The Milwaukee Bucks are an Eastern Conference favorite largely because of Giannis Antetounmpo. Depth in the backcourt could make or break their 2019-20 season, though.
There’s one pretty big reason why the Milwaukee Bucks are considered the preseason favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference: Giannis Antetokounmpo. The 2018-19 NBA MVP has established himself as one of the best young players in the league. If you remove “young” from the last sentence, it still rings true. The 24-year-old is that good.
On the other hand, Antetokounmpo alone wasn’t enough to get the Bucks past the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. Coach Mike Budenholzer’s squad was close but lacked a bit of a punch from the bench. Heading into the 2019-20 season, though, depth should be a strong suit — at least at guard.
Eric Bledsoe will be the team’s starting point guard for the third straight season. On the heels of a four-year contract extension signed in March, he’ll figure to be a mainstay in Milwaukee for the foreseeable future. Free agency acquisition Wesley Matthews figures to slide in alongside him at the shooting guard position after the departure of Malcolm Brogdon.
Although Bledsoe and Matthews are fine starting options, the players behind them could make — or break — this Bucks team come April and beyond. What Budenholzer can get out of his backcourt bench unit will go a long way towards the team’s on-court product come April and beyond.
After being traded to Milwaukee and appearing in 47 games last season, veteran floor general George Hill was re-signed to a three-year, $28.8 million contract in July. At 33 years old, Hill is the second-oldest player on the Bucks behind Kyle Korver.
A career 37.8 percent 3-point shooter, Hill can spot up and knock down shots from deep at an efficient clip. This skill fits perfectly into Budenholzer’s Antetokounmpo-heavy system when it comes to who controls the flow of the offense.
Speaking of Korver, the 38-year-old is one of the greatest 3-point marksmen in the history of the league. Currently ninth on the NBA’s all-time 3-point percentage list, Korver is as reliable as they come from beyond the arc. Spending over half of his time at shooting guard in 2018-19, it’s not out of the question for Korver to log plenty of minutes at the 2 in 2019-20.
On the other end of the age spectrum are Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown, Frank Mason III and Pat Connaughton. All four players are young guards still trying to find their footing in the NBA and all will likely receive opportunities to prove their worth to the Milwaukee Bucks front office this season.
DiVincenzo had a mixed bag of a rookie season. His rebounding numbers were impressive for a guard (5.7 per 36 minutes) and the defensive pedigree he built at Villanova translated to the NBA, but that’s about it. Knocking down 40.1 percent of his 3s his junior season, the 22-year-old followed that up with a 26.5 percent showing last year.
Having his debut campaign cut short due to injury, health and improved shooting will be two areas to watch for DiVincenzo in 2019-20.
DiVincenzo’s running mate in the backcourt, Sterling Brown, is set to enter his third year with the Bucks. Averaging 6.4 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game last season, Brown’s name has flown under the radar compared to other players looking to make the proverbial “year three leap.”
How much playing time Brown receives in a crowded backcourt will say a lot about how much Milwaukee values him as a future contributor.
A former Wooden Award winner under coach Bill Self at Kansas, Mason signed a two-way contract with the Bucks this offseason. After his minutes per game, total games played and overall performances all declined a bit a season ago with the Sacramento Kings, Mason has a chance to start fresh.
Unfortunately, he also has a limit on how much time he can spend with the NBA club. This is a reset year for Mason.
Last, but certainly not least, Connaughton had his best season to date as a new member of the Bucks in 2018-19. In 20.7 minutes per contest, the former Portland Trail Blazers guard posted averages of 6.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game. Converting on 46.6 percent of his attempts from the field, Connaughton was relatively efficient and made the most of his minutes.
Now 26 years old, he’s at a stage in his career where he needs to separate from the pack.
All in all, losing Malcolm Brogdon wasn’t ideal. His blend of efficiency, willingness to take a backseat and well-rounded profile as a player is nearly impossible to replace. Once Bledsoe and Matthews head to the bench, though, Budenholzer has plenty of options to choose from.
Old faces, both figuratively and literally, could make a tremendous impact when partnered with a younger player. If the Milwaukee Bucks advance to (or win) the NBA Finals, expect depth in the backcourt to be a significant reason why.