Milwaukee Bucks: Is Pat Connaughton the dark horse to start at SG?

BOSTON, MA - MAY 6: (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - MAY 6: (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Bucks have a vacancy to fill in the starting lineup following Malcolm Brogdon‘s departure. Could Pat Connaughton emerge as the starting shooting guard?

As the Milwaukee Bucks look to build upon their trip to the Eastern Conference Finals and 60-win campaign last season, they’ll face a number of important questions heading into the 2019-20 season.

None of those questions will be more pressing than how the Bucks manage their rotation at shooting guard and, even more specifically, who gets the nod as the team’s starter at that spot.

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With Malcolm Brogdon now set to ply his trade with the Indiana Pacers, the shooting guard spot is the only thing keeping the Bucks from total continuity in their starting group. Finding a player capable of stepping up and preventing Milwaukee from missing a beat, or at least limiting the drop-off they may be facing at that spot, is of paramount importance.

Even with room for two more additions to the roster, the Bucks do have definite options at that spot.

Sterling Brown stepped up in place of Brogdon late last season, starting a combined 12 games between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. Brown played well, as did the Bucks, for the majority of that span until a brutal Game 1 loss saw him drop out of the lineup and take on a more peripheral role in the rotation for the rest of the postseason.

If Brown isn’t quite up to the level he needs to be at just yet, Wesley Matthews represents another strong option. Having signed on a veteran minimum deal, Matthews is a proven 3-and-D wing who would represent the safest choice to slot in with the starters, which is something that may well make the most sense for a team with aspirations to win it all next season.

There’s another player on the Bucks’ roster who largely seems to be going unmentioned in the wider discussion about Milwaukee’s shooting guard options, though.

Pat Connaughton emerged as one of the most important role players in the Bucks’ rotation during the playoffs, particularly coming to the fore against the Boston Celtics in the second round. As the Bucks opted to start switching after a nightmare performance in Game 1, Connaughton’s versatility was unlocked.

Using his energy, athleticism and high-intensity style of play, Connaughton left his fingerprints on a lot of what the Bucks were doing on both ends of the floor.

Although Connaughton had his ups and downs over the course of the year, how he came to be in a position to soak up those postseason minutes in the first place is instructive in considering why he could make for one of the stronger options Milwaukee has at the shooting guard position.

Heading into last season, Tony Snell had started more games at shooting guard than any other Buck over the course of the previous two years, with Brogdon frequently acting as a Sixth Man off the bench. Under Budenholzer, Snell’s role was reduced significantly and, of course, he now plays for the Detroit Pistons.

In part, that can likely be attributed to some of the more static elements of Snell’s game that made him little more than a catch-and-shoot threat. Between Budenholzer and general manager Jon Horst, “pass, dribble, shoot” has become something of a mantra for what they want to see from their players.

Connaughton is by no means elite in any, let alone all, of those areas, but he’s good enough at each that he can fulfil whatever role the Bucks’ largely improvisational offense asks of him from one possession to the next. Milwaukee’s vision for Donte DiVincenzo likely falls along those same lines. In other words, the Bucks want a fifth man who’s well-rounded enough that it doesn’t bog down the rest of their offense or allow the opposing team to just disregard one player standing in the corner.

Compared with Brown and Matthews, Connaughton’s versatility may well give him something of an advantage. The Bucks have worked with Brown in an attempt to develop his ability to dribble and drive at a higher level, but at the moment he is still largely a 3-and-D wing. In his prime, Matthews was more dynamic than that, but as he progresses into the final chapter of his career it may be a stretch to expect too much beyond working off-ball and making shots from the perimeter.

Connaughton’s explosive athleticism makes for a very different threat to either of those two, but he also has a level of comfort with the ball in his hands, and an eagerness to make hard cuts that offers up something different. The 26-year-old had a very mixed season from three-point range last season, and ironing that out with more consistent production would be vital to his ability to take on, and hold on to, a bigger role.

The truth is the Bucks could have a real positional battle on their hands heading into training camp and preseason. There’s simply no reason for any one player to be presumptively locked in as the team’s starter at the 2 spot at present.

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When that fight for minutes does get underway, though, don’t disregard Connaughton’s chance of emerging as the big winner.