Bucks Lead

3 Burning Questions Heading Into Bucks Season Opener

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We’ve waited all summer for this — the Milwaukee Bucks’ season opener is tonight against the new-look Houston Rockets.

While the off-season storylines for Milwaukee and the NBA have been entertaining — Korver coming to Milwaukee, Thanasis joining Giannis, the LoBros providing immediate entertainment and of course a new viral move from the step-back king himself James Harden — it’s time to tip-off the 2019-20 season.

Heading into today, we know the Bucks are title contenders — there is no doubt about that.

And Bucks fans know a few other things to be true: Giannis is the MVP and will undoubtedly make a strong push to retain that title this year, Malcolm Brogdon is now a member of the Indiana Pacers, and the Philadelphia 76ers made a few key additions in the off-season making them a popular NBA Finals pick; however, those storylines come with a few burning questions prior to the Bucks’ season opener. So, let’s dive in.

1. WHAT’S THE NEXT LEVEL FOR GIANNIS?

Giannis put on a show last year becoming the third-youngest MVP in the last 40 years. Although he won’t personally say he’s a better player than MVP runner-up James Harden, he did admit that the “the trophy’s in my house.” This is true, but what should NBA fans expect from Giannis this year?

Giannis is perhaps still a year or two away from reaching his athletic peak — that’s incredibly scary — and we’re all eager to see what he’s added to his game this off-season. Obviously, we’re hoping Giannis can continue to evolve as a shooter. Last season, he made noticeable progress throughout the year on pull-up 3-pointers and improved his 3-point percentage almost every month before ending the year just short of 26% from deep.

The NBA has evolved and Giannis knows that to become the truly “unguardable” force we all think he can be, he has to improve as a shooter. We rarely see a Giannis workout video, but when the video surfaced earlier this off-season of Giannis shooting with new teammate Kyle Korver, we had a tough time containing our excitement.

The Bucks’ coaching staff knew that if they could surround Giannis with shooting, drawing attention away from the paint, things would open up for Giannis and create wide-open cutting lanes for teammates. This year, if Giannis trends toward the 30%+ mark from distance this season and becomes a legitimate threat from the outside, space will be unlocked for his teammates as well, making the entire team much more difficult to guard. When that 3-point shot becomes a viable weapon, teams might just be out of answers on how to slow down the MVP.

But don’t sleep on Giannis improving his court vision and becoming an even better facilitator. He has a natural gift, much like LeBron did from day one, to find his teammates in open spaces for good looks at the rim. But as he grows as a playmaker, could we see Giannis come close to the Westbrook-like triple-double average territory? At season’s end, 29, 13 and 8 wouldn’t be a shock, would it?

2. HOW DO THE BUCKS REPLACE BROGDON’S PRODUCTION?

Listen, we know Malcolm Brogdon played a huge role in the success of last year’s Bucks team. But as the Bucks season opener approaches, how difficult will it be to replace that 50/40/90 production?

Behind Giannis, Brogdon ranked second on the team in shots close to the rim at 56%. Brogdon also made better than 42% of his 3-point shots last year. And we know how good he was at providing a steady ball-handling presence late in games. It’s a big loss, but the production is not irreplaceable. Sure, the Bucks didn’t sign a direct replacement, but in adding Wes Matthews and Korver, the Bucks gained some of the league’s best shooters at the position. These guys chuck it at a higher volume than Brogdon, so we could see the Bucks shoot even more threes this year.

On the defensive side, Sterling Brown is poised to step in as a go-to perimeter defender. We’ve all seen flashes of great perimeter defense from Brown and with ideal size and strength at the position, Brown could fill in nicely on the defensive end for the Bucks against quality wings around the league.

If the trio of Matthews, Korver and Brown can replace Brogdon’s shooting production and defensive ability, the Bucks are in a good spot. The final Brogdon skill that the Bucks will need to replace is his shot creation. We know Brogdon was a great facilitator for the Bucks. And the next man up might just be Donte DiVincenzo. While DiVincenzo doesn’t possess the natural ability to handle the ball in small spaces like Brogdon, he is more explosive off the bounce and, with time, could become a steady hand in late-game situations.

Let’s also not forget about Pat Connaughton, an experienced, ultra-bouncy wing who shined in a bench role last year with the Bucks. A terrific perimeter defender, Connaughton also shot 33% from deep and provided the Bucks with rock-solid production with a line of 12 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists per-36 minutes last year.

3. BUCKS VS. SIXERS NARRATIVE: HOW GOOD IS PHILLY?

We’ve talked a lot about the 76ers’ off-season additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson. We know Ben Simmons might be getting close to attempting a single 3-pointer this year. And we think Joel Embiid might finally be getting into playing shape — but it’s still-to-be-determined on that one.

It’s likely that the narrative all season long will be that all roads lead to Bucks vs. Sixers in the Eastern Conference Finals. We’ve written about how the Bucks and Sixers matchup. But let’s take a look at a few key questions about Philadelphia entering this season.

Philadelphia is going to be tough. The lineup options they have are truly impressive. They have the ability to go with one of the most massive lineups in recent memory, if they choose to roll out Simmons, Richardson, Tobias Harris, Horford and Embiid. They’ve also added newly-proclaimed defensive star Matisse Thybulle and should be getting last year’s first-rounder Zhaire Smith back at full health.

That said, we know Embiid and Simmons don’t fit particularly well together and the Sixers have doubled down on that duo. Embiid fits best with a point guard who wants to walk the ball up the court and feed him in the post, while Simmons is his best out in the open court taking advantage of his deadly combination of size and speed. It makes sense for the Sixers to stagger the minutes of Embiid and Simmons, meaning Al Horford could be the likely Simmons-only minutes partner. Maybe Horford does for Simmons what Brook Lopez did for Giannis last year?

All of this leads to the continued questions about Brett Brown and his ability to manage this roster and lead them to the NBA Finals. Brown and his staff can’t play all of their ridiculous talent together. There are a ton of mouths to feed and only one ball to go around. And that remains the biggest unknown for the 76ers leading up to opening night.

We know they’ll be very, very good. But when it comes down to crunch time, can Brett Brown find the best lineup combinations to get it done? We’ll see.

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