The Bucks Use Free Agency to Prove That Last Season Wasn’t a Fluke

The Bucks started off free agency by quickly addressing their offseason needs, bringing back Brook Lopez (four-year, $52 million contract), Khris Middleton (five-year, $178 million contract) and George Hill (three-year, $29 million contract) to a 60-win team from a season ago.

“We are not done. The goal wasn’t to reach the Eastern Conference Finals — we are on a mission to win a championship. I want to be a part of that mission, which is why I am staying here in Milwaukee for the next five years,” Middleton wrote for ESPN.

Middleton’s price point might seem high, but the perimeter star was one of four players to put up at least 18 points, five rebounds and four assists per game last season while shooting at least 37 percent from behind the arc.

Milwaukee possibly got a bargain on Middleton considering that Tobias Harris and Klay Thompson went for $180 million and $190 million on their respective five-year deals.

2018-19 Season Splits Points Assists Rebounds FG % 3-point % Offensive Rating Defensive Rating
Khris Middleton 18.3 4.3 6.0 44.1 37.8 114.7 104.2
Klay Thompson 21.5 2.4 3.8 46.7 40.2 115.0 108.5
Tobias Harris 20.0 2.8 7.9 48.7 39.7 110.9 110.5

 

With Lopez, Middleton and Hill back in the fold, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer will be able to build off last year’s success. But despite re-signing many familiar faces, the Bucks had to make some tough decisions this week.

In an attempt to gain back assets, Milwaukee traded restricted free agent Malcolm Brogdon to the Pacers, who inked him to a four-year, $85 million deal. Brogdon became the 10th player in league history to go 50-40-90 in a season, but his efficiency didn’t match his price point. That’s because the injury-prone guard only scored 25 or more points once during 71 games (including the playoffs).

For a team looking to avoid the luxury tax, Brogdon was a player it could afford to lose. Milwaukee did well to recoup draft assets in return, especially the protected first-round pick that they acquired. Consistently adding cost-controlled young players is important when building a perennial contender, and the Bucks did just that by adding solid capital through both the Brogdon deal and their draft-night trade with Detroit.

Don’t underestimate the importance of the luxury tax equation.

With Antetokounmpo eligible to sign a supermax extension next summer, Milwaukee’s roster will get expensive fast, and by letting Brogdon go, the Bucks (for now) avoid becoming a repeat tax offender. That means they’ll be counting on young players like D.J. Wilson and Donte DiVincenzo to step up — more on them in a moment.

Luckily for Milwaukee, their overall performance on the court won’t suffer much from Brogdon’s departure. The Bucks played a five-man lineup consisting of Antetokounmpo-Hill-Bledsoe-Middleton-Lopez for just 33 minutes last season, but that group produced the team’s second-best net rating and best defensive rating among the lineups with at least 30 minutes played together. Those ratings will surely drop as that unit spends more time on the floor, but it should still be an extremely dominant lineup for the Bucks.

As for the four-man lineup of Antetokounmpo-Hill-Lopez-Middleton, they ranked third in point differential for Milwaukee last season. Diving deeper, in the Bucks’ top-three four-man lineups, Antetokounmpo and Middleton were featured in two while Lopez was in all three. Bledsoe, Hill and Brogdon were in one each.

Those numbers help tell us which players provide the most value across different lineup combinations. Factor that in with the contract that was required to keep Brogdon, and Milwaukee’s decision to trade him becomes more justified.

The Bucks will also have to integrate the aforementioned Wilson and DiVincenzo in next season’s rotation. After spot duty from both players, there’s encouraging signs for the pair of youngsters — especially Wilson.

DJ Wilson 2018-19 Splits Minutes Points Assists Rebounds FG % 3-Point % Basketball-Reference.com Game Score
First 27 Games 19.0 6.0 1.0 4.7 44.3 38.6 5.1
Last 14 Games 21.9 7.9 1.7 5.5 40.2 37.5 6.4

 

Wilson’s splits look similar, except for two very important numbers.

In the first stretch, Wilson inexplicably shot 39.3 percent from the free throw line. In the second set, he shot 78.9 percent. His true free throw percentage over the course of a full season will probably fall in between those extremes, but the Bucks will hope his last 14 games are a better indicator of his ability.

The second number is Wilson’s 3-point percentage, which is great for a stretch big man. At 6-10, Wilson qualifies as a power forward, and his shooting could mitigate the loss of Nikola Mirotic. The Bucks went crazy from deep last season, attempting the second-most 3-pointers in the league after finishing 25th in attempts in 2017-18, and Wilson will get opportunities to make his mark from behind the arc.

DiVincenzo missed the end of the season with bilateral heel bursitis, but he’s another key piece for Milwaukee. While he struggled in 27 appearances, he should benefit from playing in Budenholzer’s modern offense that will allow him to display the sharpshooting he perfected in college at Villanova.

Milwaukee is placing confidence in its young players and Antetokounmpo, believing their MVP can carry the same roster — along with a few new players — to the NBA Finals, and the pieces are in place for Milwaukee to be a championship contender again.

MORE: Early Winners and Losers in 2019 NBA Free Agency