Going into their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday evening in the metropolis that is Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Bucks’s roster was in a sadly familiar state for anyone who paid attention to the team last season–six players, including two presumed starters, were unavailable for the squad.
For one reason or another, Larry Sanders (illness and mysterious outpatient procedure), Brandon Knight (groin), Nate Wolters (ankle), Ersan Ilyasova (knee), Johnny O’Bryant (knee), and Damien Inglis (foot) were all inactive, leaving the Bucks with 10 players in the active lineup against the Wolves. It only got better from there as starting center Zaza Pachulia left the game in the first half with a sore hamstring, leaving only John Henson and totally legitimate NBA player Micheal Eric on their center depth chart.
Despite the shorthandedness, the Bucks pulled out a tight 105-98 win over the Timberwolves in front of a surprisingly active crowd at the U.S. Cellular Center in Cedar Rapids. The biggest storyline going into the game was the first non-Summer League matchup of Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker, the #1 and #2 overall pick in the most recent draft.
Though the game was not televised (a source of consternation to many), my commitment to the coverage of Bucks basketball led me to drive to Iowa with Brewhoop’s own Eric Buenning and investigate just how this Bucks team is progressing through the preseason.
As it turns out, Parker won the battle of rookies with an impressive double-double consisting of 21 points and 11 rebounds, two assists, two steals, two blocks, and a game-clinching dunk after the Wolves cut a double-digit Bucks lead down to a single point in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Though he started the game ignobly with two offensive fouls in the first three minutes of the game, Parker recovered to come up with key baskets throughout the game.
The lack of depth also afforded some players that didn’t start an opportunity to make their mark on the game as well – most notably, O.J. Mayo, who scored 19 points on only 10 shots, due to his ability to draw fouls and convert 7 of his 9 free throw attempts. Most notably, Mayo looked comfortable driving to the basket and finding teammates in transition instead of hanging out on the perimeter waiting to chuck up shots. This is a welcome change.
Giannis Antetokounmpo also got some extended run off the bench, scoring 19 points, pulling down nine rebounds, and blocking two shots. All of his scoring occurred around the rim or at the free throw line:
While that doesn’t bode well for anyone hoping to see some improvement in Giannis’ shooting, he was generally impressive around the basket and displayed the ability to get there pretty much whenever he wanted. He pulled off a tasty Eurostep and soared for a one-handed in the span of three possessions in the third quarter to match the high-flying exploits of Wiggins and Zach LaVine.
Some more quick observations from my first viewing of this new-look Bucks team:
- Jared Dudley continued his impressive preseason performance, converting three of his four three-point attempts and a four-point play to score 12 points on a mere 6 shots. If his poor performance in Los Angeles with the Clippers really can be attributed to injuries–and those injuries are behind him–Dudley could prove to be a valuable shooter and may have some significant trade value if he continues this performance into the regular season.
- Kendall Marshall‘s facilitation had better be valuable, because he doesn’t seem quick enough to get by point guards on offense or effectively guard them effectively on defense. He finished Friday night’s game with six assists and only one shot, a three pointer that he missed. Marshall will have to prove that his three-point shooting last year wasn’t a fluke if he wants to be taken as any kind of scoring threat on the floor. The faction of people enamored of “pure” point guards might be salivating at the thought of having a pass-first player at the point, but if he can’t at least keep defenses honest, his ability to set up his teammates may very well be negated by the fact that opponents will barely have to guard him.
- Pachulia managed the impressive feat of starting at center and recording precisely zero rebounds in his 13 minutes before exiting with a sore hamstring. I don’t even have a joke for this one. It’s seriously amazing.
- Khris Middleton‘s 14 points came on 17 shots, including a concerning 2-for-7 performance from three. He contributed a pair of assists, steals, and blocks as well in a pretty well-rounded performance.
- In a familiar sequence of events, the Bucks maintained about a 10-point lead throughout the game until a late push by the Timberwolves shrank the lead down to 1 with about a minute left. Then this happened and a pair of free throws from Giannis allowed the team to maintain its lead.
- These teams meet again on Wednesday, October 22 at the Bradley Center for the rematch. I hear this one might actually be televised.