For the second (preseason) game in a row, the Milwaukee Bucks handled a Central Division opponent in what amounts to the NBA equivalent of test driving multiple
lineups cars. Also for the second consecutive (preseason) game, Milwaukee left the court pockets stuffed with intrigue and encouragement that could easily tempt us into taking the final results out of context.
The Bucks' 108-91 victory over the Detroit Pistons showcased Milwaukee's perceived preseason strengths (length, speed, chemistry), while minimizing their weaknesses (outside shooting, strength, efficient scoring), but tread lightly: when you got nothin' to gain but experience, you got nothin' to lose.
That isn't to say that you should take the Holden Caulfield approach to Tobias Harris' versatility, Ersan Ilyasova's consistent outside stroke, or John Henson's grasshopper legs (5 blocks). Nor should you sweat out Monta Ellis' inefficiency (4-13 FG, 11 points), Larry Sanders' hatchet hands (5 fouls), or Drew Gooden's goofiness (I'll give you this one).
Rather, believe the Bucks' superb transition game, socialistic approach to the half-court offense, and lineup lab experiments are all part of a larger plan whose ultimate goal is to best understand the team's assumed identity for the 2012-13 season.
John Henson. He was caught flat-footed, deep in thought on defense a couple times (trust your instincts, John), but Henson was the day to his Game 1 night against the Pistons. Henson worked his jumper in early, and racked up 4 blocks in a style befitting of a veteran. Henson even displayed a pretty sweet crossover dribble on his way to a potential dunk-turned-foul opportunity.
Brandon Jennings. Jennings notched all of his 17 points on 8 first half shots, and dished all 6 of his assists in the second. He only took one shot between the third and fourth quarter, but was instrumental in getting the Bucks a "change the channel" lead. Jennings' track record of sporadic assist and scoring outbursts is a mile long.
Ersan Ilyasova. Ersan was a wallflower in the first half, missing his only two shots (both threes), scoring all four of his points on free throws and collecting four boards in 12:24 minutes. Then the third quarter happened, and our fears of Ersan's fat contract-induced laziness were assuaged. Ilyasova spearheaded the Bucks' 40 point third quarter, finishing his night 7-7 and leading the team with 22 points by game's end.
16 blocks. Joel Pryzbilla and Ekpe Udoh did not play, and yet the Bucks still denied more shots than they did in any of last year's 66 games. Post-game, Skiles said he thought this was the longest team he's coached in Milwaukee. He's probably right.
40-17. Milwaukee started the third quarter on a 10-3 run, and effectively beat the Pistons into submission with a 40-17 advantaged by its end. The Bucks executed on a combination of quick strikes (8 fast break points), crisp passing (12 assists), and a defensive strategy that forced Corey Maggette into gunner mode (led the Pistons with 12 points). Daring Maggette to shoot 20 foot jumpers is often a fool-proof way to solidify a lead.
31.4%. That's Milwaukee's three point shooting percentage through two preseason games (11-35). Somewhere, Steven von Horn is reluctantly cracking a smile.
Better than your average "pace" car. The Bucks executed their fast break plays with perfection, turning 20 Pistons turnovers into 20 points. Already the team looks incredibly comfortable in transition, and after the game Jennings confirmed as much:
"Our confidence is really high," Jennings said. "The fact is practice has been very good, we’ve been going so hard lately, competing at a high level. Also I think with our front line in the back we’re able to get a lot of fast breaks because we know they’re going to get rebounds."
There will be blocks. This one had it all: Larry Sanders stuffing at the rim (5 blocks), John Henson (4 blocks) keeping JaVale McGee-like volleyball swats in play, Samuel Dalembert (2 blocks) effortlessly deflecting to teammates, and even Tobias Harris (4 blocks) turning Piston mid-range shots into Bucks offensive possessions.
Socialism, alive and well. Milwaukee was one of the best teams in 2011-12 at "spreading the wealth," and it appears that philosophy has carried through to this year's team. The Bucks racked up 29 assists against Detroit, thanks to some pretty artistic interior passes and smart decisions in transition.
Where's the beef? The Pistons grabbed 11 of their 13 offensive rebounds in the first half, so the Bucks deserve credit for their halftime adjustments. However, if Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe can be trouble, the NBA's best front court tandems should resemble Godzilla in the wake of their destruction.
I know how you kids like them...extra sloppy! The Bucks committed 10 of their 16 turnovers in the first half, gifting the Pistons 13 points off these mistakes. Again, decent teams can overcome flaws against mediocre opponents, but those mistakes are amplified against the league's best.
It's still the preseason. However you want to spin it, the Bucks should beat teams the Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers if they want to carry the "playoff-caliber" vernacular ... even in the preseason. We can sing the team's praises, but we have much basketball to be played before trends start to appear.