Next steps for Milwaukee Bucks: Don't panic, but retool
Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard. Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Next steps for Milwaukee Bucks: Don't panic, but retool

Some believed the Milwaukee Bucks' talent would carry them at least into the second round of the playoffs, while the less optimistic foresaw an early exit. 

The truth ended up being, well, neither. 

Milwaukee indeed lost in the first round to the Indiana Pacers, but that was mostly because a calf injury sidelined Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard missed time, too. Without their best two players, we learned virtually nothing about the Bucks in the series, except that Patrick Beverley apparently doesn't answer questions asked by media members who aren't subscribed to his podcast.

Regardless, the Pacers sent the Bucks (49-33 in regular season) home in six games in the first season of the Lillard and Antetokounmpo duo.

It's not time to panic for the Bucks because as long as you have Antetokounmpo, things can't be too bleak, but there's lots of work to be done for the team this summer for Milwaukee to be a bonafide contender in 2024-25.

Overhaul the bench

Milwaukee's starting lineup had some weird bumps this season, but injuries (and perhaps a midseason coaching change from Adrian Griffin to Doc Rivers) can be blamed for most of that. 

Though relatively old, the group of Lillard, Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez  and one other guard is still a heck of a lineup. But there wasn't a lot of consistency from the second unit this season, and beefing up its bench should be Milwaukee's top priority. 

Trading for Beverley in the first place made sense, but the 35-year-old career backup was never going to fix all the team's problems. Plus, replacing Jrue Holiday with Lillard and Malik Beasley left a hole in the defensive backcourt.

Milwaukee must bolster its bench in a big way so that players such as Indiana's Obi Toppin and T.J. McConnell don't torch the Bucks again next season.

Find the 'next guy'

Milwaukee's roster is old, with Lillard (33), Lopez (36) and Middleton (32) on the wrong side of 30, and while they're still massively productive, there might be a drop in production soon. 

When this era of Bucks basketball closes and Lillard and Middleton age out of being top options on a great team, is there anyone on this roster who can step into a main role? At the moment, no.

MarJon Beauchamp and Andre Jackson Jr. are going to be good players. Beauchamp, with a few more pounds and a lot more reps, could turn into something like the Knicks' OG Anunoby (14.7 PPG this season) for Milwaukee. But that might be his ultimate ceiling, and it's still unclear exactly what Jackson will morph into.

Finding a player whom the franchise feels confident building around beyond 2025 will ease some of the feeling that Milwaukee must be good now.

Play some defense, grab some rebounds

A team that includes Lopez, Antetokounmpo and Bobby Portis shouldn't be as bad at rebounding as the Bucks were last season. But they were 18th in rebounding percentage after the All-Star break in 2023-24 and 17th on defense post the break, too.

Neither of those numbers will fly next season for Milwaukee to ascend to Eastern Conference top seed Boston's stratosphere.

Luckily for the Bucks, free agents such as Nic Claxton and Isaiah Hartenstein could help remedy those sorry numbers. It would also help for Rivers to make serious tweaks to the playbook so the team can get back to the defensive ceiling it has the roster to achieve.

They're close ... right?

There isn't much work to be done roster-wise to hoist Milwaukee up to be a championship contender. The bulk of its offseason work must be done in-house, including figuring out how this team meshes and what everyone's role must be in 2024-25.

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