Vegas has seemingly been a perpetual buzzkill for Bucks fans--from Andrew Bogut's poor showing against the immortal David Harrison in 2005 to Joe Alexander's non-showing last year, there's rarely been much to get excited about when it comes to July basketball. So it was perhaps not surprising that the Bucks' first outing of the 2009 Vegas league was once again a lackluster performance, "highlighted" by a conservative but uninspiring 10 points and three assists by Brandon Jennings and a 4/18 shooting night from Joe Alexander. Yes, they won the game, but when you've got six roster players in Vegas that should be expected. And yes, the fact that I had flown all the way from Boston to see it made it a bit more of a letdown.
Thankfully, Sunday was a brighter day in spite of less-than-ideal travel planning on my part. I was booked for a redeye flight back to Boston at 10:30 Vegas time, and knowing I was headed straight to work from the airport, I was forced to don pants and a collared shirt in the 100+ degree heat. Not that I was actually outside much--no one ever goes outside in Vegas, afterall. Still, knowing I had 36 mostly sleepless hours ahead of me added a bit more anticipation to the Bucks' 7 pm tipoff. A good showing from the young Bucks would make it a bit easier to deal with--and while not perfect, it is at least something to build on.Brandon Jennings
30 min, 7/18 fg, 4/8 3fg, 5/6 ft, 23 pts, 8 ast, 2 rebs, 5 stl, 3 to, 3 pf
This was everything Bucks fans thought they'd be getting from their 19-year old lottery pick--the explosivness, the confidence, the playmaking, and the inconsistency, all rolled into 30 minutes. While other players may have had better performances in Vegas over the weekend, few could claim to have so controlled the flow and style of a game the way Jennings did on Sunday night. Jennings pushed the ball immediately off every Cleveland rebound or turnover, creating a slew of transition chances himself thanks to his five steals. But he also looked at ease in the halfcourt, setting up his shooters coming off curl screens or settling for jump shots himself while turning it over a not-unreasonable-for-Vegas three times.
Which brings us to perhaps the most controversial side of BJ's game: his jumper. David Thorpe tweeted during the game that Jennings "flings" it, which hasn't bother me as much since I'm used to Michael Redd's even more exaggerated slinging motion. Half the time Jennings' hands end up at his hips when he shoots, providing more of a pose than a follow through. And don't even get me started on his feet. I'll probably make reference to this about three million times this season (and I've already brought it up a dozen times), but he has this perpetual need to kick his legs out and put himself off balance when he shoots. It's not even that he's fading away per se, but he almost always ends up with his body 20 or so degrees off of vertical. I'm sure coaches have already drilled him on this a million times, so we're probably just going to have to get used to it.
Not surprisingly his inconsistent mechanics mean he's incredibly streaky; this is afterall a guy who once hit 13 threes in a high school game. So it wasn't all that surprising to see him start the contest 1/7 from the field, only to then turn the game around almost single handedly. The Bucks trailed by 10 in the waning minutes of the first half, but a three by Jennings followed by a breakaway lay-up helped bring the Bucks back to within 41-39 at the intermission.
And perhaps his most impressive play of the half wasn't even one where he scored. In the final minute of the half he caught Darnell Jackson by surprise in the post, tearing the ball out of big man's hands for his fourth steal. Sprinting the other way, he cut inside a couple of Cavs defenders and went for the up-and-under lay-in, only to have it blocked by Green. But Jennings was now in his rhythm, and eight points in the opening two minutes of the third quarter put the Bucks up ten. Kelvin Sampson curiously took Jennings out just a minute later, but his statement had been made.
Of course, it wasn't all good. Jennings is a gambler on defense, which leads to steals and transition opportunities, but also sees him get caught behind the play at times. In the middle quarters his offensive flow seemed to make him all the more zoned in defensively, but by the time the fourth quarter rolled around he started to look a bit, dare I say, slow on defense. We can probably chalk it up to lagging effort in the late going of a meaningless blowout, but he can do better.
We also haven't seen Jennings take it to the hoop much, his quickness evident more in pushing the ball up the court than in taking it to the rack. Then again, with so many non-roster players having 10 fouls to spare, it might not be the best idea to send your slightly built PG into the heart of the defense all the time.
29 min, 1/7 fg, 1/1 3fg, 5/6 ft, 8 pts, 5 reb, 0 pf, 2 to
Alexander once again struggled to make the most of his good looks, back-ironing a pair of contested dunks (one where he got a charitable foul call) and going without a field goal until he hit an open triple late. He did once again bully his way into the paint on a couple occasions, and has now made 11 free throws in two games, but overall the story was again a disappointing one. At PF Alexander has been more active crashing the offensive glass, and I even saw him box out once or twice on defense. But he's still leaving something to be desired on defense, where his main positive is that he's quick enough to show/recover well on the pick/roll.
32 min, 7/14 fg, 0/1 3fg, 2/2 ft, 16 pts, 2 reb, 2 ast, 1 stl, 1 to
Meeks looks to be enjoying his new backcourt partner, and I'd guess the feeling is mutual. Five of Jennings' eight assists came courtesy of Meeks, who continued to show a Rip Hamilton-like ability to catch and shoot from mid-range. For a guy who frequently shot from well beyond the college three point line we've seen only 1/2 three shooting in two games, but that's perfectly fine. Meeks is now averaging 15 ppg on 56.5% shooting from the field in two games, the kind of perimeter scoring consistency the Bucks will probably need a few months from now. Meeks also showed he could put the ball on the floor a little bit, most notably when he drove and scored on a left-handed scoop in the second half.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
29 min, 3/6 fg, 6/8 ft, 12 pts, 8 rebs, 2 stl, 3 pf
Just another quiet but solid all-around game from the Fresh Prince. He even made a quick catch-and-shoot jumper from the wing in transition, which would be a nifty shot to have in his bag of tricks. Other than that he mostly did his thing around the bucket--slicing and squirming his way around defenders to get layups or get to the line.
24 min, 4/9 fg, 1/3 ft, 9 pts, 6 rebs, 8 pf, 3 stl, 1 to
I think it's safer if we all just accept that Amir is what he is--a physically talented guy who's probably not going to stay on the court long enough to be a big impact player. He's definitely got the talent to be more than that, but expecting him to suddenly become a star would make us no different from...well, Pistons fans for the last three years.
But that's OK. His contract is modest and he can block shots and rebound when he is on the court, which is more than we can say for any of our other bigs not named Bogut. To his credit, Amir did finish with more points (9) than fouls, and all of his buckets were pretty nice--a righty hook in the lane, a couple nice catch and finishes around the bucket, and a drive and score that started all the way out by the three point line (it's in the clip above).