Milwaukee Bucks: Predicting the Eastern Conference playoff picture

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 26: Malcolm Brogdon
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 26: Malcolm Brogdon /

With the Milwaukee Bucks expected to be on the rise in the Eastern Conference, how might the playoff picture shape up next season?

With the majority of major offseason moves likely in the rear view mirror for the Milwaukee Bucks and the rest of the teams across the NBA, the time has come to look ahead to the new season and how things might shape up.

One significant element of that debate and discussion arrived in recent days, as the over/under win totals for the 2018-19 season were released by Las Vegas based sports book Westgate.

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Plenty has already been discussed about how those win totals may be right or wrong individually, and what they say about each team — including here on this very website. Another interesting exercise that can be taken from those totals is the shape of the playoff seedings as predicted by Vegas, though.

Based on Westgate’s win total lines, the Eastern Conference playoff picture is as follows:

No. 1 seed: Celtics, 57.5 wins

No. 2-3 seed: 76ers – Raptors, 54.5 wins

No. 4 seed: Pacers, 47.5 wins

No. 5 seed: Bucks, 46.5 wins

No. 6 seed: Wizards, 44.5 wins

No. 7 seed: Heat, 41.5 wins

No. 8 seed: Pistons, 37.5 wins

Of course, none of this is an exact science, so all of it demands further examination, and discussion of the context involved in each team’s case for the year ahead.

With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the top eight teams according to those win totals, which teams may surpass those projections, and who might fall short of their mark.

The Detroit Pistons added depth with some solid bench pieces like Glenn Robinson III, Jose Calderon and draftees Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown, and will hope for even more contribution from Luke Kennard who was a rookie last year.

The Pistons also replaced coach Stan Van Gundy with Dwayne Casey who should be a theoretical improvement based on his regular season success with the Raptors in recent years. Reggie Jackson also missed a lot of games last year, and his return should be a real boost for Detroit.

One might look at last year and the fact that Pistons won 39 games with Jackson missing 37 games (they went 12-25 without him, 27-18 with him) and expect them to win at least 40 for sure. But when you look at Blake Griffin, who is injury prone and is only getting older, plus there’s the fact the Pistons probably overachieved at the start of last year (started 15-8 before December and started December 5-8 before Reggie’s injury).

Overall, I think the 37.5 win projection is still a bit low so I’ll take the over. I expect around 40 wins from them.

The Miami Heat are pretty much unchanged so there isn’t as much to talk about here as there is with most of their Eastern Conference rivals.

The big question is if Miami will look to get rid of Hassan Whiteside, whose negative attitude is a thorn in their side. Whiteside’s effort level is frequently subpar and following a rather promising rookie campaign, Bam Adebayo looks like he could become the starter either this season or the next.

On the whole, I don’t expect much to change for the Heat. The over/under at 41.5 is perfectly placed in my opinion. I wouldn’t bet on that one.

The Washington Wizards should win some more games this season as long as John Wall is healthy for more than half the season.

Austin Rivers also adds some depth for them and if last year’s revelation in Wall’s absence, Thomas Satoransky, keeps playing at those standards, their backcourt rotation should have decent depth, which is something they were severely lacking in previous years. Swapping Marcin Gortat for Dwight Howard shouldn’t make a big difference.

Overall, I think the 44.5 win projection is also pretty good here. I’d be slightly inclined to take the over, expecting around 46 wins.

The Milwaukee Bucks added coach Mike Budenholzer, who is considered one of the best coaches in the league, to replace coach Jason Kidd, who was considered one of the worst coaches in the league, so that is undeniably the biggest difference for the Bucks coming into this year.

Bucks also added two core rotation bigs in Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova and two bench guards in Connaughton and DiVincenzo, while also losing forward Jabari Parker. Parker’s return last season didn’t seem to have a major impact in terms of wins as Bucks were 16-15 in games he played last season. The addition of Ersan Ilyasova and Brook Lopez, though, reinforcing the big spots that were a major issue for Bucks the last few years should make a big difference. Rebounding and spacing should look a lot better this year.

I think the 46.5 win projection is pretty low. I would predict 49 wins and take the over.

The Indiana Pacers are a pretty interesting case as they feature last year’s Most Improved Player, Victor Oladipo who really flourished last year in Indiana.

The Pacers added Tyreke Evans who was very productive last year even though it was for the tanking Grizzlies. He also missed a lot of games last year because of injury and has a history of being very injury-prone. When healthy, though, if he can continue at the same level as last year, he is a major upgrade in the Pacers’ wing rotation, most likely as a sixth man (or possibly as a starter over Bogdanovic).

Doug McDermott will also get some buckets for them off the bench. The Kyle O’Quinn addition is not that important as they already have Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis at center, but he is a good backup. Turner and Sabonis’ potential growth as players and potential breakout seasons could make a huge difference for them.

They are also a young team so I don’t think they’ll regress, and they do seem to have good chemistry. I think the projection of 47.5 wins is fair and should closely mirror their performance.

The Philadelphia 76ers are perhaps the most interesting team to talk about because of their upside, but also the several question marks they possess.

A very positive sign for them was Joel Embiid playing 63 games and being an All-Star last season. Another very positive sign is Ben Simmons playing at very close to an All-Star level as a rookie and he is naturally expected to improve even further. Also, their supporting cast going forward, Robert Covington and Dario Saric also had good overall seasons. While J.J. Redick remains the shooter he’s always been.

But now on to the questions. Will Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala be as good as Marco Bellinelli and Ilyasova were last season? Let’s not forget these two contributed a lot to a huge 20-3 run to end the season. Will Robert Covington’s shooting be closer to elite like the first half of the season or bad like the second half? How will Markelle Fultz look and how much will he improve the team? And most importantly, how healthy will Joel Embiid be throughout the season?

Projecting the 76ers has a big variance, but I think 54.5 wins is a bit high. I would project them at around 52 wins and take the under on that one.

The Toronto Raptors are also very interesting because of the DeMar DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green trade. If Leonard is anything close to a top-5 player then their backcourt is looking very promising on both ends of the floor. Nick Nurse being promoted to head coach will be interesting as well as he was the one behind the revamp of the Raptors’ offense last year.

If Leonard is willing to play for the Raptors (which he has said he is) then I see the Raptors winning 60 games. The 54.5 win projection is a bit too low in my opinion but the Leonard factor makes many people uncertain. I think he’ll play for the Raptors and he’ll still be a top-10 player. I’d project the Raptors at 58 wins.

And last but not least, we have the Boston Celtics. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum should continue their upward trajectory and if Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward come back in good form (which is very likely), then winning even 60 games is a very real possibility. In my opinion, the Celtics’ best case scenario is as the team in the league with the best hopes of overthrowing the Warriors.

However, Brown and Tatum’s consistency as well as their effectiveness in more reduced roles (with Irving and Hayward returning) will be tested. Overall, I think the 57.5 win projection is fair.

So overall, my personal opinion is:

No. 1-2: Celtics – Raptors at 58 wins

No. 3: 76ers at 52 wins

No. 4: Bucks at 49 wins

No. 5: Pacers at 48 wins

No. 6: Wizards at 46 wins

No. 7: Heat at 41 wins

No. 8: Pistons at 40 wins

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As always, it’s a guarantee that the NBA season will be filled with unexpected twists and turns with the potential to upset the odds. Hopefully for the Bucks, those breaks will work in their favor.