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Cavaliers 99, Bucks 87: Milwaukee's offense goes haywire in preseason debut

The Bucks couldn't shoot straight for most of their opening preseason game, but that's not really important right now. Let's focus on GIANNIS.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

I won't bore you with too much of a narrative from this game. The Bucks led 6-4 (though two of those six points were later revealed to have been rewarded erroneously) and then Cleveland took off, building a significant lead by the end of the first quarter that was never seriously threatened. The Bucks couldn't shoot at all, finishing with a 37.7 team FG% and going just 4-18 from deep. They also left 12 points at the line, shooting 25-37 on free-throws. The defense was good enough to hold Cleveland below Larry Drew's targeted 43% shooting, but Milwaukee gave up 19 offensive rebounds and 24 points at the stripe.

But you all don't really care much about that, so let's run down the list of meaningful performances from the Bucks' roster.

Caron Butler: Rough night. Butler had a hard time in the early going handling Cleveland's aggressive traps on the wings and committed a few turnovers trying to pass out of them. He made just one shot to go with a rebound, an assist, and two steals. Caron mostly took the shots you want him to take, he just didn't make them. He'll be better, though he might have more competition than expected.

Ersan Ilyasova: His performance is far less important than his immediate health, as he appeared to roll his ankle defending a Cleveland fast break. He was down on the court for a few minutes and didn't return to the game. Wouldn't be surprised if he missed a chunk of preseason just to be safe, hopefully no more than that. Prior to the spill he was shooting the ball pretty well and even blocked a shot. Still looks to be a vital cog in Milwaukee's offense.

Larry Sanders: The shot blocking was there from the opening tip as Sanders picked up right where he left off under the basket. He altered multiple shots beyond the ones he actually got his hands on and generally mucked things up. Oh, and he also got whistled for a technical after griping about and over-the-back call. It was all so familiar. Offensively, Sanders continues to function best as a garbageman and dunk-finisher. No shot was more emphatic than an early lob flush in a pick and roll with Brandon Knight, even though the dunk was later wiped out due to a shot-clock violation. When paired with John Henson on offense, Sanders set up camp around the elbow with Henson on the block a decent amount. It was a valiant (if strange) attempt to generate floor spacing but mostly led to awkward jumpers when Henson kicked the ball to him.

Brandon Knight: Struggled with his shot but showed a bit more shot creation than expected, missing a few shots at the rim that led to putbacks for his teammates. He was also 0-3 from behind the arc. Knight finished with two assists in 20 minutes (not counting the aforementioned lob to Sanders), both on O.J. Mayo jumpers. Knight's strength, at least in comparison to his predecessor, was evident on defense and in the lane, he just had a hard time making anything concrete out of his good moves. He also had some trouble dealing with Cleveland's trapping, but coughed the ball up just twice.

O.J. Mayo: Struggled with his shot just like his starting backcourt-mate, finishing with 7 points on 3-10 shooting (1-5 3PT). He didn't earn any free-throws but like Butler and Knight, they were mostly shots you were alright with seeing him take. Defensively, Mayo waffled from shut-down to shook, locking down in isolation but occasionally finding himself off-balance when threatened by a screen (Knight had the same issues). He matched Knight with two assists and turnovers apiece, and there wasn't much to say for his playmaking--both assists came on long two-point jumpers. Mayo's here to score, so when he isn't doing that he's not likely to make a big positive impact.

John Henson: Still a rebounding machine, still a great weakside shotblocker who can wreak havoc on defense when paired with Sanders, still an uneven contributor on offense. Henson flashed a great running hook early in the game, but didn't do much with a multitude of post touches throughout the game. He had two very nice assists that both led to Milwaukee layups, flashing the sort of interior passing the Bucks could really use out of their big men.

Miroslav Raduljica: Raduljica is BIG. Like, big to the extent that he makes other guys who are BIG look quite small. And he knows how to use it a little too, holding off defenders under the basket with sheer size and carving out space when rebounding. His two steals and two blocks speak to quick hands and instincts, but the five fouls in 18 minutes speak to his inexperience. He's also, um, quite slow on his feet. Raduljica isn't likely to play much so long as Zaza Pachulia is available, but his size alone makes him somewhat valuable as a spot-minute/situational big.

Luke Ridnour: Just a clean, comfortable, unremarkable performance for the Motel 6 of point guards, Ridnour looked a lot like he did the last time he suited up for the Bucks. He rarely took a shot that seemed out-of-place (I mean, he only had three official shot attempts) and made the correct pass when it was there. He also tied Sanders for the team-high in rebounds with 5. Gave us a vintage Ridnour wrap-up foul in transition in the early going as well.

Gary Neal: Suffered from the same accuracy issues as the rest of Milwaukee's perimeter players but didn't play badly by any stretch. He sparked the offense off the bench in the sense that he handled the ball a fair amount and did usual Gary Neal things. Finished with 2 steals (it was a festival of thievery for both teams), 2 assists, and 1 turnover.

Nate Wolters. Played the entire fourth quarter and finished with a team-high 3 assists (the Bucks had 18 assists on 29 made shots, the ball movement just evenly distributed, something that might be a trend this season), Wolters looked pretty good running the offense, though he was facing Cleveland's scrubs for most of his court time. He missed all three of his own shot attempts as well.

Stephen Graham. The camp invite showed off some shot-making ability and attacked the basket repeatedly, earning 5 foul shots and sinking them all to finish with a team-high 15 points on 5-10 FG. He also grabbed 3 offensive rebounds thanks to his high energy.

And now, the man you've all been waiting for...

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Holy cow, this dude is a physical anomaly. He looks gangly as all get out when he moves without the ball, but when he gets in the air with arms outstretched, he looks like a windmill strapped to a rocket ship. He handled the speed, size, and length of his opposition better than I expected, to be honest, but still made quite a few mistakes. He traveled while winding up his dribble at least twice and made a few ill-advised passes, but also swatted away an alley-oop pass with ease, blocked three other shots and drew a bunch of fouls. Nothing to discourage our obsession with his long-term potential, but certainly reason to think Giannis might do more harm than good in the early going of the regular season. He needs lots of practice time and maybe some extended run in the D-League to break a few bad habits, but a debut line of 14 points (3/7 fg, 1/3 threes, 7/10 ft), 4 reb, 3 blk, 2 ast, 2 stl, 5 to is about as much as you could have reasonably hoped for from the NBA's youngest player.

A few more scattered observations:

  • Cleveland boasts a handful of excellent rebounders, and they killed the Bucks on the offensive glass Tuesday night. Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, and camp invite Kenny Kadji all grabbed at least 4 offensive rebounds. Getting only 10 minutes out of Ersan Ilyasova hurt, but the Bucks looked totally undisciplined when it came to boxing out Cavaliers who came crashing in after every shot attempt.
  • The huge steal total is mostly a product of disorganized preseason gameplay, but the Bucks do have a lot of quick hands on the roster and finally a little strength in the backcourt to crowd opposing ballhandlers. Considering the number of steals it's a bit disappointing the Bucks could only tally 13 fast break points, but mistakes of inexperience (double-dribbles, sideline violations) killed a few transition opportunities.
  • The shooting is sure to be a concern, since one game is all we have to talk about, but let's hold off judgement for, like, two more games or something. The Bucks' roster is dotted with above-average three-point shooters. They were rusty playing in somebody else's building for the first time in a long while. It'll get better.