NBA Season Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

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Last season: Abort the mission! New plan! New plan!

The Bucks slammed on the parking brake, wrenched the wheel and Tokyo Drifted in a new direction last season, abandoning the “all defense all the time” team built around Andrew Bogut and giving up on the fleeting hope Bogut will ever, ever be healthy. They swapped him to Golden State for Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh, getting a promising young big man with great advanced metrics and, you know, Monta Ellis.

The results were mixed. They almost made it into the playoffs before their wheels exploded and flew off into the Wisconsin countryside, and while their defense didn’t capitulate with Ellis, their offense continued to run into the gutter.

They limped their way out of a playoff spot and entered the offseason with a huge number of questions about their head coach, front office, and the direction of the franchise.

Key Departures: The Bucks kind of surprisingly traded Jon Leuer, after he’d had a pretty solid year. They also traded Shaun Livingston, who, again, was pretty good last year. They let Carlos Delfino go after hemming and hawing over his contract for three months.

Key Additions: When the Bucks drafted John Henson, it was largely a perplexing move. Another athletic big man with questionable post skills? Really? Really? That’s what you thought you should pull off the pile?

But then Summer League came and Henson showed off a better mid-range jumper than expected and a good ability to flow in the offense. He has great court awareness to go with all that athleticism and could see significant playing time.

They elected to trade for Samuel Dalembert, pushing Udoh, who honestly needs the minutes, to the bench and giving them approximately all of the big men, ever. They added Joel Przybilla just in case the other 1,700 of them fail out, and-re-signed Ersan Ilyasova for the offensive repertoire.

Doron Lamb was quietly a very good second round pickup.

Three keys to the Bucks season:
1) Solving the riddle wrapped in a puzzle disguised as a mystery covered in subterfuge that is Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings. The two are just too similar. Ball-dominant, low-playmaking, moderate-efficiency volume scorers who didn’t develop an immediate chemistry. Sometimes these things can work themselves out, but in a lot of cases, it’s evident from the start if it’s going to work. If this thing doesn’t get solved and start to work by January, it might be time to start thinking about another move in another direction. The two were -1.9 on the floor together last year, giving up 107.7 points per 100 possessions. That is not good. They can’t just raise the 105 offensive rating, they have to get the defense sorted out. The Bucks could be looking at a situation not dissimilar to what the Knicks face with Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony.

2) Get the young guys to make some noise. Ekpe Udoh and John Henson need to become the Milwuakee version of Gibson and Asik. Or maybe the more athletic version of that. Either way, they need to make an impact, because the Bucks can’t look at their long-term build as involving Sam Dalembert. Doron Lamb needs to add some value as a shooter. Tobias Harris needs to come up. They need some big jumps from the project guys.

3) Avoid the Skiles Effect. When Skiles takes over a team, there’s a clock that starts. It’s a countdown to when the team tunes him out. It’s happened in his previous stops, and it very well could happen again. If Skiles can manage to massage, not render, the best out of this team, they could very well be a playoff team. But if he loses them, the season, the roster, his job and John Hammond’s will likely be over in Milwaukee.

How it likely works out: I want to belive in Milwaukee. They deserve it, honestly, they do. They’ve had more than their fair share of bad luck and still haven’t been horrible over the past decade. We blame luck on a lot of the awful franchises, but the Bucks have somehow managed to deal with Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut’s injuries and still float within range of the last playoff spot.

And this team has talent. And it’s got a lot of good efficient things going for it. But it needs so many players to make such huge jumps and for Jennings-Ellis to magically solve itself. That simply may not be possible.

I loathe this, but it really looks like another 9th spot in the East year for the Bucks.

Prediction: 40-42. Is there any better representation of “almost… but not quite?”

Kings’ rookie Marvin Bagley III out 10-14 days with left knee bone bruise

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The No. 2 pick in last June’s draft, Marvin Bagley III is having a solid season. He’s averaging 12.7 points and 6.1 rebounds a game coming off the bench. He’s got a good 59.2 true shooting percentage and the 6’11” big man gets most of his buckets at the rim or at least in the paint although he can hit threes when he steps out there (taking one a game but hitting 35.7 percent). He’s lost on defense, as most rookies are, but there is some potential there.

The Kings are going to have to get by without him for the next 10 to 14 days due to a bone bruise in his left knee, the team announced Friday night.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Friday night’s Sacramento loss to Golden State, when Bagley was battling for a rebound and landed awkwardly. He got a bucket out of it because he was “cherry-picking” after not being able to run back down the court, but he waved to the coaches and asked out after scoring. Bagley left the game, had to be helped to the locker room and did not return.

