It's only the preseason...it's only the preseason...
The Bucks kicked off the 2011 schedule with what might generously be described as a clunker, falling by a wide margin to the Timberwolves in Minnesota. After a reasonably competitive first quarter, things got out of hand fast, thanks largely to an incredible first half of three-point shooting by the Wolves, who started the game 10-11 from behind the arc. The Bucks couldn't answer and they couldn't stop it; the defense looked surprisingly shabby. To be fair, playing time was generously divvied up among players, particularly the newcomers, so the team never got a chance to really settle into a groove. Whatever the case, the Bucks finished with a shockingly bad 127.2 defensive rating.
Kevin Love and Michael Beasley led the way for Minnesota with 21 points each. Love did his damage from the three-point line, Beasley at the stripe. Second-overall pick Derrick Williams and newcomer JJ Barea chipped in 14 apiece, including another trio of treys from Williams. And the much anticipated debut of a certain Spanish point guard went reasonably well. Flashy passes will be commonplace in Minnesota, even if they don't always find their way to the bottom of the net.
You never want to overreact to a preseason game. While tonight's results were hardly encouraging, especially against a Minnesota team that isn't expected to be too good, it's still just one game. The Bucks' defense won't be this bad and the Wolves' offense won't be this good. There's a long list of mitigating circumstances: the Bucks were without Stephen Jackson, they've had precious little time to practice as a full unit, and so on. Still, things definitely could have gone better.
More on some of the individual performances after the jump.
We'll start with Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut for two reasons: they're still the two most important players on the team and, after tonight, we want to get this over with quickly. It was an utterly forgettable night for both, sloppy from the outset and too short to remedy. Bogut's timing and footwork in the post were off, and the imposing figure of Darko Milicic had him flummoxed (never something you want to hear). Jennings attempted and missed 6 shots in the first half. He showed off what is undoubtedly his most frustrating feature: the guy can get to the basket in a variety of ways, but the last part where the ball goes through the rim continues to elude him. He had a couple of nice assists, including a dump-off under the basket and a slick bounce-pass in transition and was able to knock down all three of his second-half shots, but you'd have a hard time calling his night anything more than "uneven".
Carlos Delfino (11 points on 8 shots) played well in limited time, hitting a pair of threes and dishing a pair of dimes. Drew Gooden, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Ersan Ilyasova were essentially also-rans, though Gooden did finish with 3 offensive rebounds. Jon Brockman grabbed 4 boards, but looked downright Sanders-ian as a number of passes went right through his hands.
Here's the good news: the newest members of the Milwaukee Bucks looked good. Mike Dunleavy Jr. opened the game with a straight-on three and had three steals in the first few minutes (box score only gives him two, but he was definitely involved in at least three live-ball turnovers by the T-Wolves). He was active on defense, crisp on offense, and looked like an absolute steal for what it cost to sign him.
Shaun Livingston also impressed, particularly with his explosive drives to the basket in the first half. Livingston drove baseline and went up high for a dunk to draw a foul, then threw down again a few minutes later. He also displayed how useful he can be on defense thanks to his size and length. Looks like another solid pickup. Darington Hobson got 17 minutes of burn and contributed a 4/3/2 line, while Beno Udrih's crooked 4-13 shooting line could've fooled anyone into thinking he'd been with Milwaukee for years. Tobias Harris played only seven minutes, but did earn a highlight with a nice reverse layup in transition.
And then there was one.
There's a very real possibility this will be the best game of Jon Leuer's rookie season. It came against a team not known for defense in a contest that nobody really cared about winning. But nobody from Milwaukee surpassed expectations more pleasantly than Leuer, who led the Bucks with 18 points off the bench. Surprisingly, none of those points came from the three-point line, where Jon was expected to earn his keep. Instead, Leuer was able to draw a few fouls and sink 6 of his 7 free-throws. He'll definitely struggle defending the more physical players in the NBA, as shown by him getting a bit roughed-up at the hands of Derrick Williams. But I'm not listening to you naysayers!
The Final Word
So things didn't go as well as Bucks fans might have hoped. Don't panic. Things will get ironed out. They'll have to get ironed out quickly, but they will. The Bucks might not make enormous strides this year, but if this game showed us anything, it's that the new additions have come ready to play.