Finally, in their sixth pre-season outing, the Milwaukee Bucks started a game with a group that bore a strong resemblance to the one they hope to have out there on opening night. For seven consecutive minutes (!), Milwaukee paired Andrew Bogut and Drew Gooden with Brandon Jennings and Carlos Delfino for the very first time. The result? A 20-17 lead over one of the laughingstocks of the league, but terrors of the pre-season. They didn’t come out like men on fire, but they came out, and that’s what really matters.
The conclusion of what I can only assume was a very long weekend of exhibition basketball (first Memphis and then South Dakota? Not exactly New York and Atlantic City, but who am I to knock a small market.) has to be considered a success, if only because Milwaukee got their first sign that things are actually going to be okay here.
On the court itself, things weren’t so glorious.
Milwaukee first lost 92-77 to Memphis and saw Bogut go down before the game even started with a migraine. No big deal, he fought the same problem last season and moved right along. The team either didn’t cope so well with the pre-game news or just wasn’t feeling Chris Douglas-Roberts’ college town. Milwaukee shot a hair under 33%, committed more turnovers than they gave out assists and were out-rebounded by 12. Of course, the Bucks have plenty of excuses. In addition to all of the injuries already in existence, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute missed this one (and Sunday’s game too) thanks to an ankle sprain he suffered against Washington. Throw in the fact that Memphis played their regular season starting five and we have a lineup as lopsided as the final score.
The Minnesota game is less excusable, but still nothing to lose sleep over, at least judging from the box score.
I should preface this by saying that the Timberwolves have been tearing through opponents like dogs on raw meat this pre-season though. How? Your guess is as good as mine, though I venture both of us would guess, “because it’s pre-season.” The T-Wolves were 4-1 in practice mode coming into this one and are a team built for this kind of activity. Since these are games in which most teams play a D-League quality players, Minnesota’s group of average to below average NBA players that they’re trotting out now and will be trotting out all year looks pretty tough in that setting.
Sunday evening was no exception. The Wolves most promising player, Kevin Love, did not fail to deliver in scoring 30 points and grabbing 13 rebounds in just 27 minutes, surely having hardcore NBA fan stat geeks everywhere calling each other in full freak out mode like 13-year-old girls. He didn’t do his work against the 2001 version of Tim Duncan though.
While Bogut and Gooden both played, they only combined for 24 minutes, with Bogut getting the lion’s share at 14. Love spent the majority of his time on the court drawing fouls on Larry Sanders (more on him later) and working over Ersan Ilyasova and Brian Skinner. Love wasn’t the only Wolves success story though, as Wayne Ellington scored 22 points on 8-11 shooting (3-3 from three). Milwaukee was able to conquer that negative assist-to-turnover ratio that had been troubling them this pre-season by dishing out 18 assists to 14 turnovers, but that still isn’t much to write home about. The 45.6% shooting was also an improvement, but it seemed to come at the cost of their defense, Milwaukee allowed 114 points to the Wolves on a whopping 51.3% shooting. If games like this are going to happen, they may as well be now and they may as well be with the B-Team.
Corey Maggette looks to be getting pretty close to getting some action before the regular season begins, but John Salmons still is a mystery. So I still won’t fret over games played by backups in Memphis and in a rural South Dakotan outpost. Milwaukee’s B-Team may not measure up, but at least there’s light at the end of the tunnel for the big names. We got a taste of the A-Team, but that was it. And for now, that’s okay.
Other notes from the numbers:
- Bogut’s final line: 3-3 FG, 5-6 FT, five rebounds, one assist, one steal and four fouls to go along with 11 points. Overall, it’s difficult to ask for any more out of the Bucks veteran big man in his first game back from an arm explosion. It’s particularly nice to see him go 5-6 from the line. This is where I could read too much into him having a good night from the free throw line and declare his elbow perfectly capable of all the extension that it once was and even throw in that I think he may be closer to 100% than we think he is. But I’m not going to do that.
- Larry Sanders probably wants to just go ahead and forget about this weekend. Maybe he can call Dan Gadzuric up for advice actually. In a very Gadzian weekend, the rookie piled up 11 fouls in just 35 minutes of play in the two games combined. This looks like the first real step backwards for Sanders who’d been playing so well ever since summer league. Maybe we were spoiled by Jennings stellar rookie year last year, so it is probably time to remember that most rookies struggle in their first year and see their share of DNP-CDs. If Sanders piles those up to start the season, hopefully he’ll refrain from getting discouraged and think back on how he can improve on stretches like this.
- Ilyasova only got up seven shots in 32 minutes on Saturday, so you know he was coming out tossing ‘em up on Sunday. Turk Nowitzki got up 17 shots and 12 free throws Sunday night on his way to a respectable line. He finished only 5-17 from the field, but made 10-12 free throws and scored 22 points. In addition, he tallied four assists and grabbed seven boards. Ilyasova has seen heavy minutes this pre-season and has been virtually the same player he was last season. That kind of player is absolutely more suited for a bench role and it looks like he’ll certainly avoid being lost in the shuffle at the four. What he’s lacking defensively though, is what will keep the Bucks from regretting splurging on power forwards this past off-season though. Love ate Ilyasova’s lunch on Sunday.
- Delfino was one of many Bucks players to have a not particularly significant game in Memphis, finishing just 3-8 from the field while grabbing five boards and dishing out four assists, but he made the most of his time Sunday. Delfino at one point shot threes on three consecutive first quarter possessions (possibly benefiting heavily from attention on Gooden and Bogut) and scored 19 points on 6-10 shooting (4-7 from three). Delfino could be a big time beneficiary of the Bucks two scoring big men if they get it going and are drawing double teams. We know Bogut is a very good passer, but Gooden has been surprising many with his vision and crisp passes. If Delfino is on this year, he could really do some damage.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter.