Saturday, November 11, 2017

Bledsoe's Bucks debut, Big Win in San Antonio

The Milwaukee Bucks made a blockbuster trade this week acquiring dynamo point guard Eric Bledsoe from Phoenix in exchange for Greg Monroe along with conditional 1st & 2nd round picks. 



It didn't take long for Bledsoe to show why the Bucks acquired him. Kidd started the newest Buck at point guard and he chipped in 13 points/7 assists (5 to Giannis) to help lead Milwaukee to a big 94-87 road win over the Spurs. 

The Bucks started the season well with a 4-2 record, but then skidded into a 3 game losing streak before an unusual 3 day break. The Bucks used that time to evaluate the roster and close a deal for "disgruntled" point guard Eric Bledsoe, who had been sent away from the Suns team after posting a tweet declaring "I don't wanna be here". A tweet in which he denies attributing to the ugly situation in Phoenix. But, you can likely thank that tweet for this deal going down the way it did.

Completing this deal offers a few harbingers of hope for Bucks success ahead. New GM Jon Horst completed his first trade and did so in efficient fashion, keeping the core talent together and not overpaying. Ownership has signified to the fan base, the city, but more importantly Giannis, they are for real ready to take the next step as a franchise. Top 4 seed and a playoff series win are finally within their sights. 

Taking on Bledsoe's 2 year deal for Monroe's expiring contract creates additional complications for Bucks future salary structure. Ownership said they would hit the gas when the time was right and this deal would signify they felt the time was right.

Milwaukee won the trade on talent alone because of the ugly situation that Phoenix always seems to find themselves in. Bledsoe just sped up the process publicly declaring his desire to leave that situation. Phoenix has also had ugly divorces recently from Goran Dragic and Isaiah Thomas. Both players went on to new situations in Miami and Boston and flourished. 

The Bucks have been searching for an answer at point guard since Sam Cassell was traded in 2003. TJ Ford. Mo Williams. Brandon Jennings. Brandon Knight. Michael Carter Williams. Nothing has stuck.

The Eric Bledsoe acquisition just might be this teams Sam Cassell move. They are very different players, but adding a veteran point guard to a talented young core is something the Bucks have done before.



The Bucks core of Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson were 24 and 26 while Sam was 30 when he was acquired in 1999. Eric Bledsoe has more of his prime left at 27, while Giannis and Jabari are 22 (next month Bledsoe turns 28, Giannis 23). While Bledsoe is a veteran, he's still got plenty of tread left to grow with this team if they are able to keep him beyond the 2018-2019 season. Judging by the ever present smile since donning Milwaukee gear, it's safe to say it's off to a good start.

Early games this year exposed the same problem the Bucks faced in the Toronto playoff series. When Giannis and Khris are not creating shots or offense, the Bucks offense gets stale quickly. Brogdon can be a playmaker, but does so from a much more stationary position. Defenses were heavily collapsing on Giannis and Khris often times causing their buckets to become much more difficult to get. Khris has struggled, and while Giannis has flourished, ideally he needs to get buckets without expending so much energy. 

It was easy to see how much easier Bledsoe is going to make it on Giannis. The Bucks transition game is set to flourish as Bledsoe adds a "Lob City" element to the Bucks point guard core that wasn't present before. Bledsoe displayed his athleticism and speed with coast to coast attacks, a steal he took full court before dunking and numerous drives/dishes into the paint that only Giannis was creating previously. 



Bledsoe won't just be making an impacting on offense though. His speed, strength and wingspan will make his addition a boon to the Bucks defensive scheme. Last night the Bucks held the Spurs to a season low tying 87 points, the lowest total for a Bucks opponent so far this year. Having a premier defender at the point of attack makes the job on defense infinitely easier for the rest of the guys to contain their man.  

