Whether you’re a fan of the Milwaukee Bucks or not, autumn is an exciting time of year for many reasons. Football returns, the MLB playoffs begin, the leaves change, and the temperature cools down. Amid all this fun, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the NBA season is just around the corner.
On that front, the Milwaukee Bucks are—for the first time in 50 years—the defending NBA champions. The team has many choices to make this year. Although the core of this team is the same, there are several new faces that raise interesting questions for the upcoming 2021-22 NBA season.
This September, I’ll be publishing a series of articles that analyze the roster player-by-player. This will be less about wins and losses and more what to expect from each player as the season progresses. For this week, I’ll analyze the possible starting five (i.e. Holiday, DiVincenzo, Middleton, G. Antetokounmpo, and Lopez).
Who’s starting for the Bucks?: Jrue Holiday
To recall, Bucks point guard Jrue Holiday was one of the bigger questions heading into the 2020-21 season. After all, Bucks General Manager Jon Horst practically bankrolled the team’s future in a four-team trade in hopes that Holiday would address some of the team’s weaknesses.
We all know how that paid off later on. It was a gutsy move that ultimately paid off as Holiday’s defense proved pivotal at various points throughout the regular season and again in the playoffs. With Holiday’s four-year max extension, he’ll likely remain a pivotal player for Milwaukee for several years.
Jrue Holiday finished the season averaging 17.7 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 6.1 APG on 32.3 minutes played. Holiday maintained a 50.3 FG%, 39.2 3P%, and 78.7 FT%. Overall, this is a very solid stat line considering Holiday is the Bucks’ third scoring option behind Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
Although Holiday provided significant offense for the Bucks, it was his defense that was the difference-maker. This was proven true time and time again throughout the season, most famously with the “Valley-Oop” in the closing seconds of game 5 of the NBA Finals. Holiday’s defensive efforts ultimately paid off with him being named first-team all-defense at the end of the season.
Although Holiday was a huge part of the Bucks’ championship run, he had several stretches of miserable offensive output during the playoffs. Although he ultimately stepped up in big moments (especially while Giannis was injured in the Eastern Conference Finals), there were other points where he missed easy lay-ups and bricked wide open 3 point attempts. These problems often earned him unfair comparisons to his predecessor, Eric Bledsoe. Ultimately, what will Holiday’s offense look like in 2021-22?
Another question surrounding Holiday is his age. When the Bucks’ signed Holiday to a max extension, many fans were quick to point out that he’s 31 years old. Although advances in sports medicine have increased player durability considerably, will Holiday be able to stay healthy throughout the season, especially considering the shortened off-season?
Jrue Holiday will perform as expected in the ’21-22 season, combining steady offense with vicious, ball hawking defense. The shortened off-season (made shorter by his role in the Olympics) might be a reasonable cause for concern. Despite that, there’s little evidence that Bucks’ fans should expect a major drop-off in Holiday’s overall production.
Donte DiVincenzo is the biggest question mark heading into the 2021-22 season. Although the young shooting guard was fairly solid in his first season as a starter, his future remains unclear, especially with the acquisition of Grayson Allen from the Memphis Grizzlies.
In his first season as a starter, DiVincenzo put up a healthy stat line. He provided 10.4 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 3.1 APG off 27.5 minutes. In terms of shooting, he maintained a 42 FG%, 37.9 3P%, and 71.8 FT%. Overall, this is not a bad season for a young player experiencing his first season as a starter.
Despite his acceptable numbers, Donte often proved inconsistent on offense during regular season and could sometimes be a liability. For instance, Donte sometimes had the bad habit of attempting Steph Curry-esque shots from the logo, with predictably poor results. Despite this, DiVincenzo proved to be a reliable rebounder and defender, so even during poor shooting nights he contributed in other ways.
Regrettably, DiVincenzo suffered a season ending injury in his left foot in Round 1, Game 3 of the Playoffs against the Miami Heat. This injury raises the most obvious questions about DiVincenzo entering the 2021-22 season. Will he be able to play at the beginning of the season? If Grayson Allen performs at a high level starting in his absence, will Budenholzer return Donte to the starting line-up when he’s cleared to play? Finally, will Donte be the same player?
These are all difficult questions to answer. Donte’s injury means he won’t be able to participate in pre-season workouts and practices. The best case scenario is he doesn’t regress. The Bucks already attempted to trade DiVincenzo once, will they attempt to do so again in a mid-season trade?
Donte’s future depends heavily on his health. It’s very possible Donte will start the season coming off the bench, even if he’s medically cleared to play. Beyond that, DiVincenzo’s future with the Milwaukee Bucks depends on how well Grayson Allen performs. As stated before, the best case scenario for Donte is he doesn’t regress in the 2021-22 season. Ultimately, if Allen outperforms DiVincenzo, it’s difficult to see a future where he isn’t part of a mid-season trade.
Providing reliable scoring with underrated defensive prowess, Khris Middleton is a mainstay of this Bucks team. Given his pivotal role on this team, there are very few questions about Middleton heading into the 2021-22.
Few players on this Bucks team have been subjected to more scrutiny than Khris Middleton. National pundits and Bucks fans alike questioned whether Middleton could be the 2nd option on a championship team. Middleton put all those questions to bed in the 2020-21 season. Whether it was hitting the game winning shot in Game 1 against the Miami Heat, or carrying the team as the primary scorer in the Eastern Conference Finals after Giannis’ injury, Khris Middleton proved that he is, indeed, good.
