The depth of the Milwaukee Bucks wings is shrinking faster than your hair.
It started before it even started with the signing of Joe Ingles in free agency. Ingles tore his ACL Jan. 30 against the Minnesota Timberwolves and underwent reconstructive surgery Feb. 23. This puts his recovery timeline around January 2023.
Khris Middleton was the next Buck to fall. He has battled a left wrist injury since the All-Star break and finally had surgery in July. He was unable to perform basketball-related activities until last week and is expected to return “at the start of the season.”
Pat Connaughton is the latest wing to fall victim to the injury bug. He suffered a calf injury that caused him to miss the final two pre-season games and the team’s annual scrimmage. Milwaukee recently announced that he will miss the next three weeks, so he will be out for about nine games.
That leaves a void on the wing with Milwaukee’s top three players out for at least the foreseeable future. Head coach Mike Budenholzer has a few young guys he could use in this position, but expect him to take a different route as his first option.
MarJon Beauchamp/Jordan Nwora
These two are the obvious option to position. Beauchamp was selected with the 24th pick in this year’s draft and could be a long-term solution on the wing. However, he has a lot of work to do until he gets to that point.
Beauchamp looked like raw talent in the Summer League and pre-season. He is full of exuberance, arrogance and restlessness – three traits that will help him pursue a long career in the NBA. It’s the basic skills that he lacks at this point. He often looks lost in defense despite his physical qualities to succeed on this side of the field. Offensively, he is even worse. It projects like a spacer on the ground from the line of three points. The only problem is that he is extremely inconsistent and has only made three of his 16 (18.8%) pre-season attempts. Maybe a little regular season playing time will help?
Nwora is the most likely answer. He’s much more polished offensively and can get his own shot even when it hurts his team. His attacking game would be a good boost if he could play within the system (AKA wins the ball from Giannis Antetokounmpo). Defense is where he needs the most work. There were times in pre-season when he was too busy admiring his shot to come back on defense. This type of college mistake won’t be enough.
Budenholzer may have accidentally revealed his starting lineup in the scrum when commenting on his starting unit. This group included Jrue Holiday, Grayson Allen, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez… and Jevon Carter.
Carter carried last year’s excellent play into the preseason, where he knocked down three like crazy (12 for 23 for 52.2%). This offensive boon comes in addition to his bulldog defense, not as a replacement. It also helps that he understands his role and doesn’t try to do too much. Budenholzer has used two guard lineups in the past and could return to it with Ingles, Middleton and Connaughton sidelined. Of course, it helps when you have guards like Carter and Jrue Holiday who will defend their butts.
At Bucks media day, Portis spoke about the Boston Celtics’ playoff run and how it shaped his approach this offseason. He struggled mightily in this series, as he was forced to step up to the Bucks totem due to Middleton’s injury. His inability to create an effective score hurt Milwaukee’s chances. It was ultimately part of what led to their demise in seven games.
We’ll see what Portis did in the lab this summer. With Middleton sidelined again, he will immediately be able to show the hard work he has put in. Behind Antetokounmpo and Holiday, Portis is perhaps the most equipped Buck to create his own shot. That means a diet of pick-and-pop trios, post-ups, and maybe even creations from the dribble.
It will be interesting to see how Budenholzer balances his rotation early in the season. Will he ensure that at least one of Antetokounmpo, Holiday or Portis is on the pitch at all times? How will he provide those bench rosters enough punch to keep Milwaukee in games? Who will step in to help the Bucks close the gap? Portis could be the answer to all these questions.