What was most impressive though, was the Bucks blowing the 14 point lead to only 3 points late in the 4th quarter. No, blowing the lead wasn't impressive. What was impressive, is the Bucks hit back with buckets from Bledsoe and Middleton. Typically when Bucks have blown a big lead, they blow the game. Not this time. They hit back, held the lead and closed out the game. That's a big step forward.

The loss of Greg Monroe is not going to go unnoticed though as the Bucks bigs battled with Spurs frontcourt of Pau Gasol and Lamarcus Aldridge last night. Henson stepped up, held his ground while on the floor and had an oddly productive line of 10pts/7rebs/6asts/2stl/2blks. But Thon was repeatedly taken to school by Lamarcus as his post defense is just not there yet. Bucks called up Herd two-way big man Joel Bolomboy, a 6'9 F/C rebounding specialist from Congo/Ukraine, but he failed to see any floor time. 

I'm not sure how much of a help Bolomboy is going to be, but on a two day deal he's only available 45 days to the Bucks, so a longer term answer is going to be needed before the season is completed. 



The deal I'd be looking to make is to get Dewayne Dedmon out of Atlanta. He just signed a 2yr/$12M deal (with player option) so he wouldn't be available to be traded until December 15th. But, he's an excellent post defender, rebounder (9pts/8rebs) and can even stretch the defense with some 3 point shooting. The Hawks also have former Buck favorite Ersan Ilyasova who is playing sparingly. 

An offer of Teletovic/DJ Wilson for Dedmon/Ersan could get the Hawks listening. The Hawks are in rebuild mode and could use additional young talent. This deal would shore up the Bucks frontcourt and perhaps Ersan could fill the role the Bucks signed Teletovic for. 



But tonight, Eric Bledsoe makes his Bradley Center debut as the Lakers come to town with Luke Walton, Lonzo Ball, and former #1 pick Andrew Bogut (boy he looks weird in a Lakers uniform). The back to back game coming back from the road is a tough combination usually, but the Bucks have had a number of off days this week and Bledsoe has fresh legs. 

Bucks finally have the future in front of them right now. 

Time for them to seize the moment and put the future, into the now.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Giannis plays like MVP, Bucks lose 3, drop to 11th



The Bucks are in the midst of a much needed three day break after nine games after a three game losing streak dropped them to a 4-5 record. A disappointment after starting 4-2 with Giannis leading the league in scoring at 31 points and establishing himself as a legitimate MVP leader.

Not MVP hopeful.

Not MVP candidate.

MVP leader.

Leading the league in scoring.

A Milwaukee Buck.

Kareem won MVP and scoring titles for the Bucks in both 1970 & 1971. 

Giannis could win both MVP and scoring title this year.

Giannis burst out of the gates into the 2017 NBA season like a man possessed scoring 30-plus points for the first six games including a 44 point career high outburst that included a game winning defensive play and fast break dunk to seal the win vs the Blazers in what was likely the best win of the season so far.



The season opener win on the road at Boston caught the Celtics on a back to back less than 24 hours after losing Gordon Hayward in a freak accident vs the Cavs. The Bucks other two wins came in a home win vs Hornets and a road win vs Hawks.

The losses aren't just tough because they are losses. The home blowouts vs Cavs and Thunder show they aren't ready to take down the top teams yet. Those were litmus test games. The Cavs haven't even looked the part of a championship team yet though with early losses to Magic, Nets, Pelicans, Knicks and Pacers. The Thunder are off to a .500 start at 4-4.

Bucks game vs Celtics at the MECCA was a historic night that I will never forget. Walking into the arena. Seeing the Mecca floor glowing. Witnessing it played on in a regular season game was not something I think I'd ever see again. I took my Dad, a Mecca season ticket holder and he was just speechless. Bucks ownership and everyone involved in making that night happen should be proud. You could feel the warmth and happiness walking thru the cramped corridors and literally running into fellow Bucks friends and family. It was a magical night.



