Bucks’ Offseason Recap

Greg Monroe is taking his talents to Milwaukee
Greg Monroe is taking his talents to Milwaukee.

It’s been an exciting offseason in Milwaukee. Riding the high off last season’s resurgence and with a new arena on the horizon, the Bucks’ new owners proved they were willing to spend big to win. In fact, signing two separate players to maximum contracts resulted in Milwaukee’s flashiest free agency period in a very long time.

Some of the excitement has worn off, however, in the wake of a couple of questionable trades that GM John Hammond and upper management have recently made. Clearly focusing on youth, the Bucks shipped off several key veterans in trades, hoping to open up playing time for their youthful roster that is now entirely 28 and under. Let’s briefly review the Bucks’ moves this offseason.

Bucks trade Ersan Ilyasova to Detroit Pistons

The first move of a busy offseason for the Bucks saw their longest tenured player, Ersan Ilyasova, traded to the Pistons for Caron Butler and Shawne Williams, both of whom were waived to create salary cap space.

In a vacuum, this move makes complete sense – the Bucks had a logjam in the frontcourt and Ilyasova was overpaid as a stretch-four who plays mediocre defense and has shot only 33.5% from three since the 2012-2013 season. The move to create financial flexibility ended up being paramount, as it helped them resign Khris Middleton and sign Greg Monroe, both of whom I’ll come back to later. Unfortunately, however, none of these moves happen in a vacuum; trading Ilyasova only made sense with Jared Dudley on the roster. As you’ll see later, he’s not.

Financially, this move really helped the Bucks make some big signings this offseason, but a lack of spacing in the frontcourt could prove tough to overcome for this young Bucks squad. Here is our original take on the trade.

Final Grade: B

Bucks draft Rashad Vaughn 17th overall

The jury’s still out on on the 18-year old Vaughn, a shooting guard the Bucks drafted out of UNLV in the first round. He fits in with the abundance of youth on the roster, and could prove to be the go-to scoring guard of the future, if that day ever comes. Until then, he is the backup to Khris Middleton and O.J. Mayo and will have plenty of time to work on the several flaws in his game.

Some people (including me) thought there were better options available for the Bucks at seventeen, but Vaughn has clear offensive upside and Hammond has an impressive drafting résumé. He’s looked solid so far playing for the Bucks in the NBA Summer League, though not much has changed since my original analysis.

Final Grade: Too early to know

Bucks trade for Greivis Vasquez

Before selecting Vaughn 17th overall, John Hammond was already busy trying to upgrade the roster elsewhere. He ended up trading a lottery-protected 2017 first round pick (originally belonging to the Clippers) and the rights to the 46th pick of the 2015 NBA Draft – which turned about to be SG Norman Powell out of UCLA – to Toronto for Vasquez.

To me, this represented the first in a series of questionable trades, one that didn’t really fit in with the rest of the offseason moves. Many agreed that Hammond gave up too much value for Vasquez – a late first round pick and a mid-second round pick for a 28 year old backup point guard is confusing on the surface. But the picture gets even cloudier when looking at the bigger picture; the Bucks already had a quality (and much cheaper) backup point guard in Jarryd Bayless and Vasquez is at best an average defender and three-point shooter.

There are still positives to Vasquez’s game, however, which is why this trade could still prove to be fruitful. Playmaking is an area of need for the Bucks, and Vasquez led the league in assists as a full-time starter in New Orleans during the 2012-2013 season. At 6’6” he can play either guard position and should be able to slide in well alongside MCW in lineups with two point guards. If he can prove his 38% mark from beyond the arc for the last two seasons isn’t a fluke, then he should provide a nice dose of playmaking and shooting. If not, most will gripe he wasn’t worth giving up two draft picks. Click here to read more about the Vasquez trade.

Final Grade: C+

Middleton celebrates after a buzzer-beater over the Suns
Middleton celebrates after a buzzer-beater over the Suns.

Bucks resign Khris Middleton to Max Contract

There’s not too much to say about the Bucks resigning Khris Middleton to a 5-year, $70 million contract, other than it was the right move for Milwaukee. Once Brandon Knight was traded, Middleton was clearly the Bucks’ best and most consistent player on both ends of the floor. His long wingspan means he fits perfectly into Jason Kidd’s aggressive defensive scheme and he’s a 40% three-point shooter. Last season – his first full year as a starter – he averaged 13.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game on an effective field goal percentage of 53%.

