The Good Land indeed. It has been a magic time on the western shores of Lake Michigan. Winter became a distant memory, Summerfest returned, and after 50 years, the Milwaukee Bucks are NBA Champions. Though fall is in the air, everything is still glowy up here. This kind of joy will do that to a place:
Out: PJ Tucker, Bryn Forbes, Jeff Teague
With most of the roles and salaries locked into a championship core, Milwaukee spent the offseason tinkering with the bench and seeking steadier production among their reserves. Veteran defender PJ Tucker (Welcome to Miami) and three-point marksman Bryn Forbes (evidently had forgotten the Alamo and is returning to make sure he commits it to memory this time around) are on to greener pastures, as is longtime Mike Budenholzer confidant Jeff Teague.
After being included in the deal to bring in Jrue Holiday, the steady if unsurprising George Hill now returns to Milwaukee to backup the Gold Medal guard. Joining him on the bench are newcomers Rodney Hood, who is perhaps fully recovered from a 2019 Achilles tear, and fellow Duke alum Grayson Allen. Both Blue Devils will be tasked with spelling Olympic Champion Khris Middleton on the wing and filling in around shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo, who is still limited following surgery on his injured ankle/foot. Semi Ojeleye slides over from Boston’s bench into the undersized tough-guy role previously held by PJ Tucker, and if he could find a way to hit corner threes, he could find a home.
|Starter||Jrue Holiday||Donte DiVincenzo (INJURED)||Khris Middleton||Giannis Antetokounmpo||Brook Lopez|
|Bench||George Hill||Pat Connaughton||Rodney Hood||Thanasis Antetokounmpo||Bobby Portis|
|Bench||Grayson Allen||Jordan Nwora||Semi Ojeleye||Mamadi Diakite|
|Depth||Justin Robinson*||Elijah Bryant||Georgios Kalaitzakis||Sandro Mamukelashvili*|
* Two-way contracts
The cost of acquiring Jrue Holiday (Eric Bledsoe, Hill, and boatload of picks) from the Pelicans was steep but ultimately worth it for the Bucks, as it’s impossible to see Milwaukee breaking through their fifty-year championship drought without the timely and courageous play of their 31-year-old lead guard. He’ll be immortalized locally for ripping Book and throwing the lob to Giannis, but he was vital to get past the Nets too, despite struggling mightily at times. From a fantasy perspective, Holiday’s steals are elite, and the rest of the package ain’t bad either. He’s a solid source of assists, rebounds, and points on good-enough percentages (the FG% was north of 50 for the first time in his career last year, a pleasant development.) With good health, he’s a top-40 player without batting an eye and his ceiling is closer to top-20.
The only potential knock on Jrue is the possibility of missed time. Generally speaking, Holiday has been available for the last four or five seasons (last year’s numbers were dinged because of a Covid absence), but he’s been playing extremely high level basketball ever since returning to court in March. The pandemic is still mangling the NBA calendar, so there hasn’t been much rest for Jrue, who hopped on a plane to the Tokyo Olympics still smelling like the championship parade. Maybe there’s more load management this time around, but I’m still not letting him slip past the 5th round.
George Hill is an “in case of emergency: break glass” kind of player in most standard leagues, as his value is inversely tied to Holiday’s health. Justin Robinson is on a two-way contract, so it’s really just Jrue that we’re talking about here.
I’m legitimately fascinated to see what the Bucks do to get through the remainder of Donte DiVincenzo’s injury and rehab. The Big Ragu had a padlock on the second guard gig prior to his injury, and provided okay-ish numbers last season — mostly via triples, rebounds and steals. Despite playing in a feverish offense, Donte wasn’t asked to carry a ton of water, and spent a lot of time standing in the corner last year. Even under optimal circumstances, I wasn’t super bullish on him, and a late-season surgery is hardly optimal. He’ll be an important piece for the title defense, as his ability to guard could be really valuable come playoffs, but because of the injury I’m definitely fading him. You’ll get him at a discount, but I’d rather have the roster spot.
Pat Connaughton, despite some extremely significant threes in the Finals, also doesn’t do much for me, even if he’s the one who lands the starting gig (something that I’m not entirely certain of). If I’m compelled to pick a Milwaukee guard not named Holiday, my selection would probably be the newly acquired Grayson Allen, who played a career best 25 MPG in a crowded Grizzlies backcourt last year and put up per 36 minutes that are serviceable:
15.2/4.6/3.1/1.3/0.2 with 3.1 made threes on 42.3% FG and 86.8% FT.
I could be interested.
Copy and paste my concerns about Jrue Holiday and apply them here to Khris Middleton, as Khash also had a golden summer that had almost no break. That said, dude is a metronome between the lines and he almost never misses games. Money only has two seasons where he averaged less than 30 MPG and appeared in fewer than 60 games: 2017 and his rookie year in Detroit. Like Holiday, he’s a known commodity who is a lock for 4th-round value or better if he’s on the floor.
Things get thin in a hurry behind Middleton, as Rodney Hood is the only other wing with the size (Hood is 6’8” compared to Allen’s 6’4” or Connaughton’s 6’5”) to hold up against the bigger bodies on the perimeter. Razzball writer Grizz said nice things about Georgios Kalaitzakis’ summer league, and Jordan Nwora is looking to improve on his modest 9 MPG, but there isn’t a ton to love with either — at least on draft day. A Middleton injury would be devastating. Hood is the insurance policy, such as it is.
Is there any way we can convince Giannis Antetokounmpo that every game is part of the NBA Finals? G shot 68.5% from the free-throw line during the regular season, 58.7% during the playoffs in general, and 77.3% (!!!) during the Finals. Woes from the charity stripe sink the Greek Freak’s claim to the very first picks of a draft, and the adventurous spirit that has encouraged him to try three pointers also doesn’t help. Despite the lack of production there, Giannis is a top-5 producer in points and rebounds, a huge help in FG%, and chips in the defensive stats and dimes. There are holes here that make him a less attractive first-round option, but he’s a Finals MVP who put up a 50 piece to seal a ring. To quote another Finals MVP, the ceiling is the roof.
Like with Middleton (and Jrue — funny how that happened…), the lack of depth behind Antetokounmpo leaves plenty to be desired. Big brother Thanasis Antetokounmpo might be the best hype man this side of Bango, but he’s a non-factor for the game we play. Semi Ojeleye improved his situation by moving from the bench for an Eastern Conference pretender to an actually good team, but that doesn’t mean we have to draft him.
The dearly beloved Bobby Portis was retained with the idea in mind that he’ll continue to provide scoring off the bench at both the 4 and the 5. He’s a fan favorite (Bobby! Bobby! Bobby!) but the upside is limited to a buckets, rebounding, FG% play. Last year was BP’s best as a pro — and arguably the one where he was only asked to do the things he’s best at — but that was still only good enough for a top 120 finish. The playoff shine might result in him being overdrafted and I don’t think you really need to reach.
At the pivot, things are trending in the wrong direction for Brook Lopez. Splash Mountain finished as the 85th most valuable player on a per game basis last season, which is about 35 spots worse than he was the season prior. The7 main culprit? The blocks total took a nosedive — down from 2.4 to 1.5. Brook can be valuable in a certain type of build, as there aren’t many centers who are canning 1.5 threes per game, but be aware of the cost they come at. If you draft Brook, you’ll need to buttress the FG% and boards, as both are light for a big man.