I would've liked to have seen some former players in attendance and honored at this game though. It's the Bucks 50th season and a one night only event. It was surprising there were none outside of Johnny Mac. Not even Marques Johnson or Sidney Moncrief, who I thought would've been for sure in attendance and honored. I knew hoping for Don Nelson and Paul Pressey might've been a longshot along with Kareem and Oscar. But, still. Surprising.

The game played was a rough game to watch as well. Questionable officiating. Out of sync Giannis. Can't miss Kyrie. Would've been really great to get a win in the Mecca. So it goes.

Back to the season at hand.

How do the Bucks get back on track?

Teams have adjusted to superstar Giannis and are packing the paint even tougher than ever. Khris Middleton exploded for a career high 43 points vs Charlotte but it wasn't enough. Brogdon is showing he's ready to take the next step averaging 15.5 points and 4.8 assists.

Snell has continued to build on last season. But, Telly and Delly aren't giving the Bucks much. Monroe is out for a couple weeks and the bench looks completely lost and unproductive.

Team wise, Bucks are ranked 24th in defensive rating. 30th in rebounding.

So much for the Top 5 defense and continuity talk from the preseason.

They are continuing the same defensive scheme Kidd has implemented since he arrived. So far this year though it's resulted in too much fouling as the Bucks are 3rd in the league in total fouls, but only 25th in steals. The fruits of that labor have been barren so far.



On the offensive side, the Bucks are 2nd in the league in FG% obviously mostly attributed to Giannis living in the paint and converting at an insane rate. The Bucks are 10th in 3pt made, 4th in 3pt%, but only 20th in 3pt attempts.

Watching the games though, it's tough to figure out "What IS the Bucks offense?" They move the ball around relatively well at times. Giannis usually initiates the offense. He wants to get into the paint for a dunk or a post up move or kick out to a shooter. Maybe a couple screens get set on the perimeter or a shooter tries to get open while Giannis draws a double team. Khris gets an iso or a post up and most of the team typically stands around.

Oftentimes Kidd says they "pass up good shots for great shots", but far too often they pass up good shots for what turns out to be bad shots. 

There isn't enough movement and there isn't anyone outside of Giannis or Khris who can create much. Brogdon has his nights and put up 10 assists vs the Pistons. But, the lack of shot creation or a more creative offensive system leaves this team stagnating for long periods during games as they struggle to score.

Sports Illustrated "The Open Floor Podcast" with Andrew Sharp and Ben Golliver ask the question "Is Jason Kidd holding Giannis Back?" suggesting Giannis should stand up to the organization and demand a new coach.

BEN GOLLIVER:


This is how half serious and half born of pure frustration watching some of these Bucks games, but for Giannis Inc. and him to really take it to the next level and become that superstar player, doesn’t he need to initiate a coaching change?

It does seem a little bit like Jason Kidd’s offense is holding him back. For having the skillset that he has, I don’t understand why they play so slow and they get out in transition as infrequently as they do. 

It’s like every single one of his dunks in transition goes viral because they’re all so beautiful and they should be happening like twice as often as they do. 

And there’s sometimes you’ll notice that he’s hopping up and down with his hands up, hoping to have someone give him the outlet pass so he can take off and push and they still don’t run quite enough. Their thing is they’re terrible rebounding and yet they play bigs a lot. And it’s like, if you’re already going to be horrible at rebounding, why not get super whacky and creative? Have Giannis be what I refer to as the puberty ball center.

Bucks fans have been calling for Kidd's head since, well, his first year. But, now with superstar Giannis shining a spotlight on Milwaukee, the national writers are beginning to pick up on it.

But, Kidd is 9 games into the first year of a 3 year/$18M extension which keeps him as coach through the 2019-2020 season. So, it's unlikely Kidd is shown the door anytime soon.

