The Runner Sports

Milwaukee Bucks Roster Preview: Wings

With the NBA preseason at hand, and the regular season fast approaching, we’re spending some time diving into the details of the Milwaukee Bucks’ roster. We’ll run through players one-by-one, across three large buckets. Given the Bucks’ proclivity for positional fluidity, we’ve decided to take on a less traditional mindset, opting to separate the roster into bigs, wings, and ball handlers.

You’ll notice that some players fall into multiple categories. Giannis Antetokounmpo, for example, will be included in all three. We’ll break down the merits of each player included, specific to the position in discussion.

Today we’re covering the wings, those individuals that are capable of scoring as spot-up shooters or secondary attackers off the dribble, and typically tasked with defending opposing perimeter players (roughly). Wings frequently slide into the role of ball handler (more on Milwaukee’s options there in coming days) when a team’s first action fails, or if alternative options need time to rest. This is by far the most ambiguous of the positional lines we’ve (somewhat arbitrarily) drawn for this exercise, but in the end, our focus should really be on the specific players included, so allow us some leeway, if you would.

Let’s get to it.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

We’ve been and will be gushing about Giannis a lot throughout the roster preview series. There’s good reason for that. He’s one of the best players in all of basketball, young enough to become substantially better than he is now, and decidedly endearing on and off the court. He isn’t, however, a truly efficient scorer from the wing just yet, and that really comes down to his jump shot.

Antetokounmpo doesn’t need to be a world-class marksman to unlock his fullest potential, but he does need to be able to credibly knock down open threes. He hit on just 27.2 percent of his looks from beyond the arc last year, a hair below his career average from that distance, and wasn’t all that effective shooting from elsewhere on the court. Giannis failed to crack the 40 percent mark from anywhere other than at the rim.

That’s alright. He made 70.2 percent of his shots by the hoop, which made up the majority of his attempts. That’s a ludicrous enough mark to make up for his bricky-ness from further out. At the end of the day, Antetokounmpo is athletic enough to get to the rim almost at will. He doesn’t need to shoot it well to be effective, but that’s not really the point here. What is, is that Giannis with a jumper would be essentially unguardable. He’s already a good enough defender to give his opponents nightmares, and has found a way to score efficiently despite his poor shooting. He can be more though, and that means improving as a “wing” player on offense.

Khris Middleton

Khris Middleton is the basketball nerd intelligentsia’s darling, and deservedly so. He’s a good defender, a capable outside shooter, and an intriguing threat with the ball in his hands in the pick and roll, and isolated on the block. He isn’t incredible at any one thing, but he is good at almost everything — the ideal 3-and-D wing, with a bunch of extra goodies tossed in. His effectiveness doesn’t always translate in the form of eye-popping counting stats, but Middleton is almost always a net positive when he plays.

Last year was no different. The Bucks were 7.1 points per 100 possessions better with Middleton on the court, during the regular season last year. That number jumped all the way to 17.0 in the playoffs. Both were the best on the team. Obviously, there are some variables outside of Middleton that need to be considered here, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that Milwaukee consistently had a positive net margin when he played and a negative one when he rested.

Middleton is the perfect complementary quasi-star any team could use. If he can stay healthy, the Bucks will once again be thankful to have him in the fold.

Jabari Parker

We got into this a bit in the preview of Milwaukee’s bigs (and will go even further when we get to the team’s ball handlers), but the brief synopsis is as follows. Parker’s most enticing outcome is for him to slot in as one of the team’s big men. He hasn’t flashed enough of an ability to play off-ball defense to make that work just yet, and as such has functioned as more of a wing to date.

Parker should be working to change that. He’s infinitely more interesting if Milwaukee can play him without having to worry about how to cover opposing team’s bigs. He’s got plenty of size to bang down low. The less Parker can be a wing defensively for the Bucks the better. He’ll need to make significant leaps forward to make that happen.

Malcolm Brogdon

Malcolm Brogdon is as close to a primary ball handler as Milwaukee has. He initiates a lot of things, though he’s rarely the offense’s actual focal point. That makes sense given his skillset. Brogdon is a supersized point guard, who is actually best equipped to function as a floor-spacing wing.

He can bring the ball up, run through an action, decide if he’s got a chance to score, and then move the rock if he doesn’t, which happens fairly frequently (he can also just bypass the whole first part of that sequence and give control to someone like Antetkounmpo or Middleton from the jump). Brogdon is smart enough to know when there is a crack in the defense he can exploit to get to the rim, and when it would be wise to explore other options. From there he can get out of the way and breath some much-needed space into Milwaukee’s offensive sets.

Defensively he fits snugly as well. Brogdon is big enough that Milwaukee can credibly switch pick and rolls, should they choose to do so (and they should). He’s the ideal player to fit into the Bucks’ vision of positionless basketball. A wing masquerading as a point guard, with enough skill to function as the latter when needed. His value is increased by the context and philosophy of his team, and his team can lean into it’s desired identity because of him. That’s a win-win.

Tony Snell

Tony Snell was maddeningly inconsistent in Chicago, but he found his way as a legitimate 3-and-D player with Milwaukee last year. He’ll have to prove that his 40.6 percent hit rate from deep was legitimate, but there is reason for hope. Snell nearly doubled his nightly three-point attempts from the season prior, and saw a jump in efficiency regardless. It’s rare to see a player bump both his efficiency and volume by such a substantial margin without having made legitimate strides as a shooter.

Snell can’t do much beyond knock down open shots on offense, but he’s typically the fourth or fifth option when he’s on the floor, so being effective as a catch and shoot option is really all that is required of him. His greatest value should be derived from his defense anyway. Snell is long and relatively athletic. He’s never going to be Kawhi Leonard, but he can cover good scorers for significant stretches of games without being made to look a fool.

If he can continue being what he was last year, Snell will be well worth the four-year/ $46 million contract the Bucks gave him this summer.

Sterling Brown

Sterling Brown will have to earn his minutes on the wing, and might actually have a better chance of seeing floor time if he shows an ability to function more as a ball handler. He’s big and strong, capable of switching defensively and theoretically knocking down open looks. He didn’t flash any offensive brilliance in the Bucks’ preseason opener, but he also didn’t look awful on defense, a real problem for most rookies.

In the end, we’ll call it a neutral performance. Brown will have plenty more opportunities to prove himself moving forward, and we’d be wise not to put too much stock into a single meaningless game. If he can provide some depth at the wing the Bucks will be happy.

Rashad Vaughn

Where Brown struggled to score against the Magic, Vaughn looked as close to Michael Jordan as we can hope to see. He shot the ball well from deep, which would be a huge improvement if it holds into the regular season, and got to the rim with a couple of slippery drives. We won’t go into detail on what Vaughn could be until he proves he’s ready to consistently perform at a level other than significantly below-average. This is the year he needs to prove capable of doing so.

Gerald Green/Brandon Rush/James Young

One of this trio is likely to be at the end of the bench for the start of the regular season. My money is on Brandon Rush, but as a long-time Celtics reporter I can tell all Milwaukee Bucks fans you should be rooting for Gerald Green and his hot chocolate loving ways, and desperately praying James Young stays away.

Greg Cassoli

Greg Cassoli is a contributor at TRS, covering the Milwaukee Bucks. He's an ardent supporter of three-point shooting, good defense, and positionless basketball.