The Milwaukee Bucks and Charlotte Bobcats open the 11/12 season in Charlotte, just six months after the three team draft day trade that sent Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston to Milwaukee and Corey Maggette to Charlotte.
Action Jackson. While Stephen Jackson is expected to make his Bucks debut despite lingering back issues, the Bucks could be without Luc Mbah a Moute (knee tendinitis), Carlos Delfino (sprained right wrist) and Tobias Harris(dehydration), all of whom missed practice this weekend. Harris' situation is particularly baffling given he first suffered from dehydration nearly three weeks ago, yet still can't seem to get a practice in.
Delfino's absence would pave the way for Mike Dunleavy to start at small forward, while Mbah a Moute's unavailability would seem to give Drew Gooden the inside track at power forward. But who knows? Gooden is also the Bucks' most obvious choice to back up Andrew Bogut, so it's certainly possible Skiles could take a different route at PF with Ersan Ilyasova, Jon Brockman, Jon Leuer and Larry Sanders also at his disposal. As much as people may not be thrilled about it, something tells me we'll see Brockman at some point on Monday night.
Update: Ted Davis tweets that Ilyasova will start at PF, making Gooden the likely backup center off the bench. One obvious benefit of starting Ilyasova is that his ability as a floor spacer could be especially useful if the Bobcats are forced to double Bogut early. With a D.J. White/Boris Diaw front line that's more likely to happen.
Youth Movement. Michael Jordan signaled his intention to rebuild the Bobcats when he dealt Gerald Wallace last spring, tempering expectations in the short term. To wit: the Bobcats are looking for Maggette to be the club's leader in both the scoring column and in the locker room, which has never boded well for a team's playoff chances. No matter--that's not what Jordan is most concerned at the moment anyway. Paul Silas is likely to start recent lottery picks D.J. Augustin and Gerald Henderson in the backcourt, with newest Baby Bobs Bismack Biyombo and Kemba Walker expected to come off the bench to start the season.
Walker struggled from the field (4/13 fg, 9/11 ft) but still managed 18 points in his debut, a 79-77 win over theHawks. He followed that with a quieter eight points in 11 minutes of the Bobs' 92-75 loss in Atlanta, but all indications are that he'll get plenty of minutes. Meanwhile, Biyombo almost wasn't a Bobcat at all this season due to a contract dispute with Spanish club Fuenlabrada, earning his freedom only after agreeing to pay the majority of his $1.5 million buyout himself.
B.J. vs. D.J. As for the starting point guards, Augustin and Brandon Jennings took turns smoking one another last season, with Jennings recording his first career triple-double in November and averaging 26.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg and 7.3 apg on .464/.458/.938 shooting in three games against the Bobcats. Unfortunately, he also had one of his most forgettable moments of the season in Charlotte on March 28, missing eight straight shots in the final quarter including three layups in the final 12 seconds of an 87-86 loss that essentially slammed the door on the Bucks' playoff chances. Meanwhile, Augustin had some of his best outings of the season against the Bucks with 20.7 ppg, 6.5 apg and 4.0 rpg on .536/.455/1.000 shooting. The addition of Walker suggests the Bobcats probably weren't sold on Augustin as their long-term solution at the point, but to his credit he is coming off a productive bounce-back year in 10/11.
Bogut vs.... Silas isn't likely to start the 19-year-old Biyombo early on, but his other pivot options aren't ideal: PF Boris Diaw started the first preseason game, while DeSagana Diop is still playing his way into shape after coming to camp 25 pounds overweight following a ruptured Achilles last season. Tyrus Thomas also figures to be part of the starting frontcourt equation when healthy, but he's a question mark for the opener after missing game two with a sprained ankle (and he's also not a center). The Bobs also picked up Thunder misfit B.J. Mullens this week for a 2013 second rounder while dumping veteran space-eater Melvin Ely.
Until further notice I'll guess Diop starts against Bogut, but Silas could go with a small-ball approach and use Diaw as well. (Update: Consensus at the moment seems like SIlas will take his chances with Diaw attempting to mark Bogut). Like Skiles, Silas has spoken of wanting to push the pace this season, so small lineups would seem to be in order.
Livingston I presume? Shaun Livingston was a largely overlooked part of the draft day blockbuster, and it's still not clear exactly how he'll fit into the Bucks' PG-heavy backcourt rotation. Livingston played the majority of his minutes last year at the point (where he was also more effective), but he'll likely have a better opportunity to find time in Milwaukee at shooting guard next to either Brandon Jennings or Beno Udrih.
Most know Livinsgton for his uncommon combination of size (6'7") and court vision, and Bucks fans got an early taste of his slashing ability with a couple nice attacking moves to the rim in the preseason opener against Minnesota. It's no fluke: with 19 dunks in 1261 minutes, Livingston was among the league's leading dunkers from the point guard position a year ago, recording more slams per minute than the likes of Derrick Rose and John Wall. He's also developed an extremely potent post game, using his length to turn over either shoulder effectively from 10-15 feet. Which is good, because he made just one three-pointer and 32 of 101 shots from outside 15 feet last season.
The Bobcats were also dramatically better defensively with Livingston on the court last season (8.0 fewer pts/100 possessions), and as things currently stand he may well be the Bucks' best backcourt defender. So it stands to reason that Skiles will do what he can to get Livingston on the court, particularly given how he would seem to complement the shot-happy nature of Jennings and Udrih.