At the end of last week, we asked for your questions for an offseason mailbag.

No need to mess around. Let’s dive right into Part 1!

(Questions have been lightly edited for clarity and length.)

Considering MarJon Beauchamp, Chris Livingston, Andre Jackson Jr. and AJ Green: Do the Bucks believe in the potential of any of them? Who is the most likely to work this summer to earn important minutes next year? — Pazenden

I always think the clearest indication of belief in a young player is playing time. So while the Bucks as an organization still believe in the potential of all four players, only two got real minutes at any time under Doc Rivers.

Green appeared in 28 of the 36 regular season games that Rivers coached and played 402 minutes in the second half of the season as well as all six of the Bucks’ playoff games against the Pacers. Sometimes, he only played a stint in the first half and didn’t enter the game a second time, but he was still consistently getting an opportunity in the postseason. That puts him in pole position for minutes among the young players next season.

After appearing in only 18 regular season games under Rivers and not playing in Game 1 against the Pacers, Jackson entered the rotation for the Bucks in Game 3 and the rookie forward played 17 minutes in Game 3 and 25 minutes in Game 4. The Bucks were in a difficult position with all of their injuries, so Jackson’s time in the rotation might not end up meaning anything to Rivers, but Jackson had moments that showed he could find ways to impact playoff games with energy and activity.

It’s worth noting that MarJon Beauchamp was on the injury report for nearly all of Rivers’ tenure with a batch of different injuries. Getting healthy will put him in a better position for next season, but it still seems like he is firmly in third as we head to the offseason. Chris Livingston would be at the bottom of the list.

Regarding which players will put in the work: I think all four players work incredibly hard. There have never been any complaints from anyone in or around the organization about the willingness of all four to put in the work to get better.

In my opinion, with their skillsets, Green has the easiest path to major minutes next season. He has proven to be a knockdown 3-point shooter with deep range and the ability to make shots off movement, plus he has the frame and agility to be a solid defensive player. With the Bucks’ cap restraints, it seems difficult to imagine the Bucks signing enough good players to knock Green out of the rotation.

After that, the rest of the young players still have quite a bit to prove.

Should Milwaukee start to play Giannis Antetokounmpo as center and look for a versatile 4 for the starting lineup? — Kuba

For as long as I’ve been covering this team, the lineups with Antetokounmpo at center have always been very popular among fans. It’s easy to understand why. Those units have always been positive for the Bucks and “small ball” has been the basketball most sought after by fans around the league ever since the Golden State Warriors’ “Death Lineup” took over the league with Draymond Green playing center on occasion.

But there are a few things worth noting here from a Bucks perspective, so let’s take a look at numbers, per Cleaning the Glass.

Poss Off Rtg Def Rtg Net Rtg

2018-19

213

113.1

109.7

+3.4

2019-20

462

116

98.3

+17.7

2020-21

478

117.4

113.7

+3.7

2021-22

1489

115.6

108.2

+7.4

2022-23

672

116.1

106

+10.1

2023-24

139

124.5

112.2

+12.3

Two numbers stick out most to me when looking at how often the Bucks have used Antetokounmpo at center across the last six seasons.

First: 139. This past season was the least the Bucks used Antetokounmpo at center in the last six with only 139 possessions in that configuration. It makes sense. Lopez played 2,411 minutes, the most he has played since the 2015-16 season. Portis played in 2,008 minutes, the second-most he’s played in any season in his career. Both Adrian Griffin and Doc Rivers loved leaning into Portis on the offensive end and Lopez was a major part of the Bucks’ most successful defensive units under both coaches. With both players putting together strong seasons, there is an argument to be made that three of the Bucks’ five best players last season were big men.

Second: 1,489. The Bucks used lineups with Antetokounmpo at center most as the Bucks tried to repeat as NBA champions during the 2021-22 season. This was not a choice. It was forced upon them when Lopez injured his back in the first game of the season and ultimately needed surgery, which caused him to miss most of the season. Throughout that season, Antetokounmpo regularly used his postgame sessions with reporters talking about how much he missed Lopez and how much he meant to their team. It was clear that he finds playing center far more taxing than playing power forward and he would prefer to play alongside a bigger player than himself most of the time.

But the Bucks need to find a happy medium somewhere between those two numbers.

Antetokounmpo at center cannot be the team’s primary alignment. It is too much to ask of Antetokounmpo across 82 games, but it should be a weapon for them every season and it was not this past season. Whether it was because Jae Crowder did not play quite as well as they would have hoped or Connaughton struggled from behind the 3-point line, the Bucks never found the Antetokounmpo-at-center lineup they thought could consistently produce results. That needs to change next season. It has to be a strong lineup option for them during the regular season and something they can force teams to try to deal with during the postseason.

In the last two drafts the Bucks have picked athletic wings (MarJon and Ajax) with good defense and ability to cut to the basket, but neither of them have been able to crack the lineup for a sustained role. Do you think the Bucks will continue this trend or are they going to prioritize a different position/archetype? Also, in the past the Bucks have bought late second-round picks, can they continue to do this with the second apron preventing teams from sending cash out in trades? — Bryan W.

Let’s knock out the second question first. Second apron teams, such as the Bucks, cannot buy second-round picks. And you nailed the reasoning in your question.

