Last year's record? 46-36, lost in the first round to Atlanta.
Significant arrivals? Drew Gooden(notes), Corey Maggette(notes), Jon Brockman(notes), Keyon Dooling(notes), Chris Douglas-Roberts(notes), Tiny Gallon(notes), Larry Sanders(notes), and Brian Skinner(notes) is still in the NBA.
Projected record, as predicted three months ago in time to publish in Yahoo! Sports' NBA Preview Magazine? 48-34
Why I think that sounds about right?
Because this team can defend like mad, it will compete every night, and at least one time per week it will manage to top the 80 points per game threshold.
The competition bit is important, because though all those new faces (are there are plenty of new faces in Milwaukee this season) will help, it will come down to coach Scott Skiles' tone to keep this team afloat. The East is so much better now, as you've likely heard me prattle on about by now, and with Andrew Bogut(notes) still working his way back to hundred percent health and Brandon Jennings(notes) still learning at this level, the Bucks will rely more than ever on the fact (or, before the season starts, "the hope") that they give a crap more than just about any other team they'll play.
On paper, these are dream pickups. If Maggette is healthy, as has been bandied about since last July, he will get to the line more times in one late third quarter stretch than the Bucks often did in three quarters of a game last season. Both he and Drew Gooden are two of the best in this league at procuring a good look off of a broken play.
Why I think I might be terribly, terribly wrong?
With Brandon Jennings around, there are a lot of broken plays.
It was fantastic to see a kid go from high school to barely playing in a year spent overseas to dropping 55 points in a game (we were hoping for 55 points in all of November) in his first month as an NBA-level pro. But the warmth from that night out against the Warriors more than overshadowed a season where, if anything, Jennings was a mitigating factor offensively.
Defensively? He was great. As was the case last year and during the preseason, he's a gem at picking up defenders full court and pressuring the ball. But Jennings too often relies on a shaky jump shot that just isn't there yet. And the fact that he's chucking four three-pointers a game (at an average, 35 percent, rate) in just half a game's minutes during the preseason doesn't bode well. Brandon is shooting 35 percent overall during the preseason, a criminal mark considering his penetration abilities.
If Brandon continues to flail away, especially with Luke Ridnour gone (don't laugh), the Bucks will be in trouble. That ball needs to be moving, it needs to be in Andrew Bogut's hands, and the Bucks have to improve on an offense that often looked league-worst last year.
Free throw rate (FTR), one of the famed "Four Factors of Basketball Success" identified by seminal stathead Dean Oliver, measures how frequently a basketball team gets to the foul line. It can also be used to find out how often a team allows its opponents to get to the charity stripe by simply replacing that team's stats with its opponents' in the formula -- the number of free throws attempted divided by the number of field goals attempted. The math can also be tweaked to find out how many freebies a team actually makes, but as Oliver explained, the "biggest aspect of 'free throws' is actually attempting them, not making them ... over the long haul, just getting to the line frequently wins a lot more games than missing a few freebies will lose."
According to Hoopdata, the average FTR for an NBA team during the 2009-10 season was 30.0 (or 30 free throw attempts per 100 tries from the floor). The Bucks ranked dead last in that category last year, posting a 23.9 FTR that was about a half-point below the runner-up New Orleans Hornets and nearly two points below the third-worst New York Knicks. Making matters worse, Milwaukee's physical, attacking defensive style led to a ton of foul shots at the other end of the court -- the Bucks allowed an opponent FTR of 34.8 last season, the league's second-highest rate (trailing only the hack-happy Utah Jazz).
When you add it all up, Milwaukee's FTR differential of -10.82 was far and away the league's worst. No other team even got close; the second-worst mark was the -4.59 of Don Nelson's Golden State Warriors. That the Bucks were able to win 46 games a year ago despite giving up nearly 11 more free-throw attempts per 100 field-goal tries than they took is a testament to how well they performed defensively (they allowed the fourth-fewest points per-100 in the NBA and its fourth-highest opponent turnover rate) and how well they protected the basketball (they had the league's fourth-lowest turnover rate).
Since none of the Bucks' major returning offensive contributors get to the line all that frequently -- Salmons led the team with 5.3 tries per game a year ago, Bogut shot 3.4 and Jennings added 3.3 -- and Skiles damn sure doesn't want the defense to relent, the 2010-11 team's chances for improving on last year's FTR lie squarely on the shoulders of free agent acquisition Maggette. The Duke product ranked fourth among small forwards in free throw attempts per game last season (behind only Kevin Durant(notes), LeBron James(notes) and Carmelo Anthony(notes)) and posted the best individual FTR of any non-center who played more than 15 minutes per game last year.
"Welcome aboard, Drew -- you can call me 'Coach Smiles'"
This marks the last time that Drew Gooden will ever see Scott Skiles' teeth in any context other than having his head bitten off for lackadaisical defense.