The Milwaukee Bucks aren’t very good. They traded away the face of their franchise (Brandon Jennings), let one of the better scoring guards in the NBA leave in free agency for nothing (Monta Ellis) and traded a very productive shooter (J.J. Redick) for a couple of second-round picks. To the average NBA watcher, the Bucks do not have a player with any real star power entering 2013-14 and, let’s face it, the franchise just isn’t very compelling. But there are a few subplots which should keep fans engaged for next season. Here are five:
5. Brandon Knight, starting point guard? Milwaukee didn’t want to pay Brandon Jennings the money he was asking for, so they sent him packing to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Brandon Knight, a player who was drafted eighth overall by the Pistons after just a year at Kentucky. It’s easy to see why so many scouts were enamored with him in high school and he certainly showed flashes of brilliance at Kentucky (including a 31-point, seven-rebound, four-assist, zero-turnover game in his debut). Unfortunately for Knight (and the Pistons, for that matter), his play was erratic in his two seasons in Detroit. Knight shot less than 42 percent from the floor and never averaged more than four assists per game in a season. Basically, he played like a backup. The good news? He’s still just 21. Will a change of scenery, a new coach and some new teammates help Knight finally break out?
4. John Henson‘s development: The Bucks may have found a gem with the 14th pick in the 2012 NBA Draft in John Henson. You can’t teach size and Henson is 6’11″ with a 7’6″ wingspan. Henson can play, too. Near the end of last season he had a coming out party against the Orlando Magic, recording 17 points, 25 rebounds and seven blocks in a losing effort. He was then able to parlay that into a terrific summer league this offseason. New coach Larry Drew has made it clear he plans to feature Henson a lot more than Milwaukee was able to do last year. Add it all up and the stars are aligned for monster sophomore effort from Milwaukee’s promising young big man.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo: I know, I’m exhausted just typing it. The Bucks spent a first-round pick on a guy many feel isn’t quite yet ready, but few in last year’s draft have the superstar potential that Antetokounmpo possesses. At 6’9″ with a 7’3″ wingspan and the ball skills of a guard, Giannis has the ability to grow into an elite, versatile defender who can guard four positions and create a ton of matchup problems offensively thanks to his unique perimeter skills. The scary part? He hasn’t even turned 19 yet.
2. O.J. Mayo as a go-to guy: As a rookie with the Memphis Grizzlies, O.J. Mayo appeared destined for stardom, averaging 18.5 points with solid .44-.38-.87 shooting splits in 38 minutes per game. It didn’t quite happen that way after that. The Grizzlies play at a lethargic, inside/out, methodical pace that simply does not suit Mayo’s skill set and Mayo’s numbers never once got back to the heights they reached during his promising rookie campaign. O.J. ended up with the Dallas Mavericks last season, where he averaged a respectable 15.2 points and a career-high 4.4 assists per contest playing alongside Dirk Nowitzki. A nice bounce-back season, but still not quite at the level of that first year in Memphis. Now Mayo resides in Milwaukee on a team devoid of big-time scorers with a starting shooting guard spot all to himself. He has a chance to, for the first time in his career, be the go-to offensive player many felt he could be coming out of USC. Will he deliver?
1. Larry Sanders, face of the franchise? He is super limited offensively and I don’t think Milwaukee had “franchise player” in mind when they drafted him 15th overall out of VCU in 2010, but after signing a four-year, $44 million deal this offseason, this is where we are with Larry Sanders. What the Bucks have in Sanders is an elite defense force who at 6’11″ completely controls the paint. The question is, will Sanders ever become anything more than merely an average center on the offensive end? For him to truly live up to that contract and for Milwaukee to be competitive in 2013-14, he’ll need to become a more complete offensive player. If not, it might be a long year for the Bucks.