With a new coach, staff, and a handful of players, things were never going to mesh right away for the Milwaukee Bucks to start the 2023-24 NBA season.
Through 16 games, the team has gone 11-5, which is pretty good. Yet, this team has not come close to reaching its ceiling, as there have been plenty of growing pains on display, mainly on the defensive side of the basketball. The team just has not managed to get themselves into a groove on that end of the court, and making a major rotation change could be the answer to that.
It's time for the Milwaukee Bucks to make a big rotation change
It's obvious that the Bucks need more versatile defenders on the court. Losing Jae Crowder for the foreseeable future due to a procedure has undeniably hurt this team. He was playing incredibly well for the Bucks on both ends, and the team should be counting down the days until his return. Yet, for the time being, that cannot be an excuse. The next man has to step up.
Thus far, that next man has been Pat Connaughton, who is averaging the sixth-most minutes on the team this season at 23.9 per game. Yet, he hasn't produced much in those minutes, averaging just 5.8 points and 3.6 rebounds while shooting 40.7 percent from the floor and 33.3 percent from distance. On top of that, he's struggled defensively to make much of an impact.
Connaughton's struggles date back to last season, when he started the year injured and never got into a groove. Those struggles have carried over into the 2023-24 NBA season, and if he cannot get it together soon, it might be time to make a change in the rotation. Specifically, the Bucks should aim to get two youngers in MarJon Beauchamp and Andre Jackson Jr. more involved.
Both of these players have what it takes to help this team out defensively. They are a pair of 6-foot-6 wings who possess the athleticism, quickness, and length to truly hound opponents. This has been on display this season, but it has only been in glimpses, as Beauchamp is averaging 16.8 minutes and Jackson is at 8.5 per game. Those need to increase as the Bucks try to establish a defensive identity.
Beauchamp, a first round pick a year ago, looks improved compared to where he was last season as a rookie. His jumper is better, and his confidence is up. Defensively, he's not shy no matter who he is up against. He's averaging 6.3 points while shooting 46.7 percent from the floor and 41.4 percent from 3-point range on the season. There's legitimate two-way potential there waiting to be unearthed.
As for Jackson, he's not putting up the flashiest numbers - two points and 1.8 rebounds per game - but his presence is felt whenever he touches the court. Whether he's making a flashy pass, throwing down a dunk, forcing a turnover, or whatever else, Jackson is always active. While it's a small sample size, there's an argument to be made that he's already one of the best defenders on this roster.
Though they're young and inexperienced, these two need to be a key part of what the Bucks do on a nightly basis. For years, this team has been hindered by undersized wings, as opponents have thrived when being guarded by players under 6-foot-6 - see recent playoff series against Boston and Miami. They now have two players who can help them combat that problem.
If the Bucks will ultimately reach their goal of another title, they'll likely have to go through the likes of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jimmy Butler, and others outstanding wings. The Bucks should be using the tandem of Beauchamp and Jackson as much as they can right now to try and prepare them to square off against those high-level players, especially with Jae Crowder sidelined right now.
As all young - and even experienced - players do, these two will make mistakes. However, it's best to get them out of the way now so that they can learn and grow from them. Whether it's a bad gamble on a steal or a lousy turnover, these two can grow from their mistakes and ultimately become legitimate players for this basketball team, but it's hard when their minutes are limited.
One of the biggest things these two can do is simply give the Bucks a spark on the defensive side of the court. They're young and hungry, meaning they are constantly running around trying to make an impact, and it's constantly felt. The video clip below from "Bucks Film Room" sums it up perfectly.
Connaughton has been a key cog for this team for years, and he was an essential part in securing the 2021 NBA Championship. However, he hasn't been able to get back to that form, and if he continues to struggle nightly, it might be time to shake things up and start giving the youngsters his minutes on a regular basis for the betterment of the defense - and the team as a whole.
At the end of the day, Connaughton is not the player who will take on the toughest assignment on the defensive end. Right now, Beauchamp and Jackson have plenty of room to grow, but if they get time on a regular basis, perhaps they could develop to fit that mold for the Milwaukee Bucks, especially in those high-pressure, intense environments.
Bottom line, as Milwaukee's defense continues to struggle this much, the need for more Beauchamp and Jackson minutes grows more pressing. It's time for the two young Bucks to see more minutes in Pat Connaughton's place. There will be some growing pains in the short term, but it could benefit the team long term as they look to create a champion-level defense.
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