After a busy offseason, the Milwaukee Bucks roster looks primed and ready to battle to defend their 2021 NBA Title this coming NBA season. Even when continuity post-championship is the priority, no team is ever truly able to stay the same after a title run. The NBA is a business at the end of the day: assets need moving, money exchanges hands and tough decisions await team management.
With the team looking at options to compete for the 15th roster slot in the forthcoming training camp, it’s likely this Milwaukee Bucks team is what it is for now.
As with all basketball clubs in the association, these offseason changes mean that a few questions still remain heading into the season.
What roles do they play?
Fans already know what to expect from the Milwaukee Bucks’ big three.
The former two-time MVP dropped 50 points in the closeout game and showed he can take over games when it matters. Even in the final stretch of the postseason, Giannis showed marked improvement in his post game and his free-throw shooting, both of which have always been panned by his worst critics.
Khris Middleton, too, shed his reputation of being a playoff underperformer after carrying the Bucks to two wins as the lone star on the court. Even on his worst nights, the smooth-shooting swingman came through for the Bucks time and again with timely buckets in close games.
Jrue Holiday, on the other hand, proved he was the missing piece for the Bucks on both ends of the floor. When it’s all said and done, history will surely remember his game-sealing defensive stops in two consecutive Finals games of a series they trailed 0-2.
Past them, though, there are a number of players on the roster whose potential impact has still largely gone under the radar. Here are three Bucks players who can eventually be game-changers later on in the coming season.
Could Semi Ojeleye be the main wing defender for the Bucks?
At the risk of beating a dead horse, here is an incontrovertible fact. PJ Tucker played a cardinal role in securing the Bucks their first championship in 50 years.
Even with defenders like Holiday and Donte DiVincenzo buoying the backcourt defense, Tucker is objectively the team’s defensive jackhammer as evidenced by his playoff matchup data on NBA.com/stats. The numbers speak for themselves: in many ways, Tucker was perhaps just as important as the Greek Freak. After all, the team won on the back of its hard-nosed defense that focused on energy, grit, and the intangibles.
Enter Semi Ojeleye. Fans defended the loss of Tucker by claiming the Ojeleye was younger and more offensively gifted, particularly from deep. And while neither of the two is incorrect, Ojeleye’s skillset and body of work as they stand today do little to offset the loss of Tucker and the role he played on the team.
Sans Tucker, the team has no one to guard the opposition’s best wing scorers, especially the ones that bring height and heft to the table. No one else is quite as agile. Middleton is slow on his feet. Antetokounmpo’s skill is best used as a help defender. Holiday can’t defend big wings game in and game out over a seven-game series.
Whether we like it or not, there is so much riding on the development of Ojeleye as a strong, switchable defender. At this point, it’s premature to expect him to be the next great wing defender in the NBA given what he’s actually shown thus far. But if he does pan out, his contribution on that end of the floor could be the difference-maker for the defending champions looking to repeat.
Could Grayson Allen be the next great sharpshooter for the Bucks?
With the departure of Bryn Forbes, the Bucks are missing a go-to option to wreak havoc from beyond the three-point line. For a team parading an inside force like Giannis, spacing is still paramount to their identity.
Jordan Nwora comes close but is mostly unproven. DiVincenzo is a fine shooting guard, but shooting has never been his strongest suit. Middleton is the team’s best shooter, but he’s more than just a catch-and-shoot weapon on offense, and his isolation abilities will also need spacing from other long-range bombers to allow him to produce effectively.
This is where Grayson Allen comes in. The surprise trade that brought him to Milwaukee is one of the more low-profile moves of the offseason despite its high-reward potential. That it only took Sam Merrill and two second-round picks speaks to the ability of Horst.
Allen is a do-it-all guard with no significant holes in his game. He can shoot, play solid defense, and is also an athletic scorer at the guard position. His 39.1 percent shooting clip from distance is certainly an attractive number, considering he took 5.5 attempts per game on those shots.
While they’re certainly a far cry from Forbes’ 45.2 percent this year, which was fourth-best in the entire league, he at least alleviates the defensive dip that Forbes brought with him whenever he stepped on the court. Though it is by no means a flamethrower’s number, it’s also a figure that’s respectful enough to still command the respect of opposing defenses and create enough spacing for the team’s interior ministers.
Could George Hill be the stabilizer off the bench for the Bucks?
For the first time in what feels like years, it’s looking like the Bucks have some serious stability at the point guard position after signing George Hill for another stint in Wisconsin.
Hill’s complete game at the point guard position has always been the paragon of consistency. He’s a reliable playmaker and a consistent scorer, capable of taking it all the way to the rim or pulling up from three. Though father time is coming soon for the 35-year-old, Hill’s lanky frame coupled with his deceptive athleticism still make for an excellent two-way punch when Jrue Holiday sits.
It was just a few short years ago that Hill led the league in three-point percentage after posting a 46.0 percent shooting clip from deep the Bucks. He put up 9.4 points and 3.1 assists per game on 21.5 minutes a night the last time he suited up for Milwaukee. Adding these offensive numbers to a Bucks bench that already has a super-sub in the form of Bobby Portis makes the Bucks that much deeper.
His numbers weren’t quite the same in his last tenure with the Philadelphia 76ers. He averaged just 6.0 points on a very competent 38.8 percent shooting for the season. These are already decent numbers for a backup at PG, but if he can manage to eke out performances similar to the last time he was a Buck, this team could look dangerous regardless of which point guard is handling the rock.
When you consider that the defending champions had to lean on the likes of Jeff Teague and DJ Augustin for tertiary point duties last year, landing Hill is an excellent acquisition that makes them a more formidable team moving forward.
How could these Bucks play out this season?
Just how much these three can contribute depend largely on their health, fit with the team, and how much they play within their roles. Could Ojeleye be a pest on defense every night while being an above-average three-point shooter? Can Hill put in quality minutes to give Holiday a breather without sacrificing offense and defense? Will Allen continue being a double-figures scorer while providing quality spacing for Giannis?
This writer would go as far as saying that Allen could start over DiVincenzo. He’s only a slightly worse defender while being a more competent offensive weapon. DiVincenzo was excellent on his best nights, but his streakiness and problems finishing at the rim make him decent at best. Having consistent scoring at the shooting guard position will be a first for the Bucks.
Ojeleye, too, could very well find himself playing heavy minutes in the playoffs if his defense pans out in the best way possible. This will no doubt depend on the defensive matchup, but in the event the Bucks go back to their switching defense, Mike Budenholzer could do a lot worse than giving Ojeleye a shot.
After the career he’s built for himself, Hill is already a surefire option at the backup PG and will no doubt play decent minutes. However, it would be worth watching out for any signs of decline. He’s never given fans reason to question his motor, but this could be the year his age starts to show.
To be frank, potential is only potential until something tangible materializes on the basketball court. But considering the team’s needs, these players are the best candidates to play significant roles given the skills they bring to the Bucks.