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The Bucks stayed quiet at the trade deadline, and ultimately failed to address their biggest need.

Even though it was an open secret that Damian Lillard was likely headed to the Miami Heat this past offseason, the Milwaukee Bucks swooped in and acquired the superstar guard to pair him up with Giannis Antetokounmpo. NBA pundits had the Bucks as the convincing favorite to win the 2024 NBA Finals, but that has been far from the case more than halfway through the season.

A head coaching change had already occurred in Milwaukee, as they decided to part ways with Adrian Griffin after just 43 games and hire Doc Rivers as his replacement. Even after the Rivers hiring, the Bucks have continued to struggle, as they are now 2.5 games behind the second-place Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Bucks could have made upgrades at the trade deadline, but they only made one minor move to acquire Patrick Beverley from the Philadelphia 76ers in an effort to shore up their backcourt depth and defensive woes. Milwaukee did have the contract of Pat Connaughton that could have been moved in an effort to add ancillary pieces who could be more helpful for Rivers, but nothing was close to being completed. And in the process, that led to the Bucks committing their biggest mistake at the 2024 trade deadline.

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Bucks trade deadline mistake: Failing to acquire a top-tier wing defender

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0) on the court in the second half during game one of the second round for the 2022 NBA playoffs at TD Garden.
Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Milwaukee crashed out of the playoffs in the first round against the Miami Heat last season, and a big reason for that was because of how much responsibility Mike Budenholzer placed on Jrue Holiday throughout the series, particularly when it came to guarding Jimmy Butler. Butler cooked Holiday for pretty much this entire series, but Budenholzer made virtually no adjustments in an effort to slow him down.

Since the Bucks traded Holiday as part of the deal for Lillard, everyone has been wondering who the team’s best perimeter defender is now. Through 56 games, the answer is still unclear. The Bucks are 17th in the league in defensive rating, which isn’t exactly a recipe for success when it comes to their pursuit of the Larry O’Brien trophy. Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez are still fantastic interior defenders, but it won’t mean anything if their teammates cannot defend at the perimeter.

Khris Middleton and Jae Crowder are two guys who used to be superb on-ball defenders, but their skills on defense have faded over the years. Both guys can still get timely stops every now and then, but you cannot expect them to contain superstars like Butler or Jayson Tatum in a seven-game series. The problem is that Lillard and Malik Beasley are both subpar defenders, so the Bucks don’t really have any answers on the perimeter, aside from Beverley, who they just picked up at the deadline.

The front office had more than enough time to evaluate the performance of their team ahead of the trade deadline, and the expectation was that they would pursue a lockdown perimeter defender who can go toe-to-toe with the top players they are going to meet in the playoffs. You can make a case that Beverley is that guy, but he isn’t big enough to consistently slow down Butler or Tatum, as he’s more suited to locking up the opposing team’s top guard.

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Milwaukee still has an opportunity to add someone on the buyout market, but their options are very limited. Beverley will make a difference for a game or two in the postseason, but he is past his prime already. Someone like De’Andre Hunter from the Atlanta Hawks or Alex Caruso from the Chicago Bulls would have been a tremendous help, and the Bucks may end up regretting sitting on their hands at the trade deadline.

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