As far as what the Bucks are looking for in the draft, I think those last two picks suggest a pretty clear understanding of what the team needs, even if the Bucks haven’t seen significant on-court contributions from either player thus far. The Bucks went into the last two off-seasons knowing that they needed to get younger and more athletic, especially on the wing. That is what they targeted in Beauchamp and Jackson. It just hasn’t worked out for either player thus far.

The Bucks are in an interesting spot heading into this draft. Even though the last three seasons have not gone as they wanted, the talent at the top of their roster is going to put them in the heart of any conversation about the teams that could potentially represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals next season. Barring a significant trade at the top of the roster, the Bucks are going to need to find contributors among veterans they sign on minimum contracts, rookies they select in the 2024 NBA Draft or young players already on the roster taking a step forward.

While the Bucks could use a successful draft, the ways they can succeed are at least slightly limited by their current position in the NBA ecosystem. Unless the organization feels confident that the players on the roster are ready to contribute, they probably need to avoid drafting a prospect that might be viewed as a project and instead focus on prospects with identifiable NBA skills or athleticism that can get them on the floor and keep them on the floor during their rookie season.

I don’t think it would be unreasonable for the Bucks to once again draft an athletic wing or two athletic wings for that matter. Wings are the lifeblood of the NBA, so looking for players who can contribute at those positions is reasonable, especially considering the Bucks’ one “open” spot in the starting lineup is currently at shooting guard.

But there is also an argument to be made for the Bucks to take a look at the point guard prospects available at the end of the first round as they spent much of last season playing without a true backup point guard for Lillard. If that player has enough size and defensive ability, they could also play next to Lillard. They could also look for a big man who can bring something different to the table from Lopez and Portis as the Bucks try to build a team that can have as many options as possible in various playoff series. In the lead-up to previous drafts, I’ve argued that teams can never have enough wings who can contribute in the modern NBA, but with their older, top-heavy roster, there are a lot of ways for the Bucks to build greater depth this offseason.

The NFL salary cap gets adjusted up every year due to increased revenue. Is there any chance the NBA’s salary cap gets adjusted up for next year? — Charles M.

This is something the league already does, but maybe not in the way you are suggesting.

The $141 million salary cap figure for the 2024-25 season is just a projection for now. The league will finalize the number in the coming weeks and there could be an increase or decrease in that number, but those final adjustments are typically not all that drastic. The more drastic increase is typically revealed by the league a year in advance when they give teams the projection for the next season.

So, while there is probably not going to be another significant increase in the projected salary cap figure of $141 million for the 2024-25 season, that figure is already greater than the $136,021,000 salary cap for the 2023-24 season.

Is it a viable strategy for Jon Horst to trade Pat Connaughton for a player making less money than Pat ($4 million less to get under the second apron), so that the Bucks are allowed to trade two players (Bobby Portis and Pat’s traded-for-player) for one superior player, where it is likely draft picks would need to be added to the deal to acquire this better player (such as a good-shooting defensive guard to play alongside Dame Lillard)? — Kris B.

So let’s start with the legality of the proposal. As long as the other team involved in the trade can take on that extra salary, it would be legal for the Bucks to trade Connaughton (or any other player on the roster) for another player on a different team that makes less money and takes the Bucks under the second apron.

To me though, the difficult part of such a strategy would be the second part. If you’re able to successfully chop some salary, the amount you can then aggregate is smaller and — while the NBA is not a perfect meritocracy — the less money a player gets paid, the less talented they tend to be. You’d likely be looking at a less talented pool of players. Overall I would say that it is a viable strategy, but I think the maneuver could be difficult to successfully pull off.

What if anything did you learn about the NBA from covering the Pacers in the playoffs? — Mark S.

I wouldn’t say I learned anything new or different from covering the Indiana Pacers for a couple of weeks in the playoffs this season, but I do think a couple things stood out to me.

First, the Pacers play super fast offensively. On every possession. In every action. In every moment. They squeeze so much into every offensive possession that they are difficult to guard. What they do isn’t for every team and every group of players, but they didn’t just stumble into being one of the best offensive teams of all-time. They have a lot of talented players and Rick Carlisle has them playing with so much purpose on the offensive end. The Celtics had enough defensive firepower to slow them down once Tyrese Haliburton went down, but the Pacers were a really impressive offensive team.

Second, I enjoyed how Carlisle described playoff basketball as problem solving. Essentially, all you’re trying to do is solve the problems that the other team presents and solving those problems requires different solutions. That could mean a different defensive scheme. That could mean more pick-and-roll actions on offense. That could be a different bench player getting more minutes. To get to the end of the postseason, different opponents will require different answers to different questions and the team that wins will be able to provide those answers each step of the way.

In 2021, the Bucks had those answers. The core four served as the base for many of those answers, but the Bucks had significant contributions from throughout the roster. Bryn Forbes provided an answer to a question in the first round against the Miami Heat. P.J. Tucker did so against the Brooklyn Nets in the second round. Bobby Portis (and Jeff Teague) helped solve problems against the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Then Pat Connaughton came through in the NBA Finals. While he has never been known as the most flexible of coaches, Mike Budenholzer found the right answers to every question and the Bucks won a championship using different styles and tactics.

If the Bucks want to win another championship, Rivers needs to help the Bucks become elite problem solvers again.

(Photo of Brook Lopez, Giannis Antetokounmpo and MarJon Beauchamp: Adam Hagy / NBAE via Getty Images)

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