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Around the East, Part II: Milwaukee Bucks

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Brian Fleurantin continues his look at teams around the Eastern Conference. After looking at the Cavaliers last week, he moves on to Milwaukee, who we're told has a new head coach. The Nets welcome the Bucks to Barclays Center on November 19.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The last five years have been interesting for the Milwaukee Bucks. In a weakened bottom half of the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee made the postseason twice and tried to make moves that would improve their standing in the East. Not all of the moves worked out, and now the Bucks appear to be in the midst of a rebuilding program.

Last year

How'd last season go? Let's check the stats:

2013-2014 Season

Milwaukee

Record

15-67

Pace

94.28

Offensive Efficiency

100.2

Defensive Efficiency

108.9

Assist Rate

16.7

Turnover Rate

15.8

Offensive Rebounding Rate

27.1

Rebounding Rate

48.6

Free Throw Rate

27.4

Effective Field Goal Percentage

47.9

Opponent's Effective Field Goal Percentage

52

With all of the discussion surrounding the Sixers and the ethics of tanking, it was Milwaukee that actually had the worst record in the league last season. The Bucks went 15-67 as a combination of injuries and career worst performances by key players torpedoed their season.

What were the big offseason moves?

Net fans know the answer to this one. After a successful rookie coaching campaign, Jason Kidd tried to pull a power play in Brooklyn but that didn't work out. Instead, Kidd ended up replacing Larry Drew as the head coach.

On the personnel side of things, the Bucks drafted a potential franchise player in Jabari Parker with the second overall pick. There's a lot to like about the former Blue Devil and Tyler Lashbrook breaks it down over at the mothership:

Parker's overall skill level is absurd for his size: He's huge (6'8, 240 lbs, 7' wingspan), but he handles the ball like a guard. He can beat slow-footed power forwards from the perimeter with a mix of advanced dribble moves, but he's strong enough to bully thinner forwards on the block. Parker can drive with his left or right hand and finish through traffic with either. He also has deep range, shooting 36 percent from behind the arc in his freshman season.

Outside of the draft, the Bucks did make some moves that will provide more depth to the roster. They picked up veteran wing man Jared Dudley along with a future first round pick from the Clipperssigned Jerryd Bayless, and claimed Kendall Marshall off of waivers. None of these moves are game changers, but they do provide a little more flexibility for a still developing roster.

What are the team's strengths?

When he's healthy, Sanders is one of the league's best defensive big men. In his last full season, he averaged almost three blocks a game, but his defense was more than that. Standing at 6'11, he has the length and quickness (and the verticality rule to boot) to hassle players as they shoot near the rim. In his last full season (2012-2013), the Bucks were seven points per 100 possessions better on defense when he was on the court. Last year, with Sanders out most of the year, the Bucks allowed 108.9 points per 100 possessions, the second highest in the league. What makes that even more impressive was he played 922 minutes with Monta Ellis, Brandon Jennings and Ilyasova, three poorly regarded defenders. Provided he can stay healthy and out of trouble, his defense will help the Bucks be respectable and cement his status as a contributor for the Bucks going forward.

Along with Sanders on the frontline is John Henson. The big guy from North Carolina saw his offensive game take a step forward in his second season as his field goal percentage and passing improve over his rookie season. Like Sanders, the overwhelming majority of his offense came close to the basket, with two-thirds of his attempts inside of the restricted area. His play was inconsistent at times but he's shown enough flashes to be considered someone worth having on the roster.

You can never go wrong with having youth on the roster. As of this writing, nobody on the roster is 30 years old or older. It won't pay immediate dividends within the next two years or so, but with a young roster and young head coach, they can find themselves in playoff contention soon. With players as well regarded as Parker and Giannis, they should be a team to keep an eye on in the future if all goes well.

What are the team's weaknesses?

If the Bucks want to be competitive, they're gonna need improvements from their two highest players. Ersan Ilyasova has played well as a Buck and was someone I thought the Nets should take a look at in 2012. However, since signing his five year, $40 million extension in 2012, his play has taken a step back. An ankle injury he suffered in preseason lingered all season before he eventually had to shut it down in March. While he was on the court, the injury affected his game in a major way as he shot a career low 28.2 percent from three point range. There were reports that indicated they were looking to move him, but he's still here for the time being. As for O.J. Mayo, he's saying all of the right things about staying in shape and looking to rebound after a dreadful year.

For any coach, entering a new environment will be difficult at first. For a new coach that's only in his second year and changing teams after a messy exit from his place, it'll add just a little bit more to Jason Kidd's plate. With Brooklyn, Kidd apparently didn't push the players that hard in practice. He defended that decision, saying:

"We couldn’t. We were hurt. That’s just part of the game. What Joe said wasn’t a shock. Unfortunately, people outside took it as a shot. But it wasn’t a shot. We practiced when we could. We were an older group."

With a young roster that could use some seasoning, I wouldn't expect that to continue. As you would expect based on their record, the Bucks were terrible on both sides of the ball. Initially, Brooklyn started off terribly under Kidd and dealt with major injuries, but they were able to rebound and Kidd adjusted well to the changes around the team. Seeing how he does with such a young roster will be something worth keeping an eye on as the season progresses.

What are the goals for this team?

They won't be competing for the playoffs this year, but this is a great opportunity for the young players to develop. With Kidd in the fold for the foreseeable future (assuming he doesn't leave) and a nice bevy of young talent, this season will be all about development and placing them in position to compete in the near future.

G(iannis) Funk Era

Giannis Antetokounmpo is one of the more intriguing young players in the league. Although he averaged only 10 points per 36 minutes and shot 41 percent from the field, he showed enough potential to be named to the All Rookie second team. There was talk throughout the summer that Kidd was going to install him as the team's point guard. The team was even rumored to have brought in Gary Payton to work as a "special advisor" for Giannis, but that didn't turn out to be the case. Even without The Glove, Giannis will be under the tutelage of one of the league's greatest point guards.

One area Giannis can stand to improve on is his jump shooting. He shot a respectable 34.7 percent on his three point attempts, but only 26.1 percent on his total jump shots. If he can become a more consistent shooter from 15 feet and further, it will add another dimension to his budding game. He committed a fair amount of turnovers last year, and even if he doesn't end up playing point guard (Brandon Knight sure as hell hopes he doesn't), he will still have the ball in his hands a lot this year. Having that responsibility of orchestrating the offense will do wonders for his confidence and create a lot of unique scoring opportunities for his teammates.

The defense still sucked, but the Bucks were a bit better when Giannis was on the floor. They were two points per 100 possessions better and generated more turnovers when he was on the court. It's easy to see how the Bucks were able to perform better when he was on the court. Giannis stands at 6'11, has the wingspan of a seven footer, and is fairly quick. The scariest thing to consider is the fact that he's still growing. That combination of length and quickness presents a nightmare for the players Giannis guards. He's a bit on the thin side (reported 217 pounds), but he has more than enough positive attributes to compensate for it.

For a team that's expected to occupy a position at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, the Bucks and their fans have reason to be optimistic going forward. Parker is expected to be a major player, the arena issue should be resolved soon, and Giannis is an engaging player that is only getting better. Watch this space and around this time next year, the Bucks should be continuing their ascent back to respectability.

More reading: Brew Hoop