Milwaukee Bucks: How they extended their championship window

Jul 17, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 17, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

One of the feelings Milwaukee Bucks fans have been going through since watching their team win the championship is something that’s not uncommon to any fanbase. How can we do this again? It’s a feeling that was shared almost immediately by Giannis Antetokounmpo in his post-championship interview with ESPN’s Malika Andrews when he said he wanted to do it again.

Every team that wins a championship or is competing for a championship wants to extend their championship window as much as they can. There are different ways to do that, but the best way is to acquire younger players instead of aging veterans that only have a few years left in the tank.

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The Bucks’ core centers around three players: Giannis Antetokounmpo (27 in December), Khris Middleton (30), and Jrue Holiday (31). The core of the championship roster is more-or-less in their respective primes, just a different points.

Antetokounmpo is squarely in his prime now, while Middleton and Holiday still have at least a few more years of high-level basketball in them. It’s one of the reasons I preferred adding someone like Holiday over Chris Paul to the core the last offseason, as it would keep the championship window open for longer.

While it would be tempting to think that the solution would be to add veteran experience and match the few years of high-level basketball that Middleton and Holiday have with players in a similar age range, getting younger role players is a much better way to complement your stars and extend the championship window.

The Bucks added a few players who fit that label in the last few offseasons, and it has paid off with role players who have come relatively cheap, have provided valuable rotation minutes, and will be on the team for multiple years.

How the Milwaukee Bucks added youth to extend their championship window

In most cases, getting younger would come through the draft. That hasn’t been an option for the Bucks, who haven’t had a first-round pick of their own on the roster since Donte DiVincenzo in 2018. I’d like to see the Bucks add more through the draft with higher picks than they’ve had recently, which has mostly been mid-to-late second-round picks. In lieu of that, the Bucks have found ways to add younger players to their roster without higher value draft picks.

It feels like the majority of championship-caliber teams add role players that are older. Two obvious examples are the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers with their cast of older role players like LaMarcus Aldridge, Rajon Rondo, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Paul Millsap, and so on. While that’s certainly an option, it does lead to concerns about injuries and how much an older roster can hold up over the course of a season.

The Bucks seem to put together a good mix of older role players and prime-age players. Yes, the Bucks did add 35-year-old George Hill this offseason, and how much his age will affect him is one of the question marks about him going into this season. But they were also able to bring aboard Grayson Allen (26 in October) and Semi Ojeleye (27 in December) this offseason and Bobby Portis (26) last offseason. Even signing Pat Connaughton when he was 26 in the summer of 2018.

In the offseason ahead of the 2019-20 season, the Bucks added Kyle Korver (38), Wes Matthews (33), and Robin Lopez (31) while having Hill and Ersan Ilyasova already on the roster. The Bucks were the third-oldest team heading into that year, with an average age of 28.73. This past season, the Bucks were still the fifth-oldest roster, but the average age dropped to 27.2. Right now, the Bucks’ average age is 26.9.

What this accomplishes is it allows the Bucks to have prime-age role players that have more years of high-level basketball in them than, say, a P.J. Tucker. Although they may not be as good right now as Tucker, they’ll be on the team for longer and cost less. The Bucks were able to keep Portis on another cheap contract and will allow them to pay him more on a longer-term contract next offseason. In acquiring Allen on his rookie contract, the Bucks will be able to match any offers he’ll receive and can sign him into their cap space next season.

It’s even more important this coming season that the Bucks have guys in their prime-ages with such a quick turnaround to the upcoming season. After the heavy workload the Bucks’ core players (plus players like Brook Lopez) had to endure in the playoffs (and then the Olympics), it’s likely that they’ll be rested during the regular season even more than in years past. Having players like Portis, Allen, Ojeleye, and even Connaughton or Rodney Hood can help weather the storm better than if they had their older group of role players from a couple of years ago.

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While they may not be adding the name-value players that other contenders are adding, it’s more important that the Bucks are able to keep the championship window open as long as possible.