Milwaukee Bucks: Intriguing training camp battle approaches

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 22: (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - APRIL 22: (Photo by Brian Sevald/NBAE via Getty Images) /

With the start of training camp just a week away for the Milwaukee Bucks, a fascinating battle lies ahead for the open spot in the starting lineup.

As clips circulated on social media on Monday of Milwaukee Bucks players taking part in the annual festivities for the team’s marketing day, the NBA season is well and truly just around the corner.

It’s just under two weeks until the Bucks take to the court again for their first preseason game against the Chicago Bulls, while it’s less than a week until Mike Budenholzer and his players reconvene for training camp.

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On that front, the Bucks will face some very different questions heading into camp compared to what’s been the case in recent years.

At the forefront of that particular discussion is the question of who will take the place of the now Indiana Pacers guard Malcolm Brogdon in the starting lineup. Eric Bledsoe, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez are all obviously locks to return as starters, but the Bucks have a wealth of options to choose from in terms of who the fifth starter will be.

The signing of Wesley Matthews presents something of a frontrunner to take the berth at shooting guard, given his combination of experience, two-way skill, and complementary fit alongside Milwaukee’s other key cogs.

Still, there’s enough competition between holdover players on the Bucks’ roster and newcomers with whom coach Mike Budenholzer enjoys a strong existing relationship to suggest that Matthews will really have to fight to earn that spot. Even beyond that, though, whether it’s Matthews or someone else that wins the starting spot for opening night, there’s reason to believe that position could be a source of real change over the course of 82 games too.

Sterling Brown was tasked with filling in late last season through a combination of injuries to Brogdon and Tony Snell, and he did so very impressively up until the competition really ramped up in the second round of the playoffs. Brown’s defensive work and rebounding speak for themselves, the question is just how consistent his shooting can be next season and whether his comfort handling the ball and creating for teammates continues to develop.

Pat Connaughton enjoyed a really strong second half of the year, and was one of the Bucks’ best and most consistent role players in the postseason, which perhaps could give way to him being a really valid option as a starter. Certainly, if Connaughton’s three-point shooting can improve this season, his all-around mix of skills and physical tools could then make him Milwaukee’s best option for a fifth starter in terms of a balanced starting five.

Kyle Korver may not be a leading candidate for extended minutes at 38 years old, but based on Budenholzer’s pre-existing trust from their time together in Atlanta, and the incredible gravity provided by his sharpshooting, it’s entirely possible that he could emerge as a preferred option to start and finish games.

Donte DiVincenzo is likely a long shot to enter this discussion given how extensive injury curtailed his rookie season, but he shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand considering how prominent a role he was given by Budenholzer at the start of last season. DiVincenzo has significant flaws in his game, particularly with his shot, but he has an element of versatility and an unrelenting energy and intensity that could make him a nice fit in that group even if it’s in short bursts.

Beyond that, there is another option available to Budenholzer. Having at times enjoyed leaning into larger lineups, and enjoying some success with those groups last season, Budenholzer could opt to start one of Ersan Ilyasova or D.J. Wilson, and moving Middleton and Antetokounmpo down a spot.

Neither of those options would necessarily maximize the Bucks’ depth in the best possible fashion given the glut of reserve wings, but if the coaching staff feel either of those players offer up an interesting fit with the starting group, having Robin Lopez and Dragan Bender in reserve at least frees up the opportunity to explore that particular path.

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With all of these options at the Bucks’ disposal, it can’t be overstated just how many minutes could be up for grabs once camp opens. Arriving in shape and ready to compete will be crucial for the players mentioned above, and that immediately opens up the possibility for a training camp standout to emerge as the final piece in the Bucks’ puzzle for this season.