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Milwaukee Bucks 2014-15 Preview - Baby Steps

With Jabari Parker in the fold, things may finally be headed in the right direction up in Milwaukee.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee Bucks Season Preview: Rebuilding begins in earnest...finally - Brew Hoop

If this rebuild is going to work, there are some significant steps that have to be taken in year one. Play the young guys If the Bucks are going to be anywhere significant in 3-5 years, it's going to be because their young players got them there. There is plenty of potential to go around, from Parker and Giannis down to Khris Middleton and Kendall Marshall, but the only way to find out if those guys are core pieces going forward is to give them some serious burn.


2013-14 IN REVIEW
5th in Central Division - 15th in Eastern Conference

Watching the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks was equivelant to watching a parapalegic try to get up and sprint. It was like the JV team scrimmaging against the varsity starting five. To put it lightly, they were atrocious.

Not only did the Bucks finish dead last in the entire NBA, their 15-67 record stands as the worst season in franchise history since the organization was established in 1968.

Prior to the season, the Brandon Jennings era had come to an end with an offseason trade that sent him to Detroit in return for Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton and Slava Kravtsov, who was flipped to Phoenix the following month. Jennings had some big time bright spots throughout his four-year tenure in Milwaukee, highlighted by a 55-point game in his rookie year, but both sides were ready for a change of scenery and the Bucks got a pretty good package in return.

Knight got off to a slow start due to a hamstring injury he suffered in his very first regular season game with the club, forcing him to miss eight of the first 11 games of the season, but he rebounded nicely and was one of the real bright spots for the Bucks all year long. Knight posted career highs in almost every category by putting up 17.9 points, 4.9 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1 steal per game while raising his free throw percentage to 80%. He may not be the long-term answer as Milwaukee's point guard of the future, but there's no question about whether or not he can play.

Brandon Knight ended up leading the team in scoring, a feat that was expected to be accomplished by O.J. Mayo, who the Bucks signed as a free agent prior to the 2013-14 season. For whatever reason, Mayo not only failed to live up to expectations, he somehow played the very worst basketball of his career. Mayo came into the season packing a little extra weight and was not able to perform at the level he had in Memphis and Dallas. As a result, he started just 23 games all season and quickly lost his starting job to Khris Middleton, who put together a terrific campaign, surprisingly averaging over 12 points per game.

Mayo never suffered any kind of season-ending injury, but sat out of 28 of the final 39 games of the season.

Larry Sanders, on the other hand, was hurt for a large portion of the year and only suited up for 23 games in 2013-14. Sanders tore a ligament in his thumb in a nightclub altercation just three games into the season, forcing him to miss 25 consecutive games. In February, he was diagnosed with a fractured right orbital bone and missed the rest of the year as a result. It is safe to say that it wasn't quite the ideal season from a guy who signed a four-year, $44 million contract in the summer, but Sanders remains an integral piece going forward.

Another big piece for the future is Giannis Antentokounmpo, who the Bucks selected 15th overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. The 19-year-old "Greek Freak" didn't necessarily blow you away with his numbers, but his athletic ability mixed with his ball skills combine to create an extremely interesting prospect going forward. Antentokounmpo has a chance to become a two-way impact player and he showed a ton of flashes of his raw talent that abruptly turned a lot of people into a believer.

Another bright spot for Milwaukee in 2013-14 was Ramon Sessions, who was acquired from Charlotte along with Jeff Adrien at February's trade deadline in return for Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal. Sessions was originally drafted by the Bucks in the second round back in 2007, but returned as a much more aggressive scorer this time around. In 28 games for Milwaukee last season, he produced 15.8 points and 5.8 assists per game and was much more efficient than he was for the Bobcats in the first half of the season.

Jeff Adrien finished the season strong, as well. After being traded to Milwaukee, Adrien received as much opportunity as ever. In approximately 25 minutes per game, the former Uconn Huskie put up 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and consistently flirted with double-doubles through 12 starts.

No matter what kind of miniscule individual stretches you try to spin into a positive note, the 2013-14 Milwaukee Bucks were terrible. Their horrific 15-victory campaign is nothing Bucks fans are proud of, but they know as well as anyone, small-market teams almost have to experience that kind of season to ultimately get where they want to be in the future.



Key Additions - Jabari Parker, Jason Kidd, Kendall Marshall, Jerryd Bayless, Jared Dudley
Key Losses - Larry Drew, Ramon Sessions, Jeff Adrien, Ekpe Udoh

Bucks fans often stared at their beloved squad with a blank stare in 2013-14, wondering if anything positive would ever transpire for their favorite franchise. Finishing with the league's worst record, they had the best odds (25%) to come away with the top pick in the draft and while they didn't end up landing number one overall, they got a heck of consolation prize. In May's NBA Draft Lottery, the city of Milwaukee was rewarded for their tested patience by landing the second overall pick in the draft.

