The Bucks’ Moves Saves Their Future, For Now

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Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks drives against Jrue Holiday #11 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at the Smoothie King Center on February 04, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

When the league lifted the trade moratorium on November 16th, one of the most active teams was the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks made two moves to bolster their offensive firepower in exchange for future draft assets and bench depth.

The first trade brought Jrue Holiday to the Bucks for Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, three first-round picks, and two pick swaps. A few hours later, the Bucks dealt Done Divecenzo, Ersan Ilyasova, and DJ Wilson to the Kings for Bogdan Bogdanovic in a sign and trade.

Holiday and Bogdanovic are definite upgrades in the shot creation department. Hopefully, they can help supplement the scoring load and support the Bucks in closing moments.

The projected best lineup seems to be Holiday, Bogdanovic, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokoumpo, and Brook Lopez. The Bucks can maintain length on the defensive end while substantially upgrading offensively.

The Bucks mortgaged their future and rotational pieces to prove to Giannis they want to win-now and are committed to this season.

Does This Move Push the Bucks over the Hump?

LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers backs in on Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks during the third quarter at Staples Center on March 06, 2020 in Los Angeles, California.
Harry How/Getty Images

There are a couple of things to look at here. One, the east has only gotten better. The Nets are back to full strength and could�add James Harden to their roster. If this trade goes through, the Nets would have three of the best scorers in NBA history. It would be one of the scariest trios the NBA has seen. Luckily, the Bucks match up alright against this trio. Holiday, Antetokoumpo, and Middleton can guard each of those guys and at least challenge them.

The point is the top of the east is still daunting. The Nets become clear favorites if they add Harden, the Celtics young group will only improve, the Sixers got a fresh start, Miami deciphered the Bucks’ defensive scheme, and who knows what Toronto will look like.

The trade doesn’t scream the Bucks are the top dog in the east. Part of it isn’t Milwaukee’s fault. The free-agent class is lackluster, and so many teams around the league are looking to buy for a playoff push rather than sell off veteran pieces.

Holiday and Bogdanovic

Bogdan Bogdanovic #8 of the Sacramento Kings shoots against Jrue Holiday #11 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half of an NBA basketball game at HP Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on August 6, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
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Both of these players have skillsets that fit well with most teams in the NBA. Holiday is one of the most underrated players in the NBA. He finally recovered from his leg injury a few seasons ago. Since then, he has fit into multiple roles with the Pelicans. Holiday initially came into the NBA as a point guard but has since transitioned to an off guard role.

Offensively, Holiday is crafty out of the pick and roll and uses change of pace to throw off defenders. He lost some of his athleticism, but his finishes are more crafty. Holiday uses slow euro-steps to confuse shot-blockers’ timing and little turnaround shots near the basket. He’s improved his three-point shot tremendously as well. 

However, Holiday struggled with turnovers last season. The Pelicans’ young team and up-and-down season didn’t help, but it’s something to keep an eye on if the Bucks ask him to do more work on-ball.

On the defensive end, Holiday is elite. He can guard 1-4 with his combination of length and I.Q. He uses little tricks to force offensive players into doing what he expects, which allows him to anticipate moves.

Bogdanovic is a high-level shooter, without a doubt. He has no shortage of confidence in creating his shot or stroking it from deep. He can hit these shots off the dribble or catch. However, he’s better when he can attack off some action like a dribble handoff or off-ball screen. Bogdanovic can create shots from scratch at times, but he often relies on a stepback three to get his shot off, which isn’t sustainable at times.

The commonality between both these two is that they are excellent complementary pieces, but they can’t lead a team on the offensive end on any given night. With the Bucks focused on the playoffs, the question still looms, where are they going to generate offense?

What do the Bucks Need to do?

Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks looks for the ball during the game against the Miami Heat during Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the NBA Playoffs on September 2, 2020 at The Field House at ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

The change needs to come internally. On a strategic level, the Bucks should utilize Giannis at the five. Occasionally, he can post-up off the block and make the right play but not to the point where it’s consistent enough to bring the Bucks home down the stretch of a tight playoff game.

The Bucks gave Giannis a lot of top-of-the-key isolations. Giannis isn’t strong here. He has to take the entire defense on when his playmaking and ball-handling aren’t there yet. He relies on sheer force to get to the rim. The slow drives allow help to rotate over and anticipate his next move.

Imagine Giannis in more of the Bam Adebayo role: a dribble handoff man that can initiate offense and diving off screens. These types of actions get Giannis downhill without him trying to force it. 

A two-man game with Bogdanovic and Giannis means a team has to choose to slow down the rim run from Giannis or guard Bogdanovic at the three. If Giannis is at the five, that usually means no rim protection since the center has to step out to hedge the three at least a little bit.

The Bucks need to take a more egalitarian approach to offense and get more action instead of looking to Giannis to isolate. However, the team needs to figure out its identity down the stretch of games. 

In the playoffs, it seemed like everyone took turns taking hero shots. Middleton would pull up from three, Lopez would try to create from the post, and George Hill would try to attack off the dribble.

They have improved in this area on paper, but they need to hand the keys to probably Khris Middleton to be the bucket-getter when the game slows down. It’s not an ideal situation, but with the shortage of shot creation on the market, it’s not the worse thing.

The Real Reason for the Trade

Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks looks on before their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Spectrum Center on March 01, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
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In a vacuum, the Bucks have turned five years of draft capital, their only young asset in Donte DiVincenzo, and the rest of their bench depth for two guys that project to be a number two or three on a championship offense. Not great return. However, it’s essential to view this trade from Giannis’s perspective to grasp what it means altogether.

With Giannis’ looming free agency decision, the Bucks need to show they are willing to go all-in to win now. Giannis has made it clear he wants to see roster upgrades. These moves that sacrifice the franchise’s future are meant to convince Giannis to sign an extension after next season.

It’s extremely risky for a small-market franchise to put their future on the line to convince a star to stay. That’s what it takes to persuade Giannis to stay and not depart to Miami, Dallas, and Golden State.

Until the next offseason, it’s not possible to fully analyze this trade. It’s important to look at the roster structure now, but the Bucks’ primary goal is to prevent Giannis from departing to a new team. Until the next offseason, when Giannis decides to extend or leave, people can evaluate this trade.

There is a possibility Giannis signs his extension before the season starts, but he essentially signs away his freedom to decide his future. However, Giannis has proved to be a loyal star through thick and thin, a rare trait in the player empowerment era. If he does sign, this trade is a success regardless if they win a championship.

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