Persistent rumors of Eric Bledsoe continue to seep out as Adrian Wojnarowski reiterated the Bucks interest in acquiring Eric Bledsoe. So far the offer that's been reported is Matthew Dellevadova, Greg Monroe and a first round pick, but the Suns haven't been willing to accept such a deal just yet. The Pistons denied a rumored offer of Reggie Jackson, a subpar offer to the Bucks expiring Monroe due to Jax remining 3yrs/$51M left on his contract.



I'd have no problem adding DJ Wilson to help sweeten the deal to motivate the Suns. But, not sure how much of a needle mover that really is. They'd love to attach Rashad Vaughn, who the Bucks couldn't move for cap space and recently passed on his extension, but he isn't a sweetener either.

That dives into a bigger discussion of the lack of return on draft picks and movable contracts to acquire any sort of upgrades, but I digress for the moment.

Eric Bledsoe would add a much needed dimension to this Bucks roster as they desperately need another scorer, playmaker and dynamic guard to pair with Giannis to help the Bucks offense avoid becoming stale. 




Acquiring Bledsoe with Monroe's expiring contract creates additional challenges ahead for the Bucks salary structure though as that expiring contract was basically slotted to expire to allow room for Jabari's extension. Another bigger discussion.

Any of the Bucks engagements in the trade market with other teams to make a deal though are a difficult conversation because of the Bucks limited assets. They have a strong core of talent, but pieces they do not want to move. Giannis and Middleton. Brogdon and Thon.

Delly, Telly and Henson appear to be completely unmovable. 

Henson has ticked up though forcing himself into the starting lineup after Thon's unimpressive start. Maybe there's hope for Henson yet. But, he's also been the Bucks best center so far and moving him without getting another starting center in return would create a void.

Thon looked a bit better off the bench vs the Pistons scoring 9 points on 2-3 3pt including a 4 point play. But, his rebounding and defensive awareness have been disappointing so far. He's a project, and will have ups and downs in his development. He's flashed his defensive skills and shooting abilities though, he's not the Bucks biggest problem right now.

I have a hard time seeing the Bucks scrap the scheme they run or eat $18M to let Coach Kidd go. You'd certainly hope they can evolve though to solve some of their most apparent shortcomings. There's still 73 games left in the regular season. The Bucks sit 11th in the Eastern Conference tied with Cleveland and New York.

Hopefully they have made some strides during this break and have figured it out. They'll be tested again this week with a Tuesday road game at Cleveland and Lebron  who just dropped 57 points. They visit the Spurs on Friday before facing the Lakers and Lonzo Ball on Saturday. Finding a way to go 2-1 this week would be a step in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

2017-2018 Bucks 50th Season Preview



The Milwaukee Bucks tip off their 50th Season in Boston on Wednesday and appear poised and ready to take the next step towards an NBA championship behind the long legged strides and uber limbed wingspan of 'it's only a matter of time until he wins' MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the first time since Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the Bucks have a legit superstar on their team and that is what will make all the difference.

Last year, Giannis was ranked 100 by Sports Illustrated in their Top 100 NBA Players Rankings.

This year, he is ranked 9th.

Even after flashes of brilliance and dominance during 'Point Giannis', there were still doubters, but Giannis took flight to a new stratosphere in the NBA hierarchy over the 2016-2017 season. 

With averages of 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.6 steals, Giannis led the Bucks to their 5th winning season since 1991. The Bucks just haven't won consistently since the run of 7 Division Titles in the 1980's led by Don Nelson. 



That is certainly going to change.

Giannis did all this after starter Khris Middleton went down with a hamstring injury before camp and through Jabari Parker tearing his ACL for a 2nd time during the Heat game that Khris Middleton returned in.

The Bucks lost to the Heat that night and were embarrassed by the Lakers a few days later. But, they regrouped to finish the season 20-10 the rest of the way including 14 March wins, a franchise best ever month.

While the Bucks have failed to meet expectations and faltered when attempting to follow up short runs of success such as 2001 Big Three Era or 2010 Fear The Deer run, this time it's different because Giannis is like no player the world has ever seen before.  



