2017-18 Record: 44-38 (seventh in East)
Players Added: Pat Connaughton (free agency), Donte DiVincenzo (draft), Ersan Ilyasova (free agency), Brook Lopez (free agency)
Players Lost: Brandon Jennings (waivers), Jabari Parker (free agency)
Projected Team MVP: Giannis Antetokounmpo
This is an obvious choice and anything else would just be wrong. Antetokounmpo is not only the best player on the Bucks roster by a wide margin, but he is also a trendy preseason pick for the league-wide MVP award. It seems wild to consider that Antetokounmpo is (still) only 23 years old but, after a season in which he averaged 26.9 points, 10 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game, the multi-talented forward could be poised for another jump.
The addition of Mike Budenholzer as the team’s head coach should do wonders for Milwaukee’s entire roster but, in the case of Antetokounmpo, having an above-average coach at the helm for the first time in his career could be crucial. Make no mistake, his statistical production from last season is hard to improve on but Antetokounmpo has the tools to be an elite defender and, if he can add that legitimately top-tier play to his already ridiculous skill set, the rest of the league is in serious trouble.
Team X-Factor: Eric Bledsoe
In 71 regular season games after arriving in a trade from Phoenix, Bledsoe averaged 17.8 points and 5.1 assists per game. Those are, of course, very solid numbers and the team was much better during the regular season when Bledsoe was on the floor.
With that said, it would be hard to come away from the postseason with a positive opinion of Bledsoe’s overall play and he was under the national microscope for less than stellar play. On the bright side, Budenholzer has a tremendous track record of coaxing production out of point guards in Atlanta but Bledsoe is capable of much more than he was able to show at times during his first season in Milwaukee.
The Bucks have other options, including Malcolm Brogdon, but Bledsoe is the team’s third best player (trailing Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton) and it would be helpful if he was his best self all season long. There is reason to believe he can do that.
Best Case Scenario:
For the most part, there is a consensus that the Eastern Conference features a three-team tier at the top. The Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors return impressive rosters and, in short, it would be a surprise if any other team crashed the party.
With that as the backdrop, it would be aggressive to full-on project the Bucks to make a leap into that class but Milwaukee is best suited for it when compared to the rest of the East. Antetokounmpo is perhaps the best player in the conference, Middleton is a legitimate No. 2 and the Bucks are more talented than their previous results indicate. The big question is Budenholzer’s impact but, if all goes well, 50-plus victories and a top-four seed are in the cards, with upward mobility beyond that when accompanied by an MVP-quality campaign from Antetokounmpo.
Worst Case Scenario:
Barring a long-term injury to Antetokounmpo, there is a relatively high floor here. The Bucks finished with 42 and 44 in the last two seasons, respectively, and that probably represents the floor for this season.
If you try very hard to get as dark as possible, a scenario might exist where the backcourt falls apart, with Bledsoe repeating his playoff woes and a long-term adjustment period taking place under the new coaching regime. Still, Antetokounmpo really helps to remove most disaster potential from the table and, in all honesty, the team’s centerpiece staying on the floor cures a lot of ills.