The preseason is weird.
And--good news!--it's also over.
OK, maybe that's being a bit negative. After all, live basketball is never a bad thing, even when it's only occasionally televised and doesn't actually count. Particularly after a long summer with nothing but the draft, Vegas, and free agency to tide us over, we need something to get us back into the swing of things.
And despite another loss--the Bucks' fourth straight after a 3-1 start to the exhibition season--there was still some good news to be gathered from Friday night's MACC Fund game against Minnesota. A couple days after Gery Woelfel suggested he might not be ready for the season opener next Wednesday, Corey Maggette made his Bucks debut and did what Corey Maggette is supposed to do. You do remember why the Bucks were happy to take on the $31 million he's owed over the next three years, right? Something about creating shots, free throws, efficient scoring, etc. Judging by his stat line, apparently Corey remembers, too. Try this on for size:
13:55 minutes played, 0/2 fg, 17/20 ft, 17 pts, 5 pf.
In the process he got up close and personal with most of the Minnesota lineup, drawing fouls on (in order) Michael Beasley, Nikola Pekovic, Lazar Hayward (2x), Corey Brewer, Hayward again, Wayne Ellington, Beasley (another 2x), and Luke Ridnour. Sure, he got the benefit of the doubt on some of them, but how else do you draw 20 freebies in 14 minutes?
Let's also put those numbers in some context. Maggette's always been one of the best guys in the league at getting to the line, but he didn't manage 20 FTA in any game a year ago. The best he managed was a 17/18 night against Cleveland in 44 minutes. The NBA record for attempts in a game is 39 by Shaq in 46 minutes against the Blazers in the East Finals in 2000. Maggette's performance tonight prorates to nearly 69 free throws over 48 minutes.
It's also important to note that the preseason is strange--the game had no rhythm and the teams combined for a whopping 92 free throws and five technicals. So no one will be expecting Maggette to keep up anywhere close to this kind of pace when things start for real, but for a guy who claims he's only about 80% of his usual self that's not so bad. It beats having Jerry Stackhouse coming off the bench, right?
Then there was Andrew Bogut, who played 25 minutes of gloved, incident-free ball and now has another five days to rest up his right hand and elbow ahead of the season opener. He took only one shot in the first half but dropped in a pair of hooks in the fourth, one with either hand. Defensively he looked better, blocking four shots officially and could have had a couple more if not for some bad calls by the refs and scorekeepers.
Everyone's number one goal for the preseason was getting Bogut back on the court and healthy for the opener, and so far so good. "Healthy" is a relative term, but all things considered it's tough to complain too much given the level of paranoia that gripped Bucks Nation for much of the summer. So long as he doesn't reinjure himself, we'll take the 80%, 90% or whatever percentage he claims to be.
On the other end of the spectrum is Larry Sanders. He's young, active, healthy, and yet again flashed the outside touch we didn't know he had when he was drafted, scoring all 10 of his points on mid-range jumpers in addition to gathering eight rebounds in 24 minutes. The downside? He also turned it over four times, committed five fouls, was a team-worst -13, and missed a brilliantly-conceived alley-oop that could have won the game in overtime. Does he know where he's supposed to be on defense? Meh, not really. And while I still like the pick and believe he'll end up being a useful player in the long term, it's weird how he's basically been Yi Jianlian in his first four months as a Buck: lots of jumpers, not much finishing around the hoop, and not enough strength on the boards. Didn't expect to be saying that. Thankfully he's got time.
Also deserving mention is Carlos Delfino, who messed around and nearly had a triple-double with 18 points (albeit on 6/16 shooting), eight boards, and eight assists. I never would have predicted it a year ago, but Carlitos has officially become my idealized conception of what a role-playing starter should be. Maybe tone down the turnovers a bit (five), but I love the catch-and-shoot action, the unselfishness, the little things.
By this point I should probably have given you some sort of game narrative, so here you go: Brandon Jennings helped the Bucks to a nice early lead, Darko and Kevin Love helped bring the Wolves back in the second half, and then the Wolves played slightly less stupid down the stretch to come away with the win. Lots of fouls, lots of free throws, way too many turnovers (24 by the Bucks, 19 by Minny). Would have been nice to snag a win, but instead Skiles will have a slightly better excuse for pushing the guys a bit harder ahead of the opener in New Orleans. Can you wait? Nah, me neither.