Middleton finished the 2020-21 regular season with 20.4 PPG, 6 RPG, and 5.4 APG. In terms of shooting, he maintained strong percentages throughout the season, finishing with a 47.6 FG%, 41.4 3P%, and 89.8 FT%, just barely missing joining the 50-40-90 Club for the 2nd straight season.
Aside from his obvious offensive prowess, Khris Middleton provides strong defense. On a recent episode of his podcast “The Long Shot”, Miami Heat SG, Duncan Robinson praised Middleton’s defense, saying “He’s always locked in…He’s physical, and he’s smart with how he defends.” Although defense isn’t the first thing most fans think of when it comes to Middleton, it’s a significant part of his game.
Beyond his physical play, Middleton took a major step forward as a leader for the Bucks. Although he’s well known for his reserved personality, there were several moments where Middleton showed his ability to be vocal with his teammates. He confronted Bobby Portis in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, led the team against Atlanta, and even got into a heated argument with Giannis Antetokounmpo against the Heat.
There are few questions about Middleton entering the 2021-22 season. He is healthy and arguably playing the best basketball of his career. The primary question is, will he continue his evolution as a vocal leader on this Bucks team? With Middleton and Antetokounmpo both being naturally quiet individuals, the Bucks often suffered from a lack of clear leadership. Will Middleton continue to grow in that role?
Khris Middleton will continue to play at a high level in the 2021-22 season. Bucks fans know what to expect from Middleton and there’s little to suggest anything will change. Ultimately, fans should expect Middleton to continue to grow as a leader.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is the only player with fewer questions surrounding him than Khris Middleton. Giannis is the superstar of this Bucks team and will remain so in 2021-22.
Giannis produced at the level fans expected throughout the 2020-21 season. Giannis finished the season with 28.1 PPG, 11 RPG, and 5.9 APG. His free throws and 3 point shooting remained abyssmal throughout 2020-21, but the 2 time MVP continued to dominate the paint with his length, agility, and strength. Giannis capped off a memorable year by dropping 50 points in Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Phoenix Suns to secure the first Bucks championship since 1971.
Although fans mostly know what to expect from Giannis, there a few questions entering next season. The first (and obvious) question is whether his free throw shooting will improve? Moreover, his mid-range fadeaway showed significant improvement at various points in the 2020-21 season. Will he continue to develop that shot and make it on a more consistent basis? Finally, like Middleton, will Giannis continue to grow as a leader on this team?
Giannis will have another dominant season in 2021-22. Although it’s unreasonable to expect his 3 point shot will improve, fans should expect him to develop his midrange shots (especially the fadeway) as the season progresses. Ultimately, Giannis will continue to dominate the paint en route to his third MVP award.
Brook Lopez has been both an asset and a liability since signing with the Bucks in 2018. The 7 foot center out of Stanford maintains a wide range of offensive capabilities with stifling defense in the paint. Despite this, he’s been inconsistent at times and is often exposed defensively due to his difficulty with closing out on shooters.
Brook Lopez had a difficult time last season, especially early. With the new defensive switching Mike Budenholzer introduced to the team, Lopez could no longer simply stand in the paint. His lack of mobility often exposed him when trying to close out on shooters during pick and roll situations. Lopez improved significantly as the season progressed, but the Bucks often found more success with a “small ball” line-up with Giannis at the 5.
Brook finished the 2020-21 season with 12.3 PPG, 5 RPG, and 0.7 APG. Shooting wise, Brook finished with a 50.3 FG%, 33.8 3P%, and 84.5 FT%. Although nothing about his stat line is particularly impressive, Brook found success in the post this season. This change in Brook’s usage on offense took significant pressure off Giannis as it hampered opponents’ ability to build the wall.
Ultimately, Brook’s most memorable moment in the 2020-21 season came in Game 7 against the Brooklyn Nets where he blocked Kevin Durant in overtime to keep the score tied at 111.
Brook Lopez is an excellent center, but his issues with defensive switching raise several questions for his starting prospects. As he gets older, will he be fast enough to close out on shooters? Will the Bucks spend more time with Giannis at the 5 as the season progresses? Lastly, will the Bucks continue to make good use of Lopez in the post?
Brook Lopez will continue to play a key part in the 2021-22 Milwaukee Bucks, but with fewer minutes. Although he got better at closeouts as the season progressed, he still got exposed at various points. The Bucks will likely spend more time with Giannis or Bobby Portis at the 5, as they did in the Finals. Despite this, it’s useful to have a large, traditional center like Brook Lopez. Ultimately, he will likely be used more situationally but effectively.
Who’s starting for the Bucks?: Final Analysis
The Milwaukee Bucks are in an enviable position with a solid starting five with few major questions surrounding them. The biggest question is Donte DiVincenzo. If his foot continues to be a concern and Grayson Allen produces at a high level, it’s very possible the Bucks will make Allen a permanent starter. Despite this, Bucks fans should expect the starting five to play at a high level.
For More Great Wisconsin Sports Content
Follow me on Twitter at @BucksinVA and follow us @WiscoHeroics1 for more great content. Check out our merch page here and use promo code Wisco at check out for $1 off! To read more of our articles and keep up to date on the latest in Wisconsin sports, click here!