Early Bucks Wild, Wooly
Something is happening down on 4th and State Street. Something foreign, something irrational and something that nobody who follows the NBA expected; the Milwaukee Bucks are 7-5. Following a season in which they were a league worst 15-67, the young deer have shown a completely different attitude when they take the court. Gone are the lackluster or incomplete performances that led them into the darkest season as a franchise ever. What has come is a new lease on life that has made the team believe that they can compete any night. Sure, it is a long grind of a season, but the Bucks complete rebuild is already showing signs of life.
There are three major factors that have contributed to Milwaukee’s stark turnaround.
1) Return of the Rim Protector
- Larry Sanders can be an intimidating force in the paint. The only problem last year was that he wasn’t in the paint or on the floor very much at all last year. With only Zaza Pachulia, John Henson and Jeff Adrien to guard the rim, it is no surprise that the Bucks lost as many games as they did last season. Sanders has great length and has bulked up during his four years in Milwaukee. This helps him tremendously by being able to block and alter any challenger’s shot who enters the lane. Other players know that Larry is a little crazy too, so they seem less likely to attack the freaky center. Also, it is clear to see that someone is helping Mr. Sanders with his anger issues and it is paying off. Old Larry would have racked up three or four technical fouls by now.
2) A Coach to Play For
- Though the acquisition of new head coach Jason Kidd may have been murky, it was no doubt in the best interest of the future of the Bucks. In his brief tenure, Kidd has already instilled a level of trust and worthiness within the players. When a franchise is deeply entrenched in a losing culture, it can be extremely difficult to break free from a negative mindset. When the new coach came to Milwaukee, his first goal was express to his team that it takes more than talent and desire to become a winning team. The key ingredient is having confidence that anytime the team plays they can win. It seems any time a player is asked about coach Kidd, they mention the word trust. They know their leader has been a winner and he can show them the formula.
3) Jabari Party
- The 19 year old rookie from Duke has shown, as many predicted, an ability to score the basketball at the professional level. Through 12 games, Parker has averaged 11.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The young man from Chicago may have had his coming out party in the most recent triple overtime victory with 23 points against the Brooklyn Nets. Jabari has shown a unique ability to get the rim quickly with dunks and layups, while also honing his mid-range jump shot. Not only is Parker being a good player on the court, but his confidence and energy has brought a spark to this raw team.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this year’s Bucks team is that they have been competitive in every game. This team is putting up a fight no matter the opponent scheduled. In fact, the team seems more interested in beating other squads that have been successful. By no means are the Bucks unbeatable, but they have advanced to being a team that an opponent needs to earn a victory against. Let’s take a look at what worked and didn’t work.
- The Bench Brigade. Part of the reason the Bucks have been so competitive this year is they are getting great help from their bench. Milwaukee features a team that is relatively deep as most of their players get minutes. The bench features a second unit that includes a resurgent OJ Mayo, a gritty backup point guard in Jerryd Bayless, and serviceable post players in John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova. Oftentimes in this young season the bench has outplayed their opponent’s bench, which has paid dividends to the team as a whole.
What didn’t work?
- Slowing down the ball. The Bucks seem to favor a fast-break approach to playing the game. With all the length and youth this team possesses, why wouldn’t they want to push the ball? Where the Bucks appear to struggle in particular is when Brandon Knight holds the ball and attempts to dribble through the entire team. Knight can be successful at times using this method, but more times than not he gets a screen and shoots or makes an errant pass. There is no doubt he is best scorer right now, but he can be even better. If the Bucks believe Knight can play the true point guard, he will have to work on his efficiency working off of pick-and-rolls.
BUCK OF THE MOMENT!
The Alphabet has come into his sophomore season with a vigor to improve his strength and attack the basket whenever possible. He is still raw, but as witnessed against Brooklyn guarding Joe Johnson, it is very difficult to score over his incredibly long arms. If the Greek continues to improve, he may have only scratched the surface of his potential. The energy Giannis brings with his thunderous dunks and aggressive defense leading to fast breaks have added a player to the Bucks that nobody in this league has on their roster. And he’s also only 19.