How much has the Milwaukee Bucks improved its roster?
Welcome to The Glow Up. This is the first and potentially only entrance in the series, as I thought of the title on the spot before writing (creative, I know). I’m going to be comparing the 2019-20 roster of the Milwaukee Bucks with their new and improved (?) 2020-21 roster. That question mark is just for teasing, they really did improve.
First, let’s look at last year’s squad. The starting lineup was made up of Eric Bledsoe, Wesley Matthews, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Brook Lopez. The main contributors off the bench were George Hill, Donte DiVencenzo, Pat Connaughton, Marvin Williams, and Robin Lopez. I’m just going to cover the top ten for each roster, deal with it.
That squad led the Bucks to first in the NBA and Eastern conference at 56-17. They advanced to the second round of the playoffs where they were somewhat upset by the Miami Heat. With Giannis’ contract up after this upcoming season, the mandate was clear: a better finish in the playoffs is essential and upgrades to the roster were necessary for that.
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The Bucks lost two members of its starting lineup and three of its bench mob due to various reasons. Bledsoe and Hill were traded for Jrue Holiday who we will discuss further in the next section. Bledsoe, who made two straight All-Defensive teams, was the Bucks’ pace-setter on defense and was a big reason for the regular season success for the team. He was equally as known for his playoff performances, or lack thereof. Hill was perhaps the purest shooter on the Bucks and provided a calming presence off the bench.
Marvin Williams retired and we wish him much luck in his next life endeavor, whatever that may be. Matthews and Lopez left for other teams. The latter to the Wizards as his minutes began to dwindle in Milwaukee and was able to secure a decent contract in Washington. Wesley on the other hand essentially turned down a chance to return to the Bucks and took a contract with the reigning champion Los Angeles Lakers.
That one hurts. Wes was a pitbull on defense and could hit open shots. He was also mysteriously removed from the rotation in the playoffs despite being the most impactful defender against Jimmy Butler while the Heat was embarrassing the Bucks.
Fret not Bucklings (the cutest way to refer to us depressed Bucks fans), GM Jon Horst was able to pivot. The aforementioned Bledsoe and Hill trade landed the Bucks Jrue Holiday *angelic ‘ahhhhh’ sound effect here please*.
Jrue Holiday is potentially the best guard defender in the NBA while also being capable of putting up 20-plus points on any given night. Imagine a taller, stronger version of Bledsoe but significantly better on both sides of the ball. To sum it up, the Bucks secured a legitimate third star for the roster.
The Bucks had plans to acquire the sweet-shooting Bogdan Bogdanovic from the Sacramento Kings but the deal fell apart due to the deal being announced before the beginning of free agency and was basically voided. That one hurt a lot. But Horst pivots! The Bucks retooled their bench by adding specialists and younger talent.
Bryn Forbes is the likely fifth starter at this point. It just makes sense considering his strengths and weaknesses. He comes over from San Antonio and is what I would describe as a ‘bucket getter’. He can score from many spots on the floor and shoots 40 percent from 3 for his career. The downside is the defense. He’s had a negative DBPM every season of his career. There is some hope that being in Bud’s ‘team defense’ system that there will be some improvement. Not being able to be worth much defensively under Gregg Popovich should be worrying, though.
The new backup point guard is D.J. Augustin. Augustin has been one of the more solid starting point guards in the league for Orlando in recent years. He can hit open shots, create out of the pick and roll, and has excellent vision. His defensive deficiencies are less attributed to effort and more so due to his small stature (5-11, 183lbs).
The new defensive specialist is Torrey Craig. Craig comes over from the Denver Nuggets, where player development is almost guaranteed. Seriously, everyone they acquire young develops. Craig does not provide much on offense, and he only shoots 32 percent from 3 for his career. Where he will provide, is on defense. He can guard positions 1-4 and at a decent level. His minutes may dwindle in the playoffs (although knowing Bud he might bench Giannis for him for no reason), but he will be good enough to keep the Bucks on top of the East.
Lastly, the Bucks acquired Bobby Portis, whom they should have drafted in the 2015 draft over Rashad Vaughn (if you don’t recognize the name, exactly). Portis might be the first big four that can play with Giannis-at-center lineups that the Bucks have had since Giannis became very good. He brings a paint presence, decent shooting (36% from 3 for his career), and an intensity that has been sorely missed on the Bucks.
Many of the Bucks’ top players have been mild-mannered in the past few years. Which is fine! But there is a tendency for teams with that mentality to falter when the stakes are highest, as we’ve observed. Having one of those goons (for lack of a better term) that can get the whole team fired up with their play is necessary for getting over the championship hump.
The Bucks got better, bottom line. Replacing Bledsoe with Jrue is a MASSIVE upgrade. It’ll only take a few weeks of play for everyone to understand that. Even if that was the only move made this offseason, the Bucks improved more than marginally. They added a slight downgrade at the backup point guard and added several high powered bench players.
What is maybe most important though, is that the Bucks replaced five players with an average age of 32 with five players whose average age is 28.8. Getting younger is integral to keeping the Bucks competitive for years to come. Conclusion: They done Glowed Up! (ugh sorry about that, thanks for reading guys).