|2013 NBA Preseason|
|October 21, 2013|
|United Center | Chicago, IL|
|No Local / WGN Chicago | 620 WTMJ / Audio League Pass|
|Brandon Knight||PG||Derrick Rose|
|O.J. Mayo||SG||Mike Dunleavy|
|Caron Butler||SF||Luol Deng|
|John Henson||PF||Carlos Boozer|
|Larry Sanders||C||Nazr Mohammed|
|2012/13 Advanced Stats|
|94.7 (3rd)||Pace||89.9 (25th)|
|103.6 (22nd)||ORtg||103.5 (20th)|
|105.2 (12th)||DRtg||101.5 (5th)
Derrick Rose returns. No player is being scrutinized more closely this preseason than Derrick Rose, and for good reason. A torn ACL suffered in the 2012 playoffs sidelined the former MVP for 18 long months before his return much-anticipated return two weeks ago, but he's looked anything but rusty since. Playing a team-high 32 minutes (Thibodeau!), Rose powered Chicago past Indiana on Friday with 32 points on just 15 shots to go with nine assists, offering further evidence that he's more than ready to lead the Bulls back into the NBA's elite. The only good news for Bucks fans? At least we don't have to watch Brandon Jennings attempt to guard him.
Bulls winning, Bucks losing. Milwaukee and Chicago are separated by just 90 miles on the map, but they couldn't be further apart in the all-important preseason standings right now. Chicago is one of two undefeated teams remaining (the Pelicans are 6-0) while the Bucks are the only team still looking for a win--which says different things about the respective clubs. For the Bulls it's all good: adding a healthy Rose and Brew Hoop favorite Mike Dunleavy to a team that made it to the second round of the playoffs should automatically have them contending in the East.
On the flip side, it's less clear how to interpret the Bucks' winless start. They had no business blowing a huge fourth quarter lead against the Bobcats and led in the final minute in Memphis last Tuesday, so they've had their chances to claim a win. And taking a step back, we've known all along that this would probably take some time. Growing pains are to expected for a team that was basically demolished and completely rebuilt over the summer, and a slew of injuries have only exacerbated the task for Larry Drew and company. That doesn't mean things will be easy when (if?) the Bucks get healthy and more used to playing with one another, but they at least figure to easier.
Injuries galore. While Rose is finally healthy, key pieces for both teams are not (stop me if you've heard this before). The Bulls will be missing All-star center Joakim Noah (groin), starting shooting guard Jimmy Butler (sore knee) and reserve guard Kirk Hinrich (concussion), while the Bucks remain without Ersan Ilyasova (ankle), Carlos Delfino (foot) and Ekpe Udoh (knee). Dunleavy is expected to start in Jimmy Butler's absence, though he hasn't quite warmed up in five preseason games to date (32% shooting). Something tells me he'll come around.
Zaza Pachulia (Achilles) does expect to see some minutes this week after participating in five-on-five practices, and from Jim Paschke's video preview it sounds as though Drew wants to give him some limited run tonight. Larry Sanders (illness) missed practice on Friday but is expected to play after returning on Saturday, while Gary Neal (plantar fasciitis) returned to practice on Friday after missing the previous week.
Unfortunately for Neal, this likely won't be the last we hear of his injury. Andrew Gruman reports that Neal has been battling plantar fasciitis for "six or seven months," which is hardly an encouraging sign given the nature of plantar injuries. The injury was likely to blame for some of Neal's diminished production in San Antonio last year, and it's unclear what kind of impact it will have on him going forward. Maybe it gets better, maybe it limits his productivity, and maybe it will cost him games--it seems to be anyone's guess. For those scoring at home: Neal joins Delfino and Pachulia among summer signings who have been limited or prevented from playing altogether by preexisting injuries.
Go small. Larry Drew has experimented with swingman Khris Middleton as a small ball power forward over the past week, leading both FS Wisconsin and the Journal-Sentinel to note the idea of Middleton as a potential backup power forward option with Ilyasova still on the shelf. Via Gruman:
"I was shocked," Middleton said of his reaction when Drew approached him about playing power forward. "But I'm ready and I am trying to get prepared for it during practice. It's different from when I played it in college. It's just something that I have to work on.
"With four guys on the court that can spread it and shoot the ball and put it on the floor, it can help us a lot offensively. It would space the floor and make it easier for driving lanes and kick outs. It's just going to be an adjustment on the defensive side. There will be mismatches but if we play the right way and talk, we'll be fine."
Middleton shouldn't be shocked for the same reason that we talked about the idea of Giannis seeing minutes at PF. With Ilyasova and Udoh hurt, the Bucks don't really have any easy options there other than John Henson. Sanders could slide over to the four at times and Caron Butler could be another small-ball option, but the realist is that right now there are plenty of rotation minutes up for grabs at both forward spots.
Grantland | The Bucks get their rank (#15!)
Who knew that Bill Simmons would end up as the ultimate Bucks optimist? Well, that's probably overstating it. Simmons isn't endorsing the Bucks' unwillingness to rebuild more overtly, but he sees them capable of gunning for the mid-40s in terms of wins this season. That strikes me as rather generous, especially given how little we know about how the Bucks' million new pieces will fit together and what we do know about the Bucks' already mounting injury woes.
And for the record: I have no desire to see the Bucks pursue Rudy Gay, even if the price was the relatively modest sum of Caron Butler and Ekpe Udoh. If the Bucks are serious about developing Antetokounmpo--and improving in the long-term more generally--the last thing they need to do is bring in an over-priced wing who will automatically gobble up 30-35 minutes every night without making the team significantly better.