Does Lillard to Milwaukee put the Bucks atop the East?
On Wednesday, the Milwaukee Bucks shocked the NBA world when they traded for all-NBA superstar Damian Lillard.
The Trailblazers received former 1st overall pick Deandre Ayton and all-star Jrue Holiday from the Suns and Bucks, respectively, in a three-team trade.
One day before the trade finalized, Holiday expressed his desire to remain a Buck forever in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal:
“Before I even won here I think I said I'm a Buck for life and I mean that like deep in my heart. I don't want to play for any other team. I think we have a chance to continue to do great things as the Bucks team and organization so I want to be in Milwaukee.”
Holiday is now a Trailblazer, but with Scoot Henderson and Anfernee Simons occupying the starting backcourt roles, Portland may look to move the two-way player elsewhere.
The Suns, the third party in the three-team trade, acquired Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic, Bucks’ Grayson Allen, and others.
But, there was an absent fourth team, the Miami Heat.
This offseason, Lillard made it apparently clear that he wanted to play for Miami. According to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, the Heat proposed a package deal consisting of Tyler Herro, Kyle Lowry OR Duncan Robinson, and two first-round picks in exchange for Lillard. The Bucks obviously declined.
In retrospect, the Heat were frugal at best in pursuit of a generational talent who could have changed their season’s trajectory entirely. Miami lost Gabe Vincent to the Lakers, Max Strus to the Cavaliers, and Victor Oladipo to the Thunder this offseason. The Heat drafted UCLA star Jaime Jaquez Jr. in the 2023 NBA Draft, but have been utterly mute in free agency.
As for Milwaukee, the future looks bright in 2023-2024. The Bucks have the most coherent Big 3 in the NBA, as each player fills a role in his own right. Lillard will man the point as a dominant scorer, efficient distributor, and elite closer. Khris Middleton, who just signed a contract extension, will be lethal from the mid-range and behind the arc, while Giannis Antetokounmpo will headline the MVP and DPOTY conversations, dominating the paint on both ends of the floor.
The Bucks have a complete roster. They produce height and length with Brook Lopez, Bobby Portis, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, sharp-shooting ability with Pat Connaughton, Damian Lillard, and Malik Beasley, and 3-and-D variety with Jae Crowder and Brook Lopez. Moreover, they have three potential closers in Lillard, Middleton, and Antetokounmpo, who are equally proficient from different parts of the floor.
Last season, Lillard, Middleton, and Antetokounmpo combined for an average of 78ppg (32ppg, 15ppg, and 31ppg, respectively). The Bucks averaged 116.9ppg as a team (8th overall), and they are adding a player in Lillard, who finished 3rd in ppg. Antetokounmpo finished 5th in the same category, and Brook Lopez averaged nearly 16ppg last season for the #1 seeded Bucks.
In estimation, just the Milwaukee starting five would average 108ppg if it consisted of Damian Lillard, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bobby Portis, and Brook Lopez. However, it is likely Pat Connaughton or Jae Crowder will start over Portis to add another shooter to the starting lineup.
Atop the ranks with the Bucks are the Celtics, who will rival Milwaukee as the favorites to win the East all season. The Celtics lost Marcus Smart to Memphis, but obtained Kristaps Porzingis from the Wizards in one of the more head scratching trades this offseason.
Boston’s ineptitude on defense and propensity to commit turnovers have contributed heavily to their recent playoff failures. Thus, losing a former DPOTY in Smart to gain another offensive threat in Porzingis raises many questions. Porzingis is a 7’3” center who attempted 5.5 three-pointers per game last season, which may remind some Boston fans of a familiar friend.
That’s right, Al Horford, Boston’s current starting center, attempted 5.2 three-pointers per game last season and nearly shot them out of the playoffs against the 76ers. Boston also signed Jaylen Brown to a $303 million extension this offseason. Yet, for whatever reason, they felt the need to add another scorer to go along with Brown, Horford, Tatum, Brogdon, and White.
At this moment, the Bucks are a complete team with players who fit a role on both ends of the floor, while the Celtics have become more lopsided than ever. Teams like the 76ers are troubled, with uncertainty at the top regarding James Harden’s future, while other teams like the Heat, Raptors, and Cavaliers do not have the firepower to contend with the Bucks and Celtics.
Ultimately, barring a mid-season blockbuster trade, the East will be a two-team race, but the Bucks are ahead of the pack as we approach opening night on October 24th.