The highest expectations for a bit of a revamped Milwaukee Bucks team, as it opens the season Wednesday on the road at the Boston Celtics.
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It could take awhile for the Bucks to figure out all its new pieces, but the core remains.
The pressure, though, for reigning two-time MVP and Defensive Player of the Year Giannis Antetokounmpo couldn’t be higher. Two MVP years, no NBA Finals appearances, after two disappointing postseason exits.
Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are the only players in NBA history to win three consecutive MVP awards.
On top of that, the 26-year-old now has to live up to being the NBA’s highest-paid player.
After Antetokounmpo, it’s Jrue Holiday that all eyes will be on. The 30-year-old expected to be the missing piece for that Finals run. Not only that, but he has the pressure of everything he was traded for and his upcoming, potential free agency.
With Holiday, there may be less pressure on Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez to produce offensively, but the rest of the lineup heads into the season with the hope they just don’t screw everything up.
The biggest question may be Donte DiVincenzo, who steps into the starting shooting guard spot — for now. It may not be long before newcomer Bryn Forbes takes over.
Look for the Bucks to experiment with multiple lineups, like moving Holiday to the two, and starting D.J. Augustin at point — though that won’t work in the playoffs because of Augustin’s shortcomings defensively.
Pat Connaughton, D.J. Wilson and newly acquired forwards Bobby Ports and Torrey Craig will also have big roles to fill, but at this point, it’s impossible to know who will step up.
Things could be challenging early from within for the Bucks, but the East also got better with the return of Kevin Durant, combined with Kyrie Irving in New Jersey. Philadelphia could be better simply by changing coaches.
Miami lost some of its depth, but the Heat are banking on Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro taking another leap. A realistic expectation for Adebayo, perhaps, but the hype around Herro after one hot playoff game in the East Finals, could be overstated.
It’s a hype that has brought rumors the Heat wouldn’t trade Herro for James Harden, who could also make his way to the East somehow and either implode a team or make it a Finals contender.
Every East contender has seemingly been rumored to have some interest in Harden, including the Celtics, who also figure to factor in to making a deep playoff run.
Two other teams in the playoff mix are Toronto and Atlanta. The Raptors made additions by subtraction, cutting ties with their veterans in the frontcourt but hoping OG Anunoby takes a giant leap like Pascal Siakam did a few years ago.
The Hawks were the worst team in the league last year, but made all kinds of moves in the offseason, bringing in Danilo Gallinari, signing Bogdan Bogdanovic, Rajon Rondo and Kris Dunn — the latter two essentially to make up for Trae Young’s inability to play defense.
Those players, in addition to an interesting frontcourt of Clint Capela, John Collins and De’Andre Hunter, could make the Hawks a playoff contender.