STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Some say an ESPN anchor created it. Others credit fans in the rowdy Squad 6 area of the Bradley Center. A third theory points to Twitter as the point of origin. Regardless of where the now ubiquitous phrase "Fear the Deer" started, it was quickly embraced, serving as a rallying cry for one of the more unexpected turnarounds in recent NBA history.
Of course, a nifty catchphrase alone can't win games, so the Bucks supplemented it with a breakthrough season from Andrew Bogut, a terrific rookie campaign from Brandon Jennings, and a tenacious, never-let-the-other-team-breathe style of defense. Forty-six wins later, Milwaukee was in the playoffs, pushing the favored Hawks to the brink of elimination before ultimately falling in seven games.
Now considered to be one of the Eastern Conference's up-and-coming teams, the Bucks were aggressive players in the offseason, making several moves to shore up some of last year's weaknesses. Corey Maggette adds a scoring punch that was missing last season, Drew Gooden and Jon Brockman are hard-working rebounders, and Chris Douglas-Roberts gives the team another scoring option to boost an offense that couldn't keep up with Atlanta in the playoffs. If coach Scott Skiles can get his new weapons to buy into the Bucks' defense-first concept, the Bucks could be one of the top five teams in the conference.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Coach Scott Skiles utilizes his bench early and often, and he'll be in paradise with one of the league's best second units at his disposal. Young Buck Brandon Jennings will again be the team's unquestioned floor leader, playing roughly 35 minutes per game with Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins sharing the remaining 13-15 point guard minutes. At shooting guard, John Salmons will get the bulk of the work (about 35 minutes), with Chris Douglas-Roberts chipping in 15 or so off the bench. Carlos Delfino should get around 25 minutes at small forward, and Corey Maggette may see 30-plus, even if he comes off the bench. Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will bounce between both forward spots, getting 20-25 minutes of run each night depending on matchups. After inking a $32 million deal over the summer, Drew Gooden slots in as the starting power forward, a role that should assure him around 25 minutes a night. Andrew Bogut will see 30-plus minutes as the starting center, though his court time could be slightly limited early in the season as he recovers from last year's arm injury. Trade acquisition Jon Brockman and rookie Larry Sanders will gobble up the reserve minutes behind Bogut.
Andrew Bogut: Coming off a worrisome back injury, Bogut had a breakout season in 2009-10, averaging career highs in both points (15.9) and blocks (2.5) while grabbing 10.2 rebounds and shooting 52 percent from the field. He even chipped in 1.8 assists and 0.6 steals, decent numbers for a center. Unfortunately, a gruesome arm injury brought his season to a premature end and will likely leave him with lingering pain throughout 2010-11. Over the last four years, he has missed an average of 19.8 games, so it's fair to question his durability, but heath is really the only concern, because the former No. 1 pick has developed into a legitimate NBA center. Dwight Howard was the only other player in the league to average at least 15.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.5 blocks last season. Plus, with Bogut's terrific passing skills, he could double his assist totals considering the roster upgrades around him.
Brian Skinner: He's technically the only other center on the roster, but Skinner is on a non-guaranteed contract and is not even a lock to be on the team for the season opener.
Corey Maggette: Maggette will be transitioning from coach Don Nelson's fast-paced Warriors offense to a much more deliberate pace in Milwaukee, which raises some concerns about his value. However, the Bucks specifically acquired Maggette to boost their offense, so it's reasonable to project up to 30-plus minutes for him, even if Carlos Delfino starts and Maggette fills the sixth-man role. He'll deliver strong scoring numbers with a good field-goal percentage but is most valuable as a free-throw shooter. He gets to the line at an astounding rate, finishing ninth in the league last year in free-throw attempts despite missing 12 games, and converts when he gets there (82.1 career free-throw percentage). Keep in mind, however, that he's turnover-prone, so his value in nine-category leagues takes a hit.
Drew Gooden: Gooden's five-year, $32 million contract raised some eyebrows (after all, he has been on seven different teams in the last four years), but he's a good fit in the Bucks' frontcourt. Able to play either power forward or center, Gooden averaged 14.8 points and 9.4 rebounds in 24 games after joining the Clippers last year. He may not play 30-plus minutes this season like he did in Los Angeles, but he could still average 10-12 points and roughly eight rebounds per game.
Carlos Delfino: Delfino just keeps getting better, turning in a career year for the Bucks last season, carrying his native Argentina in this summer's FIBA World Championships, and keeping the momentum going with a strong preseason. He'll likely be the Bucks' starting small forward on opening night, though the addition of Corey Maggette could cause some of Delfino's career-high numbers from 2009-10 to take a slight dip. Nonetheless, he'll be a cheap source of three-pointers (1.8 last season) and steals (1.1) while providing serviceable totals in nearly every category (11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.7 assists last year).
