Milwaukee Bucks: D.J. Wilson can emerge as dark horse contributor off the bench

MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 6: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images).
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 6: (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images). /

With the NBA season nearly upon us, which under the radar Milwaukee Bucks role player has the potential to make the biggest impact this upcoming season?

A lot of the focus of the Milwaukee Bucks’ off-season has been dedicated to discussing the team’s new signings. Kyle Korver, Wesley Matthews, and Robin Lopez, in particular, have gotten a great deal of attention because they’re all likely to factor in as significant role players for the team in the coming season.

What’s been overlooked, however, is that the Bucks possess several other players who have the talent and potential to be key contributors too.

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One player, specifically, who’s gotten lost in the shuffle is big man D.J. Wilson. Wilson is a serious dark horse to emerge as one of the Bucks key role players for the 2019-20 season.

Wilson, for the first year plus of his Milwaukee career, was a complete non-factor for the team. Outside of playing minutes in garbage time of games that were well past settled, Wilson never saw the court for any meaningful minutes. That changed last December.

Wilson stepped up for the Bucks at a time of a need, though. With their front court depth left lacking behind Brook Lopez, especially after Ersan Ilyasova suffered a series of injuries during that juncture of the season, the Bucks finally gave Wilson a chance at a key role out of necessity. He showed, in this first taste of substantial playing time in the NBA, just how much he could provide.

Between his ability to stretch the floor as a big from behind the three-point line, to his knack for blocking shots, protecting the rim, and guarding multiple positions well on the defensive-end, Wilson helped steady the ship in the minutes that Lopez sat.

Unfortunately for Wilson, the impressive two-month run that he had from December through to the end of January did not last.

Ersan Ilyasova came back from from his series of injuries and rediscovered his shot after initially scuffling upon his return from injury in January. At the same time, Wilson completely lost the feel for his. He saw his true shooting percentage tank from a solid 58.6 percent and 59.4 percent in December and January, respectively, to an awful 35.6 percent in nine February appearances.

The final nail in the coffin for Wilson’s season, so it appeared, would come at at the NBA Trade Deadline, when the Milwaukee Bucks brought power forward Nikola Mirotic in to shore up their depth. The only things that kept Wilson factoring into the rotation in a major way after that was that Mirotic would suffer an injury just a few games into his Bucks tenure, and the Bucks would clinch home court advantage throughout the playoffs with a few games to spare, allowing them to rest several of their key players.

Coach Mike Budenholzer just couldn’t trust Wilson to do enough offensively to play in crunch time down the stretch last season. His shooting would recover a bit from his low point in February, but he was never quite able to find his shot to the extent that he had it in December and January (his true shooting percentage in March was 46.7 percent and April was 52.4 percent). Wilson’s defense remained solid, but it wasn’t enough to off-set the negative affect he had on the other side of the court, especially with his offensive skills limited.

The team’s offensive rating after the All-Star break last season in the minutes Wilson played was 104.1 compared to a 114.4 rating overall. The former would have been second worst in the NBA after the All-Star break, only ahead of the then tanking New York Knicks.

By the time the playoffs rolled around, Wilson would, essentially, be a non-factor in the Bucks run to the Eastern Conference Finals because of his late season struggles with his shot, and Nikola Mirotic returning from injury. Coach Budenholzer preferred the veterans who had playoff experience over the second year player.

With another off-season now behind him, though, it’s not difficult to envision D.J. Wilson becoming a bigger factor in the Bucks’ rotation than it might seem at first glance.

Wilson’s dynamic talent on both ends, when his shot is falling, makes him a far more impactful talent than Ersan Ilyasova is capable of being, even at his best. If Wilson can find the range on his three-point shot consistently, his ability to stretch the floor, at a position where floor-spacing is lacking, could be a major asset for the team, especially with the status of Robin Lopez’s three-point shot being a real question heading into the season.

He can give the team another stretch five when Brook Lopez goes to the bench. He could also occupy a similar role at the power forward position when Giannis Antetokounmpo sits. If the Bucks want to try and match teams going big against them, Wilson can help them do that.

On the defensive end, we saw last season what Wilson can do as well. He’s a bit smaller than some of the NBA’s best centers. This can make him vulnerable in one-on-one situations in the low-post against someone like Joel Embiid, who possesses an incredible amount of size, strength, and skill there.

However, Wilson is capable of working as a roamer who can help double opponents and block shots. He can also rotate in pick-and-roll situations onto smaller players and guard them well because of size, speed, quickness, and instincts. This makes it very difficult for teams to create defensive mismatches that can result in open looks, or cause the defense to fall out of their comfort zone and scheme because of the concern about an advantage being created by a switch.

The key for WIlson meeting his potential this season will be his development on offense. If he can further his ability to hit open jumpers, and add a few other skills to his arsenal on that end (such as some low post moves, or learning how to set better screens before rolling to the rim) he could easily supplant Ilyasova as the Bucks’ go-to player in the minutes that Antetokounmpo sits, while also eating into a chunk of Robin Lopez’s minutes.

Next. Milwaukee Bucks: How can they improve offensively in 2019-20?. dark

It’s a tall ask for Wilson to break into the Milwaukee Bucks’ rotation this coming season. He faces stiff competition for playing time. However, he’s more than capable of meeting that call. We’ll see if the 23-year-old is up to task in the coming weeks.