The NBA offseason has brought many changes to rosters, coaching staffs and the list of championship contenders. As we draw closer to opening night, it’s time to move our focus from the potential impact of each offseason event and onto the broader issues that figure to define this season. The BDL 25 takes stock of, uh, 25 key storylines to get you up to speed on where the most fascinating teams, players and people stand on the brink of 2015-16.
Most zoning ordinances limit single-family dwellings to 35 feet — as in, that’s as big as it gets, no matter how expensive the house — which puts the 7-foot average wingspan of Milwaukee’s starting lineup in perspective. Just standing arm to arm, the Bucks could cover 80 percent of the distance between corner 3-point lines.
That’s both weird and wild, which pretty much sums up Bucks basketball right now.
It seemed like things couldn’t get worse for a Milwaukee team that won a franchise low 15 games in 2013-14, and then they hired Jason Kidd, breaking every unwritten rule imaginable by courting one coach when they already had one under contract. The rest of us weren’t even sure the guy they were getting was any good at leading a team from the bench, but the Bucks did, and boy were they right about coach Kidd.
The Bucks made bigger strides than anybody last season, winning nearly three times as many games as they did two years ago and capturing the sixth seed in the East. That was after their $44 million starting center walked away from the game, their No. 2 overall pick tore his ACL just 25 games into his rookie season and they traded a point guard who was just coming into his own for another who hasn’t quite yet.
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Jabari Parker, who Milwaukee supposedly would’ve taken No. 1 had Cleveland not won the 2014 lottery, has been cleared for camp after undergoing knee surgery in January. Drafted as a wing, he’s added muscle to a 6-foot-8 frame that was doughy in the Paul Pierce sense — stronger than it looks — and like Pierce did for Washington in the playoffs last season, Parker plans to play major minutes as a stretch four. The NBA is changing, and Parker is built for it. In fact, the Bucks’ lineup is a prototype.
The weird get weirder and the wild get wilder when you consider Milwaukee’s de facto “shooting guard” (6-foot-7 Khris Middleton) and “small forward” (6-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo) can also play anywhere from 2-4, which makes this experiment the definition of position-less basketball. That trio played just 86 minutes together last year — and actually weren’t all that great, being outscored by 12 points per 100 possessions — but their average age of 21.5 years old leaves endless possibilities. They can shrink the floor defensively and stretch it offensively, especially Middleton, who was one of the league’s best 3-point shooters (40.7 percent on 268 attempts).
The deadline trade for Michael Carter-Williams complicated matters. Naturally, the 2013-14 NBA Rookie of the Year is three inches taller than the point guard he replaced, but Brandon Knight arguably deserved an All-Star bid last season, averaging 17.8 points (55.6 true shooting percentage), 5.4 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.6 assists for what was the league’s second-best defense at the time of the deal.
Carter-Williams left Philadelphia with a high turnover rate and a worse 3-point percentage, and he wasn’t any better in Milwaukee. The Bucks’ defense stayed solid, but the offense suffered, and they went from outscoring opponents by 2.9 points to being outscored by 1.8. And their win percentage dipped from 56.6 percent to 37.9.
As our own Kelly Dwyer so wonderfully summarized this summer, the free-agent signing of Greg Monroe gives the Bucks at least one traditional starter this season. He isn’t the floor-stretching big man of basketball future, but his skill as a scorer and facilitator in the post will upgrade the offense, just as his defensive rebounding and outlet passing should benefit a team that’s pace wasn’t matching its athleticism.
However, Monroe has never been considered a great defender, as lineups featuring him have allowed 109.1 points per 100 possessions over his career — a number that would’ve ranked second behind only the 16-win Minnesota Timberwolves last year.
The presence of John Henson — whose block percentage (9.3) dwarfed that of Rudy Gobert, albeit in 930 fewer minutes — gives Kidd another long, athletic option with which to play. How he juggles lineups with Greivis Vasquez, Chris Copeland and Miles Plumlee also in the mix in an attempt to replace the departed Zaza Pachulia, Ersan Ilyasova and Jared Dudley will be one of the season’s fascinating storylines.
And just imagine: We could see a lineup of Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Parker, Henson and Monroe — with the Greek Freak running point — at some point this season. That’s both weird and wild, and boy is Bucks basketball gonna be fun.
Previously, on BDL 25:
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