After Cleveland selected Andrew Wiggins, Milwaukee snatched up perhaps the most NBA-ready prospect in the draft class in Jabari Parker. As previously mentioned, in order for a small-market franchise like Milwaukee to make serious progress in terms of building a competitive team, they are almost forced to go through such a rough patch that they end up with a top draft pick. Free agents aren't necessarily salivating at the mouth to head to a place like Milwaukee, so their best bet to acquire a potential star talent is to swing for the fences on draft night.

Jabari Parker brings the Bucks exactly what they need, a go-to scorer that has a legitimate chance to become an All-Star ballplayer. The wide-bodied 6'8" combo forward can create his own shot, stroke it from anywhere on the floor and despite his ripe age of 19, he can be featured in an NBA offense as a primary option. As one of the most intriguing prospects Milwaukee has landed in over a decade, Parker will have every opportunity to shine. Don't be surprised if the dominant triple-threat scorer runs away with the Rookie of the Year trophy at the end of the season.

Out of nowhere, Milwaukee's head coaching situation drew as much attention as any other transaction the organization made this summer. On July 1, Jason Kidd shocked the basketball world by leaving the Brooklyn Nets, his very first coaching gig, to accept a more lucritive opportunity in Milwaukee. The Bucks let go of Larry Drew after one year as head coach of the team, coughed up two future second round draft picks and signed Kidd to a three-year deal that practically doubled his annual salary in Brooklyn. Kidd will become the fourth head coach the Bucks have hired since 2012.

To fill out Kidd's backcourt, Milwaukee brought in a pair of guards extremely different from one another. In the third week of July, the Bucks claimed Kendall Marshall off of waivers and committed to paying off the remainder of his one-year, $915,000 contract. The following week, they brought in Boston Celtics free agent combo guard Jerryd Bayless on a two-year, $6 million deal to provide an offensive lift off the bench. Marshall is likely to take over the backup point guard spot as a table-setting floor general, right up coach Kidd's alley, while Bayless will be looked at to add a scoring punch with the second unit.

In an attempt to save some money in late-August, the Clippers sent Jared Dudley and a future first round pick to Milwaukee in return for a future second round pick and the expiring contracts of Carlos Delifno and Miroslav Raduljica. Should Dudley pick up his $4.25 million player option for the 2015-16 season, Milwaukee will owe him $8.5 million over the next two years. Consdidering the fact that the former Boston College star is a serviceable multi-position perimeter threat, along with the first round pick, it was a move well-worth making for the Bucks.

C - Larry Sanders / John Henson / Zaza Pachulia
PF - Jabari Parker / Ersan Ilyasova
SF - Giannis Antentokounmpo / Khris Middleton / Jared Dudley / Damien Inglis
SG - O.J. Mayo / Jerryd Bayless
PG - Brandon Knight / Kendall Marshall / Nate Wolters

Nobody is really 100% sure what the opening night starting lineup will look like, including Jason Kidd, as the Bucks have a lot of parity, versatility and multi-position players. Jabari Parker will likely see time at both small forward and power forward along with Ersan Ilyasova, while Larry Sanders and John Henson can give you minutes at the four and the five spots. On the perimeter, all of Milwaukee's guards are two-position players except pure point guard Kendall Marshall. Antentokounmpo could see time at the point and each wing position, while swingman Kris Middleton can play the two or three as well.

This is a good "problem" for Kidd and his coaching staff to have, as the entire roster is competing with one another for minutes and roles. This should make for a very interesting and intense training camp and exhibition schedule.


X-FACTOR - Development of Youth
Let's be real. The Milwaukee Bucks may not lose as many as 67 games this season, but they're certainly not going to be competing for a spot in the postseason. This year is about the impact of Jabari Parker, the progression of Giannis Antentokounmpo, a possible resurrection to O.J. Mayo's career, an increased role for John Henson, evaluating Jason Kidd's coaching methods and a chance to see what Larry Sanders is made of at full health.

Milwaukee is likely multiple years away from making any kind of noise. However, if they can buy into what Jason Kidd is preaching and feel comfortable about the development of their young core, the season will be looked at as a success.

I'm not one to sugar coat reality. This is going to be one of the bottom teams in the Eastern Conference this season. Anything over 25-30 victories is butter.

You can expect Jabari Parker to put up a strong campaign for the Rookie of the Year award, as he is NBA-ready and clearly going to receive as much opportunity to produce as anyone in this year's draft class. My advice to Bucks fans is enjoy the maturation of the pups and cross your fingers for another game changer in the 2015 NBA Draft.

5th - Central Division
14th - Eastern Conference

Keep your eyes peeled for the Utah Jazz preview, coming later today.

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