With the 2018-19 NBA season quickly approaching, we're rolling out 30 Teams in 30 Days. Between now and opening night, we're dedicating one day to each team in the league.
After looking at the Northwest and Southwest Divisions, our focus shifts to the Central Division, beginning with the Milwaukee Bucks.
2017-18 season record
44-38 (No. 7 seed in Eastern Conference)
Projected 2018-19 season record
46.5 wins (No. 5 seed in Eastern Conference)
Ersan Ilyasova (free agency)
Brook Lopez (free agency)
Jabari Parker (free agency)
3 key storylines
Giannis for MVP
In 2017-18, Antetokounmpo finished sixth in MVP voting after averaging career-highs in scoring (26.9 ppg) and rebounding (10.0 rpg) to lead Milwaukee to 44 wins. The All-Star has increased his offensive production in each of his five seasons, and another improvement offensively would make him a candidate to lead the league in scoring.
The departure of LeBron James means Antetokounmpo has a legitimate shot at proving himself to be the best player in the Eastern Conference. If the Greek Freak can reach new heights individually in year six, Milwaukee should see one of its best seasons in years.
Those are the makings of an MVP campaign.
Improved 3-point shooting
The Bucks ranked 27th in the league in made 3-pointers last season, sinking just 8.8 triples per game. In three postseason wins, the Bucks shot 34-82 (41.4 percent) from deep, a stark contrast from the 33-98 (33.6 percent) shooting in their four losses.
As perimeter shooting is a crucial component of being a successful team in today's game, Milwaukee must improve as a team in the upcoming season.
In his five seasons coaching Atlanta, the Bucks' newly-appointed head coach Mike Budenholzer led the Hawks to four top-10 finishes in made 3-pointers. In addition to the shooting of guard Khris Middleton, free agent acquisitions Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez are both shooting big men that can stretch the floor, boosting Milwaukee's shooting and providing Antetokounmpo with more space to operate.
Cleaning up the glass
The only thing worse than Milwaukee's 3-point shooting last season was its rebounding - the Bucks ranked dead last in rebounds per game.
Milwaukee out-rebounded its opponents just 29 times last season. Its record in such games? 22-7
After Antetokounmpo, who averaged a team-high 10.0 rebounds per game, the team's second-leading rebounder was John Henson, who grabbed 6.8 rebounds per game. Can the Bucks improve on the boards? Centre Brook Lopez (4.0 rpg last season) might not move the needle much, but Ersan Ilyasova (5.9 rpg last season) should help in that department. Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon are also candidates who can help.
5 games to watch
Oct. 19 vs. Indiana Pacers
After opening the season in Charlotte, Milwaukee's first-ever regular season game at the Fiserv Forum comes when it hosts the Pacers. In addition to wanting to open the new arena on a good note, the Bucks will look to make an early statement against a division foe: Indiana and Milwaukee are the favorites to win the Central this season.
Nov. 1 vs. Boston Celtics
Six months after being eliminated in seven games at the TD Garden, the Bucks travel to Boston to take on a Celtics squad that should be at full strength. Facing Boston, who is viewed by many as the East's top team, will be a great early barometer for Milwaukee, who looks to emerge into the East's top four.
Dec. 9 vs. Toronto Raptors
The Bucks visit Scotiabank Arena in Toronto for the second of four matchups with last season's No. 1 seed in the East. Last year, Milwaukee lost the season series to Toronto (1-2), with two of the three games being instant classics that went into overtime. This year, the back-and-forth between Antetokounmpo and new Raptor Kawhi Leonard should be a sight to see.
Dec. 25 vs. New York Knicks
For the first time since 1977, the Bucks will participate in a game on Christmas Day. While it is unclear whether or not Knicks All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis will be recovered from his ACL injury by then, it will be fun to watch Antetokounmpo perform on what is one of the league's biggest stages.
March 1 vs. Los Angeles Lakers
The Bucks' first time facing LeBron James and the Lakers comes at the beginning of March. In four games between the Bucks and James' Cavaliers last season, Giannis averaged 34.5 points, 10.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists while LeBron averaged 33.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 8.5 assists. The two star forwards shouldn't disappoint in the first of two games between Milwaukee and LA.