Early Predictions for Milwaukee Bucks' Starting Lineup Next Season
Despite not making many big splashes during the free-agency period thus far, the Milwaukee Bucks are going to hit the floor for the 2014-15 season with what will certainly feel like a much different look.
And that will be reflected by the starting lineup head coach Jason Kidd puts on the court.
The draft's second-overall pick, Jabari Parker, will likely get his opportunity to shine, while players like Brandon Knight and Giannis Antetokounmpo will have ample opportunity to continue growing into impact players.
One thing that may be difficult to juggle at first is the fact the Bucks have an abundance of depth at two positions.
With the recent signings of Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall, the team is now rather robust at point guard and face a potentially similar logjam at power forward.
Nonetheless, there is a solid nucleus of young talent in place.
All that's left is figuring out how those pieces fit into the starting lineup.
* All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference unless otherwise noted. *
Point Guard: Brandon Knight
Even with the aforementioned signings of Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall, Brandon Knight is the clear starter at point guard for the Bucks come opening night.
The 22-year-old is coming off a season which saw him post career numbers across the board and lead the Bucks in scoring.
And while he won't be expected to shoulder that load again with Jabari Parker in town, his ability to create and score off the dribble means more in the immediate future than the crafty passing skills of Marshall.
Questioning whether Knight is the franchise's point guard of the future is fair, but his 2013-14 earned him the opportunity to prove he is continuing to improve.
Barring injury or something drastic, Knight will start come the regular season tip-off.
Shooting Guard: O.J. Mayo
O.J. Mayo had an awful 2013-14 season. There's no way around that.
Regardless, he is still the most talented shooting guard the Bucks currently have on their roster, and by all indications he will get the chance to put last season behind him.
Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently sat down with head coach Jason Kidd, and when asked about Mayo returning to form, he had the following to say:
I haven't had any discussions yet with him, but we're looking to talk in the next couple days. I think the big thing with O.J. — I've known him since he was in high school — and he's a great kid, loves the game of basketball. I don't know exactly what happened with him last year. But when you look at him playing in Memphis, playing in Dallas, he was playing at a very high level. That's our job, is to get him back there. He can score the ball. He can shoot the ball as well as anybody in the league.
Kidd is certainly correct.
Mayo can shoot the ball and is a gifted scorer in general. He was thrust into the role of being the team's go-to guy to start last season and that's probably not the best role for the former No. 3 overall pick.
With motivation from Kidd and open looks from the penetration of Knight and attention Parker draws, Mayo should get plenty of clean shots in 2014-15.
If he can knock them down—and get back into shape—he just might rebound from one of his worst seasons as a pro.
Small Forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo
While either Parker or the Greek Freak could man small forward—and both likely will at some point—it's Giannis Antetokounmpo who will start the season at the 3, if only for his defense alone.
The lengthy 19-year-old is still raw offensively though he showed improvements at the Las Vegas Summer League—as seen here—but he has all of the tools to be a defensive stopper.
Despite being relatively average in terms of lateral quickness, Antetokounmpo's length is more than pesky and allows him to recover much easier if a mistake is made.
Don't believe me?
There's no question Antetokounmpo is still a major work in progress, but that doesn't mean Kidd should rein him in. Now is the time for the youngster to make mistakes and grow from them.
He already has the physical tools and personality to become a major star. Now all he needs to do is continue working while perfecting the fundamentals.
If he can do that, he'll maximize his talent and become a household name even if most people won't be able to pronounce it.
Power Forward: Jabari Parker
Personally, I believe Parker's game fits much better at small forward. But for the time being, it seems as though he'll be the team's starter at power forward.
And based on his comments to Gardner, it seems as though that is Kidd's plan for the rookie. When asked about Parker's ability to consistently play the 4, the new coach had the following response:
I think we're comfortable with him at the 4. I thought (Friday night against Cleveland) he looked good. He's strong enough. Look, he's a rookie; he's 19 years old. So he's going to make some mistakes. We all do. But his effort, you talk about winning basketball, him diving on the floor at the end of the game. That just shows he's willing to sacrifice, whatever it takes to win. I thought also he was encouraging his teammates in the fourth quarter when things weren't going well. He knows how to score the ball, but I think he also knows how to rebound on the other side, for his position. I think he's going to be fine with that.
Parker's offensive arsenal is what will allow him to play power forward without any major hitches.
He can pull slower 4s out to the perimeter and beat them off the dribble and has the strength and post presence to score on them in the paint.
Playing power forward will also take a load off this year's No. 2 overall pick on the defensive side of things.
Whereas sticking him at small forward would make him extremely vulnerable on defense against the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Paul George, Parker should be able to hold his own relatively well against most of the league's power forwards.
Defense will be a work in progress all year, but if he can buy into team defense, perfect his rotations and dedicate himself to improving, he won't be the defensive liability he was at Duke.
Center: Larry Sanders
Larry Sanders' biggest obstacle to becoming a very good, consistent center, quite frankly, is himself.
The 25-year-old shot-blocking extraordinaire already is an intimidating defender and has shown signs of being, at the least, respectable on offense.
But his attitude and temper have otherwise held him back.
From a bar brawl to marijuana advocacy to getting into verbal spats with former teammates (all per Gardner), Sanders has had his fair share of attention-grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons since coming into the league.
Is he the only guy in the league who has—or has had—these kinds of issues?
However, over the past year it's clear a pattern of poor behavior has been established.
Is a new coach all Sanders needs? Maybe.
Kidd is on the opposite end of the spectrum when compared to guys like Scott Skiles, Jim Boylan and Larry Drew and, consequently, probably has a better grasp on the modern day locker room.
Sanders is an emotional player, which is a positive, but he needs to learn how to harness those emotions.
If he can do that, along with staying healthy, there shouldn't be any reason why he cannot build upon his breakout 2012-13 season.
And in order for Milwaukee to be successful moving forward, he needs to do just that.