October is a great time for professional sports. The NFL is reaching midseason form, the MLB is in the heat of playoffs, and the NHL is getting back into the mix. Another great aspect of October sports is the return of the NBA – and, most importantly, the Milwaukee Bucks.
Welcome to the Buck-Wild Column. This is a new weekly series I’ll be starting here at Sconnie Sports Talk focusing on the Milwaukee Bucks. The column will feature eight points about the Bucks’ previous week – I chose eight to represent the eight-point rack on the deer in the Bucks’ logo. Generally, the first point(s) will be a summary of the previous week and the last point(s) will look towards the next week, with the middle six points focusing on the nitty gritty of the team in no particular order.
Since the Bucks have only played one game in the 2018-19 regular season, I’ll include some thoughts on their preseason as well.
1. Previous Week: 1-0 — @ Hornets (113-112)
The Bucks came out rolling against the Hornets, leading by as many as 20 points at one point in the game. Kemba Walker scored 41 points and was the biggest problem for the Bucks’ defense, along with Malik Monk and his 18 points off the bench. Despite the early lead, the Hornets picked up the pace in the fourth quarter and eventually got within a possession of Milwaukee, but ultimately couldn’t make either of their last two shots to win the game.
2.Preseason offensive numbers
Let’s get one thing clear: Milwaukee had an impressive preseason. Because it’s preseason, I’d rather just give you some numbers that you can interpret in any way you want. In the preseason, the Bucks…
- Ranked first in points per game (124.8 points), rebounds per game (53.5 rebounds) and defensive rebounds per game (43.0 rebounds).
- Ranked second in three-pointers made (16.5) and field goals made (43.8).
- Ranked third in three-pointers attempted (40.3) and three-point percentage (41.0%).
- Ranked fourth in field goal percentage (47.6%).
Yes, it’s just preseason, but these numbers aren’t nothing. Sure, the Bucks played the Timberwolves twice, but keep in mind that in their third preseason game Malcolm Brogdon was the only starter who played. Also keep in mind that the Bucks scored over 110 points in each of their four preseason games. Of course, we just have to wait and see how it translates to the regular season and the games that matter, but there’s some reason to be excited for this team.
3. Improvements with rebounding and three-point shooting
A big problem area for the Bucks last season was rebounding. They were giving up too many second chance points and not getting enough second chance points themselves. I brought up the rebounding stat in the last point – Bucks ranked first in rebounds per game (53.5 rebounds) and defensive rebounds per game (43.0 rebounds). Wednesday night against Charlotte, the Bucks as a team recorded 57 rebounds, including 46 defensive rebounds. Those numbers are just a tad higher than their preseason averages and much higher than their 2017-18 numbers – Bucks ranked last in rebounds per game (39.8 rebounds).
As for their three-point shooting, the Bucks were much more efficient from beyond the arc against Charlotte than they were last season overall. While the Bucks didn’t meet their preseason numbers, they did better than last season in a certain category: three-pointers attempted. Last season, the Bucks averaged 24.7 three-pointers per game. Wednesday night against Charlotte, Milwaukee shot 34 from downtown, making 14 of them. Giannis was the only starter who didn’t attempt at least five three-pointers against the Hornets.
4. The Big Ragu
I’m calling it right now. Donte DiVincenzo will make a significant difference for the Bucks in the 2018-19 season. How we’ll measure that after the season will be decided after the season, but I liked what I saw from the rookie in the preseason and against Charlotte. DiVincenzo racked up 22 minutes on the court, second-most on the bench behind Ersan Illyasova. The Villanova product looked great in transition, made great passes, and shot 50 percent from deep. In the fourth quarter, DiVincenzo was put in on defense because he had a better chance at guarding Kemba Walker than Malcolm Brogdon. The future is bright for this young Buck.
5. Giannis is still a beast, but something is different
Don’t get the title twisted, I still think Giannis is the best player in the Eastern Conference, is capable of an MVP award, yada yada yada. What seems different, and refreshing, is that Giannis’ dominance isn’t required by Milwaukee’s offense anymore. Antetokounmpo is a beast because he’s a beast, not because that’s what his team demands him to be. All five starters scored double-digit points against Charlotte. Three of the other four starters played more than 30 minutes. Giannis feels more like a piece in a grander scheme than being the grand scheme himself, and I love it.
6. Change in offensive and defensive philosophies
The difference in how the Bucks play offense compared to last season is staggering. Last season, the offense was static, frustrating, and relied heavily on Giannis Antetokounmpo. Now, players are filling the lanes in transition and the ball is passed much more often. It’s fascinating to watch the transformation of this Bucks offense. Coach Budenholzer has also seemingly placed an emphasis on spacing and how it can lead to more shots from the corner.
We’ve already seen the difference this makes in the Bucks’ game against the Hornets. It was common for the player taking the ball down the court, usually Giannis, to drive into the paint, draw two or three defenders, then kick the ball out to a shooter in the corner. In addition, Giannis doesn’t have to shoulder the entire load. Against Charlotte, more players were moving the ball, making passes, and keeping the defense’s attention as opposed to the old days when Giannis would be isolated on one defender and counted on to score.
As for a quick note on the defense, there are still miscommunications and missed assignments, but there is a certain fluidity that wasn’t there last season. Gone are the days of the rigid, Jason Kidd trap defense. Now, the defense has a quickness to it that makes it fascinating to watch.
7. Brook Lopez
I’m excited for the dimension that Brook Lopez brings to Milwaukee. He’s a threat inside but can pull off a corner three with ease – which he did, twice, and he plays good defense. Lopez scored 14 points against the Hornets, more than Malcolm Brogdon (10) – who played 17 more minutes than Lopez – and Ersan Illyasova (13) – who played eight more minutes than Lopez. He’s someone to keep an eye on as the season continues.
8. Up Next: vs Pacers, vs Knicks, vs 76ers
The Bucks take a three-game homestand this week, with the main focus being how the Bucks will play against the 76ers. Philadelphia will likely be a threat to the Bucks come time to fight for playoff spots, so a head-to-head win right off the bat would be great for Milwaukee. Of course, getting a win over Indiana would help in the divisional race as well.