Giannis fast break dunk gif highlights spread like wildfire on Twitter and have created a legion of adoring fans around the world as he was voted in as an All Star Starter for the Eastern Conference last year. The first Bucks All Star starter since Sidney Moncrief in 1986.

Giannis isn't just a once in a generation type player.

He's a once in a league type player. 

Kevin Durant recently called the Greek Freak his favorite player to watch in the league and "could be the best ever". Durant has given Giannis high praise before and seems to go out of his way to make it known his love for Giannis game.

The Bucks season kicks off with a road tilt vs the new look Boston Celtics led by former Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving the day after Gordon Hayward suffered a brutal fractured ankle in the Cavs home opener.

I feel truly awful for Gordon and the Celtics franchise. Something like this makes you remember how fragile and special this game can be....and how cruel at times. This is a conference power shifting injury and Bucks will face the Celtics 24 hours after losing their prized free agent who came to play for his college coach.

Bucks then come home to open the BMO-Harris Bradley Center with a national game vs the Cavs and have the rare back to back home games with a Saturday matchup vs the Blazers.

This will be the final Bucks home opener at the BMO-Harris Bradley Center and so begins the swan song for the Petit's gift to Milwaukee. This time next year, Milwaukee will walk into the Bucks new arena. Just typing that out gives me chills. 

 pic via onmilwaukee.com


The Bucks will be tested early and often as they face Boston and Cleveland twice in their first ten games. They hope to get off to a fast start and believe they can in part due to lack of turnover of the roster. 

The Bucks come into the season with 12 returning players and if you've read anything on the Bucks so far this preseason the word "continuity" has been used as a mantra to describe their offseason moves or lack thereof. GM Jon Horst went out of his way at Bucks media day to mention they were active in exploring all avenues of upgrades to their roster.



But, the reality of the salary structure is they had little available paths to improve the roster. Between Monroe and Hawes picking up options, Delly/Telly/Henson unmovable contracts and resigning Tony Snell to a $44M contract, all available cap space and roster space was gone. They let Michael Beasley walk and resigned Jet for the minimum. Then after hosting 6 camp invites, they cut them all and won a waiver claim for Deandre Liggins, a 3&D wing who has been on 7 teams this summer.

The Bucks 17th pick of DJ Wilson was surprising as few draft experts had him ranked that high. Touted with "Bucks DNA" for his versatile 6'10 frame he brings size, shooting and shot blocking ability to the NBA as his most ready made skills. Ten years ago, he would've just been labeled a tweener in the mold of Hakim Warrick or Charlie Villanueva, but the Bucks believe he fits the new NBA and their roster. Even though Bucks play positionless basketball, he will have to defend another NBA player to get minutes this year which could be a tall order.

With their 2nd round pick, they selected 4 year SMU guard, Sterling Brown. He had a rough start to the preseason but, Brown appears to be more NBA ready with his size and defense. If he can knock down threes better than Rashad, he may see early minutes off the bench.

Khris Middleton is healthy to begin the season and looking to build upon the strong finish to the Bucks season which saw them take the Raptors to 6 games. Khris is consistently called an underrated and relatively unknown player by opposing announcers but a player who possesses All Star talents. Playing next to Giannis will likely shine a brighter spotlight on the contributions of Khris and with the departure of a number of all stars in the Eastern Conference, Khris has a legit shot to make it this year.



The Bucks have been a better team with Khris next to Giannis than Jabari, but that's also a muddled argument because the Bucks haven't seen the three of them together much. 

If the Bucks can finally have a good swing of luck though, they'll get to see the three of them play when Jabari returns in February. With Jabari already dunking in practice and going full speed, it's possible he could return early, but also very likely he will be kept out under the original timeline no matter how good he looks.

