My travels to the Cox Pavilion on Friday night to watch what I already knew was a much anticipated Las Vegas Summer League game between the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers (read those last 14 words a few more times, let them sink in) were not smooth travels. On top of that, I did not assume I needed to stake out a seat too far in advance in the media section. There are always open seats when the Bucks play.
My travels cost me and my arrogance punished me.
I knew this game was going to be a draw, but I didn’t realize HOW much of a draw it would be. Summer League typically is sold out throughout the first weekend, but I hadn’t seen quite this many people in the small college gym sized Cox Pavilion. To say the least, when I finally arrived looking for a seat 15 minutes before tip, there were no media seats to be had.
I backtracked and entered the gym through a different entrance, skipping a long line that I didn’t quite understand (a media pass is a nice thing). It turns out that line was the waiting list to get into the gym. People who were leaving were told they would not be allowed re-entry, as the gym had reached its maximum capacity. The only thing that got me in was my aforementioned pass. But that didn’t get me a seat. I did without.
I scoped out a garbage can with a lid that had real estate around it. I hustled over to it and set up shop. For the next two hours, I was a Bucks blogging Oscar the Grouch. How appropriate.
With the garbage can supporting my bag, I was happy enough. This would be my spot and I’d get to enjoy the fruits of Milwaukee’s struggles last season in the form of a more experienced Giannis Antetokounmpo and the highly anticipated rookie Jabari Parker.
I did not come away disappointed.
No, they didn’t look like a pair that would lead the Bucks to a special season very soon. But that’s okay. That’s not the plan. The plan is for them to get their feet wet together, develop some chemistry and be part of something bigger in three or four years. Both Giannis and Parker displayed one flash after the next that made it clear why suddenly Bucksketball and Brewhoop weren’t the only blogs watching the Bucks play a summer league game.
A knock on Parker has been his athleticism. Well he took the ball the length of the court and finished through contact with finger rolls on multiple occasions. We’ve been so caught up on sprints and vertical leap that we discounted Parker’s strength and fluidity combination. It looked like he had both in spades.
It wasn’t just in transition where Parker looked like a capable scoring threat coming to a regular season game near you soon. W the Bucks were down two and needed a basket with under a minute to play, they went to Parker in the post out of a sideline inbound. Parker went to work and got to the rim, not off a face up move, mind you, for an easy layup.
And don’t think that he can’t make a big play that leaves you impressed with him physically. After Giannis earned a tough and-1 late in the game, the second year forward missed his free throw. Parker zipped by the defender trying to box him out and almost tip slammed the missed free throw, but saw his dunk rim out. He demonstrated a combination of quickness and explosion that we’ve been told didn’t exist in his upside-less body
This was not a performance without flaw though. At times Parker looked winded. At times he looked a bit out of control. At times he … looked like a rookie playing in his first summer league game. Consistency is an issue, for both Parker and Giannis. Parker was calm after the game, not too revved up or down about his performance.
“I thought I did okay,” Parker said. “About 80%. I wasn’t trying to force stuff, but I gotta be a little more smart.”
Giannis had his ups and downs too. You’ve likely seen some of the highlights by now. He had a number of plays that we’ve almost come to expect from him at this point, though they didn’t come as often last season as they did on Friday. One dunk of his was especially rim-rattling and powerful. Powerful wasn’t an adjective used to describe him last season.
There was decisiveness to what Giannis was doing. He was attacking more in the half court and playing with some certainty, which he rarely did last season, especially early on. This wasn’t stand in the corner Giannis. This was dribble-drive or dribble-dribble-dribble-pull-up-for-three-over-Anthony-Bennett-Giannis. Sometimes it led to problems for him, but the coaching staff is looking for aggressiveness.
“Anybody on the floor …we don’t want unaggressive players,” Coach Sean Sweeney said after the game. “If you’re out there, your job is to be aggressive. And along with being aggressive, it’s having balance. Be aggressive and have balance.”
Sweeney was specifically talking about Parker when spoke of aggression, but the same could be said for Giannis. There was a lot connecting the two of them Friday night. The eyes of the crowd were on them both, each drew a share of oohs and ahhs and both were asked about the other by the media after the game. This is the life they’ll have to get used to – the life of building blocks.
“I think we did real good,” Parker said of his work with Giannis. “I think we did good. We need to communicate with each other a little bit more better, offensively and defensively.”
At the buzzer, Parker finished with 17 points and nine rebounds. Giannis had 17 too. But the point totals and stats weren’t so important. Summer league isn’t about results; it’s about the process. Who am I kidding? It’s about the highlights and the dreams. The Bucks gave their fans plenty of each on Friday.