Bucks counting on stability to produce more playoff success

Steve Megargee
The Associated Press

Giannis Antetokounmpo has virtually the same set of teammates as last season. The Milwaukee Bucks’ goal is also the same: a second NBA championship.

The Bucks return everyone who played meaningful minutes in their unsuccessful title defense, which ended in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinals loss to the Boston Celtics.

“I love playing with people that I’ve played with before. I know where they want to get the ball, how they operate, what kind of people they are,” Antetokounmpo said. “I think in the NBA some years you’re always building new relationships, and once you’re in the peak of that relationship and you figure out how to play with that guy, maybe he moves to a different team.”

Not in this case.

Milwaukee made few changes to its roster and believes the return of a healthy Khris Middleton could help produce a repeat of the 2020-21 season, when the Bucks won their first title in a half-century.

Middleton missed the Celtics series with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee and underwent surgery on his left wrist this summer. Although Middleton doesn’t expect to be ready for the opener, the three-time All-Star plans to return in the early part of the season.

Bobby Portis and Pat Connaughton signed long-term deals in the offseason to remain part of a nucleus that also includes Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Wesley Matthews and George Hill.

Milwaukee’s most notable additions are first-round draft pick MarJon Beauchamp and veteran forward Joe Ingles, a free-agent acquisition who won’t play until at least December or more likely January as he recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament. The Bucks’ training camp roster includes 16 of the 17 players who finished the 2021-22 season with Milwaukee.

“That is, I think by a decent number, a record for me in my almost 30 years of the NBA, to bring 16 guys back,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think it speaks mostly to the belief and to the quality of the players. Hopefully it speaks to them wanting to stay and wanting to be a part of what we’re doing.”

Brook’s back

The Bucks should get a boost from having Brook Lopez for a full season after a back injury limited the 7-footer to just 13 regular-season games last year.

Serge Ibaka also re-signed with the Bucks despite finishing the postseason out of the rotation, a move that gives the Bucks frontcourt insurance in case Lopez gets hurt again.

Allen’s mission

Allen set career highs in scoring, rebounding and 3-point percentage in his debut season with the Bucks, but finished it off by shooting 2 of 18 from beyond the arc in the last six games of the Celtics series.

“I’m proud of the fact I was able to continue improvement,” Allen said. “I think looking at the end of the year, it just points out stuff you need to work on, especially in the playoffs when teams know everything we’re going to do (and) we know everything they’re going to do. It just gets that much tougher, that much more physical. It just adds something in my head that I need to improve on.”

Antetokounmpo’s encore

Antetokounmpo is coming off a 2021-22 season in which the two-time MVP scored a career-high 29.9 points per game to go along with 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game.

In the Eastern Conference semifinals, Antetokounmpo averaged 29.6 points, 14.7 rebounds and 7.1 assists against Boston to become the first player ever to record 200 points, 100 rebounds and 50 assists in a playoff series.

Beauchamp’s D

The Bucks selected Beauchamp with the 24th overall pick in the draft, marking the first time the Bucks have kept a first-round pick beyond draft night since taking Donte DiVincenzo 17th overall in 2018.

Milwaukee is hoping the 6-foot-7 wing and former NBA G League Ignite player can provide an immediate defensive boost.

Ingles’ arrival

The Bucks believe Ingles will be worth the wait once he’s ready to play. The former Utah Jazz forward has 45 games of playoff experience and has made 40.8% of his career 3-point attempts.

Holiday called Ingles “one of the ones you hate to play against” because of the 35-year-old’s trash talking and physical play.

“But now that he’s on my team, I’m happy,” Holiday added.