
Projected Record: 42-40