Losses: Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell, Malcolm Brogdon.

Additions: Robin Lopez, Wes Matthews, Dragan Bender, Kyle Korver, Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

Likely Starters
Guard: Eric Bledsoe
Wing: Wes Matthews, Khris Middleton
Big: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez

Predicted Record: 56–26 | 2nd in NBA | 1st in East

And now We roam in Sovreign Woods –
And now We hunt the Doe –

764 | Emily Dickinson

It is my opinion that Kawhi Leonard is the best basketball player in the world. I believe that. Nevertheless, as I’ve been sitting here stewing about the 2019-20 Milwaukee Bucks, I’ve found myself struck by one all-powerful fact: Giannis Antetokounmpo is not even 25 years old yet. His trajectory is still pointing upward. Kawhi is in the thick of his prime—he already did the work of becoming a perfect defender, a knock-down shooter, a better passer, etc. Giannis still has so much room to improve.

For example, last season, Giannis set career highs in percentage of field goal attempts at the rim AND field goal percentage at the rim. He set career highs in assist rate and both offensive and defensive rebound rate. He also posted the highest usage rate of his career. On the other hand, he turned the ball over too often. He’s still not making enough of his free-throws. He has endless room to become more confident and dangerous as a shooter. He is still getting smarter about positioning as a defender. He’s only played in Coach Bud’s system for one season. The ceiling isn’t even in sight yet.

On the other hand, the Bucks’ insistence on ducking the luxury tax looms over all of this. You can’t ignore the fact that they could have kept Malcolm Brogdon this summer and chose not to because of money. They are seemingly locked into a universe in which everything comes down to Eric Bledsoe, a player who has epically shit the bed in two consecutive playoff runs. He’s just good enough that you don’t want to give up a bunch of assets to clear him off your books; he’s just terrible enough to absolutely destroy your team when it matters most.

Maybe Giannis is good enough that it doesn’t matter. George Hill is a good fit on this team as a caretaker point guard who plays defense and makes open shots. If three of their wings (a group consisting of Wes Matthews, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, Sterling Brown, Kyle Korver, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo) pop and they get something out of D.J. Wilson in the frontcourt, this team will be plenty deep enough when it matters. Still, if Bledsoe could manage to duplicate his regular season performance in the playoffs, they’re capable of going to another level.

Regardless, this Bucks team should coast to the best record in the league. The West is stacked—full of teams that are going to eat each other alive. The East is terrible; the only real competition is Philly, and that team has a ton of questions to answer on the offensive side of the ball. Milwaukee isn’t sneaking up on anybody anymore, but the system of Giannis + shooters on offense and no lay-ups or free-throws on defense is likely to carry them into the high 50s in wins easily. Coasting to the number one seed is nice, but if you do it too many times without playoff success it can start to leave a bad taste in the mouth of your superstar.

That, finally, is the shadow that darkens everything the Bucks do, now and into the uncertain future. They pulled off an incredible magic trick in getting Giannis on their roster with a middling first round pick and developing him into an MVP. Now they need to figure out a way to keep him. Like a shark, a team needs to keep moving, keep eating. You’re either getting better or you’re dying. Giannis might still be improving, but this team’s time is now. Given the stakes, you’d think they’d be all-in. When the playoffs roll around, it’s not hard to imagine they’ll wish they’d kept Malcolm Brogdon around.