Ersan Ilyasova: Ilyasova offers an intriguing (and rare) blend of spot-up shooting skills and a physical presence on the glass. He was especially effective in 31 games as a starter, averaging 11.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.3 three-pointers. However, with Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden now in Milwaukee, Ilyasova will have more competition for minutes, and he might struggle to get off the bench for more than around 25 minutes per game. In his current situation, he's probably a fringe fantasy option best left for deeper leagues, but if injuries open the door for more playing time, he could become a nice free agent pickup.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: The Cameroonian prince has quietly become one of the best on-ball defenders in the NBA, capable of guarding anyone from speedy point guards to athletic wings to physical power forwards. However, for all his defense prowess, he's about as limited as they come offensively, and the Bucks' offseason additions at forward will likely cut into Mbah a Moute's playing time. He's much more valuable in real life than in fantasy.
Larry Sanders: Sanders is an athletic, high-energy big man who can run the floor and might make an immediate impact as a shot-blocker, but 15 minutes per night seems like a best-case scenario, so it will be tough for him to produce much fantasy value as a rookie.
Jon Brockman: Brockman is a relentless rebounder, but his role with the Bucks is a bit unclear because there are a lot of bodies at power forward and Brockman's size (6-7) makes him a less-than-ideal fit as a backup center. With extensive playing time he might post some impressive rebound totals, but right now those minutes just don't seem to be available.
Darington Hobson: Milwaukee's second-round pick will miss the entire season due to hip surgery.
Brandon Jennings: Mention Jennings' name to casual fans and they'll probably immediately recall the rookie's 55-point outburst against Golden State in just his seventh NBA game, but that hype after that outburst obscured the underlying truth about Jennings' debut campaign: inconsistency. He shot just 37.1 percent from the field and occasionally watched Luke Ridnour take control of the offense at key moments. However, with Ridnour gone and a year of experience under Jennings' belt, the second-year player should continue to develop, building on last season's promising numbers: 15.5 points, 5.7 assists, 1.8 three-pointers, 1.3 steals and 81.7 percent shooting from the free-throw line. It's easy to forget that he did all that as a 20-year-old, and the sky's the limit for one of the league's best young guards.
John Salmons: Salmons is a late-bloomer, never averaging more than 12.5 points per game until 2008-09 when he posted an 18.3 mark in Sacramento and Chicago. Acquired from the Bulls in a midseason trade last season, Salmons was a crucial component of the Bucks' playoff push, averaging 19.9 points, 3.3 assists and 1.5 three-pointers while shooting 46.7 percent from the field and 86.7 percent from the line. He's unlikely to match those scoring numbers with new weapons like Corey Maggette now in place, but he'll still be a reliable contributor.
Chris Douglas-Roberts: Douglas-Roberts had a few promising spurts of productivity with the Nets last season – most notably an 11-game November stretch in which he averaged 17.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.3 steals – but his season was marred by inconsistent playing time and performance. Now in Milwaukee, he figures to see about 15 minutes per game as a scorer off the bench. Unless injuries strike, that probably won't be enough for him to garner much fantasy value.
Keyon Dooling: Dooling is expected to share time with Earl Boykins as Brandon Jennings' backup. He's a good defender, but he's never averaged more than 9.7 points or 3.5 assists in a season. There's not much value to be found here.
Earl Boykins: The 5-5 sparkplug will come off the bench as the third point guard behind Brandon Jennings and Keyon Dooling.
Michael Redd: Redd is expected to be back around the All-Star break, but there's a good chance that he has already played his final game as a Buck. His $18.3 million (!) salary this season will be valuable either at the trade deadline or when the contract comes off the books next offseason.
Ersan Ilyasova: The Bucks have outstanding depth at the forward positions, so the battle for playing time will be fierce, but Ilyasova has such an intriguing mix of talents that he could be a sneakily productive fantasy player if he manages to carve out enough court time. Extrapolate his numbers last year to 36 minutes/game and you can see the potential: 15.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.5 three-pointers and 1.0 steals. That much burn is unrealistic, but even approaching 30 minutes would be enough for him to have value in deeper formats.
John Salmons: Salmons will still be a useful contributor, but his history of slumping for long stretches (see the first half of last season or the second half of 2007-08) raises some red flags. He has a tendency to disappear when he's not one of his team's primary offensive options, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the presence of Corey Maggette, a player who has a selfish streak of his own.