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Hiring Mike Budenholzer could make Bucks big factors in Eastern Conference

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Hiring Mike Budenholzer could make Bucks big factors in Eastern Conference

The Milwaukee Bucks were expected by many to take another leap forward in the 2017-18 season with Giannis Antetokounmpo's continual rise as one of the best young players in the NBA, a deep roster and a front office that has proven to be both smart and aggressive in improving the team. That leap did not happen.

Instead, the Bucks dragged their feet to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, exited in the first round of the playoffs and fired head coach Jason Kidd along the way. They finally found a long-term replacement for Kidd this week and the man they chose could be the key to getting them over the hump and into the top tier of the conference.

In comes Mike Budenholzer, formerly of the Atlanta Hawks. ESPN reported on Wednesday that he has reached an agreement to become the Bucks' next coach, replacing interim coach Joe Prunty.

Budenholzer and the Bucks appear to be a great fit. Milwaukee has become progressively worse on defense in each of the past three seasons despite having a roster that should lend itself to that end of the floor. Antetokounmpo is a turnover-inducing force and he is surrounded by capable defenders like Malcolm Brogdon, John Henson and Khris Middleton.

Budenholzer coached the Hawks for five seasons. During the first four, when they made the playoffs each year, his Hawks ranked no worse than 14th in the NBA in defensive rating and they were top-6 in three seasons from 2014-15 through 2016-17.

When Atlanta was at its best under Budenholzer, it was because of their defense. In 2014-15, when they won 60 games, they were fifth in points allowed and sixth in defensive rating. The next season, when they won 48 games, they were sixth and second in those categories.

Budenholzer had some talented teams in Atlanta, and got them to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015, but these Bucks may ultimately have a much higher ceiling with Antetokounmpo in the mix. Budenholzer coached several All-Stars in Atlanta, yet none were on the level of Antetokounmpo, an MVP candidate.

Antetokounmpo has a chance to be one of the very best players in the NBA and transcendent stars often make the difference in the playoffs. Budenholzer's Hawks teams were always limited by the fact they lacked superstars that could take over games offensively. Now he has one.

Milwaukee now has a chance to be major factors in the East, but their roster needs some work. Outside of Antetokounmpo, they have considerable talent but will probably need another star to contend for championships. What they have is only so impressives compared to the Sixers and Celtics, in particular. Philly has two budding superstars and Boston has more talent overall. They are best set up to control the conference in the long-term future.

The Bucks, like the Wizards and Heat and other teams, are hoping to join the ranks at the top of the Eastern Conference. By hiring Budenholzer, the Bucks have improved their chances.

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With Wizards and Bulls squaring off, what are the early returns on the Otto Porter Jr. trade?

With Wizards and Bulls squaring off, what are the early returns on the Otto Porter Jr. trade?

Forty two days have passed since the Feb. 6 trade between the Wizards and the Bulls, a deal that started a new era of sorts in Washington with the departure of Otto Porter Jr., a former third overall pick who had stuck with the franchise for a second contract. 

Though the confusion of that first night, as the Wizards informed Porter just before a game against the Bucks, has passed, both teams are still sorting things out and evaluating what they have as the end of the season nears.

Porter won't play on Wednesday night due to a shoulder injury as the Wizards battle the Bulls in Chicago at 8 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington. But as these teams square off now over a month later, it seems like a good time to look at how the deal has gone for them so far.

Basically, neither team has really taken off. The Wizards are 8-9 since the trade and the Bulls are 8-10. Porter has put up strong numbers, but has missed time due to various injuries. Jabari Parker and Bobby Portis, the two players the Wizards acquired from Chicago, have also improved from their season stats while ostensibly benefiting from a change in scenery.

Porter averaged 12.6 points and shot 45.7 from the field and 36.9 percent from three with the Wizards this season. With the Bulls, he has put up 17.5 points while shooting 48.3 percent overall and 48.8 percent from long range. 

Perhaps most notable is the fact he's taking 13.4 total shots and 5.3 per game from three. Both would be career-highs if held for an entire season. For years, the narrative about him in D.C. was that he either wasn't aggressive enough to create his own shots or the Wizards failed him by not running plays with him in mind.

Parker has simply been much more efficient with the Wizards than he was in Chicago. He's averaging about the same amount of points - 14.8 compared to 14.3 with the Bulls - but his effective field goal percentage has raised from 51.4 to 60.7. The latter would rank seventh in the NBA if it qualified for leaderboards.

Portis is putting up 14.6 points and 8.4 rebounds, both of which would be career-highs if carried for a full season. And he's shooting 45.6 percent from three, well above the 37.5 percent clip he posted in Chicago this year.

Both teams, interestingly enough, have seen a surge on offense. The Bulls are 23rd on the season in points scored (105.3), but since adding Porter are ninth, averaging nearly 10 more points per game (115). The Wizards are seventh on the season points (114.4), but since the deal top the entire league with 117.5 per game. 

Defensively, it has been a different story. Both the Wizards and Bulls rank in the bottom third of the NBA in defensive rating. Both teams were bad at defending before the deals and haven't shown improvement.

This trade, of course, will ultimately be judged for what happens well beyond this season. The Wizards gave up a valuable asset in Porter, who is only 25 and is under contract for two more years, albeit at arguably a steep price for his production. His contract loomed large in Washington, but can be viewed differently in Chicago because of their otherwise cheap roster of young talent.

Parker and Portis are both likely to hit free agency this offseason, Portis as a restricted free agent. Parker has a team option, but at $20 million it is unlikely to be picked up.

The Wizards could keep both of them, one or neither of them this offseason. And whichever way they go will significantly affect the way the trade is evaluated. If they part with either, the financial flexibility they will then get will have bearing on how the deal is graded.

But for now, both teams seem to be doing well with the pieces they got. All three have improved their numbers in the short period of time they have played with their new teams.

MORE WIZARDS NEWS: 

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The complete list of players who have suited up for the Wizards in the 2018-19 season

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The complete list of players who have suited up for the Wizards in the 2018-19 season

As Chase Hughes writes, it's been quite a year for the Wizards' roster due to injuries and trades. How many of these names can you list without checking?

Here's the complete list of players who have suited up for the Wizards this season:

John Wall
Bradley Beal
Otto Porter Jr.
Markieff Morris
Dwight Howard
Kelly Oubre Jr.
Austin Rivers
Ian Mahinmi
Jeff Green
Tomas Satoransky
Chasson Randle
Jordan McRae
Devin Robinson
Troy Brown Jr.
Thomas Bryant
John Jenkins
Wesley Johnson
Jabari Parker
Bobby Portis
Sam Dekker
Ron Baker
Gary Payton II
Okaro White
Jason Smith
Trevor Ariza

Read more here.