The Milwaukee Bucks had a fairly quiet offseason. But for a team brimming with young talent in a conference that saw several stars depart this summer, that quiet offseason should still translate into another major step forward for the Bucks.
Everything begins and ends with Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 22-year-old burgeoning superstar took another huge step forward last year, averaging 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.9 blocks per game. Given the rate of improvement he's exhibited in his first four seasons, the Greek Freak has a chance to be a legitimate MVP candidate this upcoming season.
Surrounding him is a talented young cast.
Khris Middleton is a two-way player who, when healthy, is an excellent option in the backcourt. Once Jabari Parker returns from injury, he offers pure scoring from the stretch 4 position. Thon Maker has tantalizing upside at center. Malcolm Brogdon, Tony Snell and Matthew Dellavedova round out a strong backcourt. John Henson and Greg Monroe are nice frontcourt options. Rookie D.J. Wilson has promising upside.
Promise abounds in Milwaukee. The Bucks went 42-40 in the 2016-17 season. Their fanbase will justifiably be expecting another jump forward this season.
Season Opener: Wednesday, Oct. 18, at Boston Celtics
Championship Odds: 66-1 (via OddsShark)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
Cleveland Cavaliers: First Matchup Home (Friday, Oct. 20)
The Bucks' progress is going to be measured by how they fare against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that remains the toast of the Eastern Conference.
Last season, the Bucks went just 1-3 against the Cavs in the regular season and finished nine games behind them in the Central Division. As long as James remains in Cleveland, it's hard to imagine the Bucks overtaking them in the division or conference, at least for the next season or two.
Eventually, Antetokounmpo and Co. may be top of the class in the Central. Next season's contests against the Cavs will paint a clearer picture of just how soon that possibility might set in.
Toronto Raptors: First Matchup Away (Monday, Jan. 1)
Yes, the Bucks will want revenge after the Toronto Raptors eliminated them in six games in last year's Eastern Conference playoffs. But these matchups should have far more significance than that.
Let's assume the Cavaliers, Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics win their respective divisions. That leaves the Bucks and Raptors, more than likely, to duke it out for the remaining top-four seed in the Eastern Conference and home-court advantage for the first round of the playoffs in the process.
And like the matchups with the Cavs, this is a chance for the Bucks to assert their place as one of the top teams in the East. These contests, along with their games against the Celtics and Wizards, will determine where this team ends up in the playoff race and forecast how close—or far—this team is to being an Eastern Conference power.
Are the Bucks ready to challenge James and the Cavaliers for Eastern Conference supremacy? Probably not. But are they capable of entering that next tier of teams in the East that includes the Celtics, Wizards and the Raptors?
Antetokounmpo has all the makings of becoming one of the league's next dominant players, and while it's debatable whether there is another player on the roster capable of being a star sidekick, he certainly has a strong supporting cast.
There's no reason for the Bucks to be anything less than a top-five team in the East this year, and 50 wins is well within their grasp.
Record Prediction: 50-32