Things did not go ask expected in Milwaukee.
Final Record: 16-57
Of all the teams in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks had the biggest gap between their expectations and reality. The beginning of the season was filled with hope in Milwaukee (another 8 seed? Thanks Herb! We can’t wait to beat the Heat in 6!) The loss of the worst combination of two guards in the NBA in Monta “Have it all” Ellis (.287 from three) and Brandon Jennings (.399 field goal percentage) was a sigh of relief for Bucks fans who were hoping for a new era of at least average efficiency. Acquiring Brandon Knight and Wisconsin native Caron Butler looked hopeful. Through free agency, the Bucks snared OJ Mayo to replace Ellis at shooting guard, what looked to be a better move defensively and offensively, as well as Zaza Pachulia for $11 million (well, that one wasn’t so great.) Early on, hardcore Bucks fans saw great potential in Giannis Antetokounmpo, but it still looked like his production could be years off. Milwaukee gave a nice little extension to Larry Sanders (what could go wrong?) and Herb Kohl said how Ersan could be an all-star. Bill Simmons had the Bucks fifteenth in Jalen Rose and his preseason rankings, and everything was looking nice and mediocre for Milwaukee.
Well, the reality was a little different. The Bucks went 2-2 over their first four games, and all looked promising. Then they lost eleven consecutive games and jumped into first place in the tank ranks. And they stayed there. All year. Larry Sanders broke his hand in a bar fight, Ersan got injured early, Caron Butler had injury troubles too, and their other small forward Carlos Delfino did not play all year. You know who started to get playing time? Giannis! And he wasn’t just floundering around the court. His turnovers drastically lowered, his dunks were tremendous, fast break offense, great defense — and he was still growing! The Bucks started to embrace their tanking role, sporting line ups with the likes of a better-than expected team offensive leader in Brandon Knight, who could share the ball and score when needed. Khris Middleton found himself in a starting role in his second year. Miroslav Raduljica pounded it out down low and produced promising per 36 numbers (14 points, 8.4 rebounds). Nate Wolters, the second round pick out of South Dakota State, flourished in his role and formed a friendship with Giannis. A late season trade dropped Gary Neal, who had a locker room fight with Larry Sanders, and replaced him with Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien, a rebounding machine that improved the Bucks more than they would have hoped.
Still, it was a very disappointing and miserable year. The Bucks were straight up abysmal, even in a bad East. Injuries and a poor team chemistry took a toll, and the Bucks never got off the ground. In fact, they went down further. The ray of sunshine for Milwaukee was the guaranteed Top 4 pick they worked hard for, and the new ownership for next year. Herb Kohl is now a Milwaukee hero.
Larry Drew was made head coach over last off season, and while his attempts to get Jeff Teague to Milwaukee failed, Bucks fans were hopeful Drew could do work and transform this 8 seed into a 7 seed. That did not happen. Early injuries put the team in a bad spot, but things started to get out of control in the locker room at the time of the Sanders/Neal fight. Never taking a side or demanding control, Drew allowed the chemistry to free fall, probably because he too was frustrated with the poor play. At one point, you have to adjust your focus from playoffs to lottery. Drew never did this. He continued to over play Illyasova, a defensive liability, as well as Zaza Pachulia. As injuries forced him to play his younger players and the season was all but over; Drew had failed, and had made the situation worse by not preparing younger players for the future. Other coaches on the staff developed good relationships with young players, especially assistant Scott Williams and Nick Van Exel with Giannis (you can see it all on Giannis’ twitter @G_ante34) Overall though, the staff did a poor job maximizing the teams’ talent, allowing things to get out of control, and not preparing for next year.
Players (with team at end of season playing in 5+ games):
Brandon Knight (PG): B+
Knight came onto the team looking like he could be a solid player. He was much more than that. Setting the tempo offensively and defensively, Knight averaged 17.9 points and 4.9 assists.
Ramon Sessions (PG): C
Coming to the team late in the year, Sessions provided veteran play level and was his typical self, 15.8 points and 4.8 assists per game.
Nate Wolters (PG): C+
Wolters, a second round pick, was a pleasant surprise for Milwaukee as a consistent performer off the bench who added size and good offensive distribution, 7.2 points and 3.2 assists per game.
OJ Mayo (SG): F
OJ Mayo was supposed to be the star. Instead he rode the bench, ate food, and racked up DNPs sporting an 11.3 PER.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (SG): C-
While the hope and possibility for the future looks amazing, Giannis himself criticized his play this year, he struggled to shoot and had many lapses, averaging 6.8 points over 24.6 minutes per game.
Khris Middleton (SF): C
Coming out of nowhere, Middleton took the SF position from Caron Butler while he was injured and shot top 20 in the NBA for 3pt percentage.
Chris Wright (SF): Incomplete
Appearing in just 8 games, it was enough to convince the front office they wanted more, his hustle and 6 PPG over a short span earned him a contract for next year.
Ersan Ilyasova (PF): C-
Ilyasova struggled with injury and poor defensive play. He averaged 11.2 points, 6.2 rebounds, and only a 13.9 PER. Not exactly all-star caliber.
Jeff Adrien (PF): B-
The surprise for the Bucks this year, Adrien came via trade and had the highest PER on the team (18.4) was everywhere on the court at once offensively and defensively, and brought new meaning to the word “hustle.” Adrien averaged 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds over 28 games.
Ekpe Udoh (PF): D-
Udoh didn’t hurt the team, was a calm veteran, but didn’t contribute on the court averaging under 5 points.
John Henson (C): C+
Henson started coming into his own this year, playing consistently on offense and bringing that great shot-blocking ability. While still pretty thin, Henson averaged 11.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.66 blocks, and had an 18.0 PER.
Larry Sanders (C): F
Sanders got in a bar fight, then a team fight, then started playing well… only to break a bone near his eye and get suspended for marijuana use. He did not earn his money this year.
Zaza Pachulia (C): C-
A slightly overpaid free agent, Zaza brought a big man veteran presence for the young and small Bucks averaging 7.7 points.
Miroslav Raduljica (C): D+
Slav played well on the court, despite not scoring or playing much, but looks hopeful for the future and was solid defensively.
This was an eventful year for the Bucks upstairs. Their preseason trades panned out okay with Knight coming in, the draft was great with Giannis, and found a steal in the second round with Wolters. The free agent signings were not good, and the coaching situation they put themselves in will not work for the future. When the season started tanking, people in Milwaukee were grateful Kohl finally decided to go with it. The tanking has put them in a great situation for the future with a young core and possibly a star for next year. Kohl sold the team and donated $100 million for a new stadium. Bucks fans are loving him again despite being one of the worst owners in the NBA (in over 20 years sported 1 contending team.) Overall, not actually that bad of a year up front. Injuries couldn’t be helped, loading up new talent, embracing the tank, and turning a new leaf.
Real Grade: D+
Tank Grade: A+!
This is a tough one. While the play, coaching, and difference from expectations were horrible, the Bucks have put themselves in a great position for the future. The already have a solid, young core with Henson, Adrien, Antetokounmpo, Wolters, Knight, and maybe Larry Sanders. They will get a franchise defining player in the draft. They have new ownership. By embracing the tank, was it a bad year?