With Bagley out expect to see a lot more Justin Jackson. Harry Giles III has been out of the rotation of late but he could potentially get a little run, too.

Kings troll Stephen Curry with moon landing video during player introductions

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Well played Sacramento.

Golden State came to town Friday night and during player introductions the Kings ran a video on their jumbotron of the moon landing to troll Stephen Curry.

Curry this past week said on a podcast that he didn’t think we landed on the moon, later saying it was obviously a joke but he would take NASA up on their offer of a tour of their lunar labs.

Curry can laugh at himself and gave the Kings and “A for effort” with the video.

Reports: New deal, Suns trade Trevor Ariza to Wizards for Austin Rivers, Kelly Oubre (no third team)

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Brooks who? Turns out Phoenix and Washington didn’t need a third team involved to get a trade done.

Phoenix gets a point guard, and the Wizards get a veteran presence in a trade that is straight up between the two: Trevor Ariza heads to Washington while Austin Rivers, Kelly Oubre are going to Phoenix, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The struggling Wizards get a veteran presence in their locker room — something the team where players don’t like each other and it shows on the court could use. Not that one move solves all those problems. Plus, Ariza brings a solid wing defensive and three-point shooting presence (36 percent) to the team (although he has struggled this season inside the arc). That said, there was a lot of trade value in Oubre and to get one player and no picks back in this trade — they would have gotten second rounders in the blown up Friday night deal — feels like the Wizards sold short. Washington also saves about $1.5 million in salary and luxury tax, but they need to add a 14th player to the roster in the next two weeks and even at the minimum that will eat into some of those savings.

Phoenix has desperately needed a point guard and now they got a rotation level one in Rivers, which is an upgrade for this team (whatever you think of Rivers). Plus the young Kelly Oubre fits better on the Suns’ timeline — with Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton and the rest — than the veteran Ariza, but the Suns are already deep on the wing.

Giannis Antetokounmpo matches career high with 44 against Cavaliers (VIDEO)

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Giannis Antetokounmpo played as if he had a point to prove.

The Milwaukee star rebounded from his worst game of the season to match his career high with 44 points and the Bucks beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 114-102 on Friday night despite missing two starters.

Two nights after being held to a season-low 12 points in a loss to Indiana, he was 14 of 19 from the field, made 16 of 21 foul shots, and had 14 rebounds and eight assists.

“You’ve got to put that game in the past,” Antetokounmpo said. “You put it in the past and move forward.”

Khris Middleton, the Bucks’ second leading scorer, was out with a sprained right finger. Malcolm Brogdon, fourth on the team in scoring, didn’t play because of a sore left hamstring.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer wasn’t surprised Antetokounmpo took over with his team short-handed.

“Obviously, a monster game for Giannis,” he said. “We kind of rode him pretty hard tonight. He was ultra-aggressive. He’s a competitor. He wants to be great.”

Asked what a team can do to slow down Antetokounmpo, Cavaliers coach Larry Drew said, “There’s not an answer to that. He’s a terrific player. He’s elevated his game over the years. He can hurt you in so many different ways.”

Not only was Antetokounmpo coming off a subpar game, Wednesday’s 113-97 loss was Milwaukee’s largest margin of the season.

Antetokounmpo made an instant impression after Milwaukee won the opening tip when he dunked on Osman on a set play in the halfcourt offense. He ended the half by finding Pat Connaughton for a 3-pointer.

Antetokounmpo, who had his 20th double-double of the season, admitted he was aware of his numbers.

“At some point in the game, you realize you’re scored a lot, so you look up at the scoreboard, but usually I don’t even look at it,” he said.

The Bucks never trailed and held off a late Cleveland spurt. The Cavaliers cut the lead to five midway through the fourth quarter on Cedi Osman‘s 3-pointer, but Antetokounmpo had a three-point play and an assist on Brook Lopez‘s basket that beat the shot clock, pushing the lead to 111-99.

Lopez scored 19 points and Eric Bledsoe had 16 for the Bucks, who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference.

Jordan Clarkson scored 23 points, and Larry Nance Jr. had 14 for Cleveland. Rookie point guard Collin Sexton had five points after scoring in double figures in 18 straight games.

Cleveland played its second game without Tristan Thompson, who could be out for a month with a sprained left foot.