Most importantly, Middleton is only 23! He has many years to grow with the Bucks’ young core and now has a series of playoff experience under his belt. Signing him to a max contract may seem like an overpay, but $14 million a year for (at the very least) an above average two-way shooting guard will feel like a bargain once the salary cap jumps up. He probably will never be a star, but as a smart wing who can space the floor and guard multiple positions, he profiles as the perfect #3 scoring option alongside Giannis and Jabari. Read here for more analysis.

Final Grade: A

Bucks sign Greg Monroe to Max Contract

Signing forward/center Greg Monroe to a 3-year, $50 million maximum contract was the biggest move of the Bucks offseason, and frankly the splashiest signing they’ve made in a very long time. Monroe isn’t on the level of LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love, but he’s a legitimate second-tier free agent that was sought after by much larger markets, including New York and Los Angeles. He has a player option for the third year, which means it’s likely he’ll leave after year two in order to take advantage of the salary cap increase set to take place over the next few years.

There’s a lot to like about Monroe’s fit in Milwaukee. Two of the Bucks’ most glaring weaknesses last season were rebounding and interior scoring. Crucially, these are Monroe’s two biggest strengths. He’s a back-to-the-basket bruiser who scores well around the rim, is an above average rebounder and a nifty passer. He immediately gives the Bucks someone they can dump the ball to in the post when they need a bucket, something they haven’t had in a long time. He’s a decent midrange shooter, which means he’ll be a nice fit at center with the Bucks’ long-armed wing assassins, but he can also play alongside John Henson in bigger lineups.

The biggest question mark about Monroe’s game is his defense, where he profiles as an average defender. But he played almost exclusively at power forward in Detroit, even though he’s probably more built to play center. The Bucks’ aggressive switching defense is the perfect scheme to cover up for his deficiencies, and it’s important to remember how much he can improve the Bucks’ defensive rebounding. Milwaukee should still be a top-ten defense with Monroe on the floor, and their offensive efficiency should greatly improve by starting someone who has averaged 15.6 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game over the last four years. Now that Monroe is playing in his more natural position and is the most reliable scoring option, it’s not out of the question to see his name on next year’s All-Star roster.

Read here for further analysis.

Final Grade: A-

Bucks trade Jared Dudley to Washington Wizards

Most of my thoughts on the Dudley trade can be found here. I don’t like the move. Trading a pick so highly protected that it’s essentially a second-round pick for your best floor-stretching wing who can also play power forward doesn’t make much sense to me. I understand the Bucks had to create roster space, but I don’t think this was the correct place to do it, especially now that we have four point guards on the roster. Dudley is a high-character guy who brought veteran leadership to the locker room, and he is also currently on a fairly-valued contract. He played a crucial role in the Bucks fighting back against the Bulls in last year’s playoff series. I think the Bucks will sorely miss his spacing, experience and help defense.

Final Grade: D+

Pachulia was shipped to the Mavericks
Pachulia was shipped to the Mavericks.

Bucks trade Zaza Pachulia to Dallas Mavericks

As our editor in chief Zach Rosen detailed here, the Bucks recently traded Zaza Pachulia to the Mavericks for a second round pick. Signing Monroe meant there weren’t enough minutes to go around at center, and at 31, the veteran Pachulia was deemed expendable. Zaza is a solid role player, a decent rebounder who can pass well from the elbows and plays hard-nosed defense, but he wasn’t a longterm option in Milwaukee. Trading him opens up cap flexibility, more minutes for our big men and also makes the Bucks’ roster considerably younger.

It makes sense to trade Zaza now that Monroe is in tow, although it would’ve been nice to get more than a second round pick for a starting-caliber center. Zaza was one of the Bucks’ most consistent players last year, and though his skills are replaceable I fear the Bucks undervalued his veteran leadership and years of experience. Overall I think this trade is a wash, though I know many fans in Milwaukee will miss his goofy demeanor and European accent.

Final Grade: B-

All in all, it’s been a busy and exciting offseason in Milwaukee. The addition of Greg Monroe, along with another year under Jason Kidd and more growth from the Bucks’ youth ensures that this is an improved team, one that could already be poised to make a run in the Eastern Conference. That said, they traded a lot of veteran leadership and experience, the kind of intangible assets that prove extremely valuable in a playoff run. The ball is now in Jason Kidd’s court; it’s up to him to mold this young roster into an Eastern Conference contender.




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