The exhibition season is now done, leaving us to sort through a predictably mixed bag of results. The annual MACC Fund finale game saw the Bucks fall for a second time to the Pistons to finish the preseason at 3-5, reaffirming that despite occasional signs of progress, the club remains a definite work in progress.
The Bucks started the preseason with just two players penciled in as sure-fire starters: Michael Redd and Andrew Bogut. Considering neither had played a regular season game in about eight months, there was still understandable trepidation about both guys' ability to be at 100% come opening night. So the best news of the exhibition season was that eight games later both have proven they're ready for opening night--presuming nothing unforeseen happens in practice this week.
On Friday Redd (37 min) and Bogut (32) both broke the 30 minute barrier for the first time, with Redd leading the Bucks with 23 points on a tidy 18 shots and Bogut narrowly missing his third straight double-double with 10/9. Still, the opening quarter was brutal by any standard, as the teams combined for just 11 points in the first six minutes. Charlie Villanueva scored back-to-back buckets to give the
Bucks Pistons a 7-4 lead but didn't do much after that, finishing 3/8 from the field for eight points along with six boards, three turnovers, and a -19 differential in 26 minutes. The starters did better in the third, building a 12-point edge that evaporated once Bogut went to the bench.
The Point: Jennings with the Edge?
Brandon Jennings started his third straight game, but didn't help his case much with a 2/9 shooting performance and uneven defense. His first field goal didn't come until a second effort in the lane midway through the fourth, though he followed it up with a triple shortly thereafter that cut the Piston lead to one. Defensively, he's still prone to getting rubbed out on screens--knifing around them is an art he's still learning--and he sometimes lets guys blow by him (hello, Will Bynum) despite having the quickness to prevent that kind of thing.
Ridnour didn't exactly take advantage of the opening, however, scoring six with one assist and three turnovers in 13 minutes. The Bucks were also outscored by 15 points while Ridnour was on the court--compared to +10 for Jennings--but that's also partly a product of who he was playing with. As we've mentioned, the problem with a Ridnour/Jennings rotation is that both guys look a lot better when they're surrounded by, you know, good players. Via Charles Gardner, Scott Skiles was really impressed:
"Our point guards had a hard time even getting the ball up the floor and getting into position to run our offense. On the other end, they shot 69% in the fourth quarter.
"Gordon, Stuckey and Bynum took us wherever they wanted to, and we didn't have much response to it.
"This was not a great night for Brandon. He looked like a rookie out there. But that's why you play these games, so he can get a further understanding of what it takes to excel at this level."
Before the preseason I was a bit skeptical of Jennings' readiness to start on opening night, and Ridnour's good play (.535/.429 shooting) in the first five games didn't help Jennings' chances. But Ridnour is what he is: a mediocre shooter whose best trait is a willingness to get out of the way. Meanwhile, Jennings for all his rawness (33% shooting, nearly 3 to/g in 26 mpg) brings a different dimension to the game, and Skiles knows the Bucks won't be going anywhere until Jennings starts to figure things out. Jennings needs to be more aggressive getting into the lane rather than just looking for his jumper, but unlike Ridnour he's at least capable of getting into the lane. Whoever starts, I'd expect both guys to get 20+ mpg early on.
Forward Spots: Delfino and...
Though he'll be suspended on opening night, Carlos Delfino seems fairly locked in at the starting three spot. He had another solid effort on Friday (11 points on six shots, six boards), but his edge over Luc Mbah a Moute is mostly thanks to Skiles' preference for bringing Luc off the bench and Delfino's range providing more flexibility at the 4. No one expects Delfino to be a long-term solution, but right now the reality is that Skiles' forward group has a bunch of solid sixth men and nobody who's proven much beyond that.
Speaking of which, Hakim Warrick got his first start (an anonymous eight points and two boards in 26 minutes) at PF but don't expect to see him in the starting five on Friday in Philly. As Jeremy notes, Skiles likes Warrick's scoring off the bench and wants more toughness from his starting 4. Makes sense. Warrick's been a poor-to-mediocre rebounder for a PF his entire career, and Skiles presumably will feel better with Kurt Thomas defending Elton Brand in the opener.
It will be interesting to see how long that pecking order holds. Ersan Ilyasova performed nicely off the bench on Friday, scoring 16 on 10 shots along with five boards and a couple assists in 22 minutes--nearly the same numbers he put up in Charlotte. He hit a couple big triples as the Bucks tried to come back in the fourth, taking advantage of a disorganized Pistons defense for a number of good looks, while also keeping a few possessions alive with his hustle. While not as versatile or explosive in the scoring department as Charlie V, no one will be complaining if he can continue to punish sagging defenses (45.9% threes in preseason) and defend consistently. He still seems like the most natural fit against perimeter-based PFs, but Warrick should also figure in those situations.