The deadline to extend Jabari passed with no news except they were unable to reach an agreement and Jabari will head to Restricted Free Agency next summer.   I am hopeful the Bucks are able to retain Jabari as he is far more talented than most players the Bucks could look to sign in free agency. 

Questions of health, fit, and defense are obvious factors. But putting Jabari next to Giannis on a fast break creates a tandem of terror and represents what I think is, the Bucks best chance at bringing home the Larry O'Brien and hanging a championship banner in Milwaukee's new arena.



Back to this season. 

The others that must step up include 2016 free agent disappointments Matthew Dellevadova and Mirza Teletovic. 

If both could be counted on for 10 points a piece of the bench, it would ease a number of fears about who on the bench is going to step up. 

Delly started 54 games and basically matched minutes and stats from coming off the bench for the Cavs. So, he gave the Bucks exactly what he gave the Cavs. But the Bucks were looking for more out of him than he has the ability to give. The Bucks dire lack of playmaking pushed him into a role he was ill fit for. Delly will be entrenched with the second unit as Brogdon took the starting job and never let go.

Then there's Mirza, who was also on a minutes rollercoaster due to the presence of now Knick Michael Beasley. Mirza set the Suns bench on fire in 2015, but couldn't find the same stroke in a Bucks uniform. It's fair to think he can have an uptick in performance as well.  


There's not much to say about Moose because I think he'll give the Bucks exactly what he gave them last year. 11 points, 6 rebounds and an off the bench performance willing of consideration for Sixth Man of the Year. An award that consistently goes to guards, some call Monroe the Bucks 3rd best player and many nights that could be be right. Monroe enters the last year of a 3 year contract after signing with the Bucks in 2015. I would say it's unlikely he returns to the Bucks after this season, so it's certainly possible he could be moved at the trade deadline.

Now to the two next most important Bucks (outside Giannis, Khris, Jabari) when it comes to how far this team and this roster can go. 

Malcolm Brogdon became the Bucks first Rookie of the Year since Kareem and the NBA's first 2nd round pick ROY since 1955. Stat lines of 10.2 points, 4.2 assists and 40% 3 point shooting usually aren't enough, but leading the Bucks to a successful season factored in to Malcolm taking home the hardware. Many discredit Malcolm's ability to improve and take another step and he is what he is. But, I think that is selling short what kind of person Malcolm is and how hard he is going to work to elevate his game and his team to another level. His ability to switch defenders, space the floor and knock down outside shots are basically exactly the type of point guard the Bucks need with a Giannis-centric driving into the lane type of offense. He's not flashy or loud, but I can see a future with Brogdon becoming the strong and silent Cassell contributor.




Besides Khris Middleton though, Thon Maker's development might be the biggest key to the Bucks being successful this season. After Jabari went down, Thon became a starter and the Bucks took on a completely different defensive identity with the big mans ability to stretch the floor and switch on defenders. Kidds oft questioned heavily switching defense can work if Maker can stay out of foul trouble, play 20-25 minutes and be a big factor on this team. 

His ability to switch and stay in front of Kyle Lowry here in the playoffs is unheard of.


  Thon only played the final preseason game vs Detroit. But looked stronger and more able to hold position against Andre Drummond going for 8 rebounds, +28 in 26 minutes in the Bucks only preseason win.

Giannis is ready. 

Milwaukee is ready. 

Why Not Us? Why Not Now?



I believe your Milwaukee Bucks will win 50 games for the first time since 2000-2001 season when Ray, Glenn and Sam led them to the Eastern Conference Finals and a game from the NBA Finals.

They will not only win one playoff series. They will win two.

Official Prediction is Bucks will be the 2nd seed in the Eastern Conference and will meet Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Losing in Six.  

Bledsoe's Bucks debut, Big Win in San Antonio

The Milwaukee Bucks made a blockbuster trade this week acquiring dynamo point guard Eric Bledsoe from Phoenix in exchange for Greg Monroe al...