For the past four years, I've had the agonizing pleasure of covering the Milwaukee Bucks on Media Row. But Tuesday night's 108-100 loss to the Boston Celtics was the first time this season I've soaked in the newest roster befitting the team's sempiternal quest for the competitive middle.
It certainly felt different.
Not different in the sense that I wasn't sitting courtside; rather, not all losses are created equal, and this one looked quite different than most that have befallen the Bucks over the last three seasons (Although some things never change).
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis shot the Bucks in and out of most games. This squad can barely get a shot off (three shot clock violations in the first half alone).
Drew Gooden slipping into Andrew Bogut's shoes and backcourt size deficiencies have given way to major team-wide defensive issues worthy of a Big Green reference.
Fourteen losses in 17 games is nothing to get excited about, but the confluence of a loaded 2014 NBA Draft and roster overhaul has embodied a masochistic schadenfreude among a vocal swath of Bucks fans. That's probably why most online Bucks discourse trends far more positive than it has in recent years. Hope is a very powerful thing.
"They" say your first impression is one of the most important you can make, so I applied that pseudo-scientific philosophy to Tuesday night's defeat. Hopefully I'm engulfed by amnesia sometime in the near future.
First Impression Likes:
Khris Middleton's perimeter shot. Two of Middleton's three treys came from opposing corners, where he is now shooting a combined 9/15 on the season. Middleton looks like the type of player best suited for a team featuring shot creators that can draw defenders in and open up the floor for everyone else. Imagine if a Bucks point guard, any Bucks point guard, featured "penetrates with ease" on their resume.
Giannis is upon us. It's hard to wax poetic about a 4 point, 2-4 fg, 3 rb, 1 blk, 2 TO showing, but it's damn near impossible to avert your eyes from the pile of arms and legs that are Giannis Antetokounmpo when he's on the floor. Simply put, his length, and control of it, is incredible. At least twice, Giannis used his robot arms to recover from a crossover or step-back. Although it didn't always result in a stop, it's the awareness and control that matters. Giannis has more body control at 19 than Sanders and Henson had at 21, and you could make a legitimate argument that he's already outplayed his expectations. At least from our perspective.
OJ Mayo's three point stroke. As much as Bucks fans have to be sick of early shot clock gunners, Mayo's lightning quick jumper sure looks pretty. When it goes in, at least.
Closer to a top five pick. Yada yada yada.
First Impression Dislikes:
John Henson stole Larry's stone hands and put them on his feet. Henson fumbled three times around the basket, and was consistently late to recover, resulting in a litany of open corner threes or backdoor cuts. Henson blushed a few shades of 2011-12 Larry Sanders, but that's not necessarily a bad thing at this point.
Ekpe Udoh. On one second quarter play, two Celtics defenders converged on the perimeter and left Udoh with a clear path to the cup. He took the pass and responded with all the grace of Elaine Benes, hesitating a second before "jumping" and topping out his "dunk" attempt at the front of the rim as another defender closed the gap. Udoh's value is only noticeable on a good team, where all the important, stat-relevant roles are filled. The Bucks are not one of those teams.
Brandon Knight. Knight was a crucial part of the Bucks' fourth quarter comeback, but the rest of the night wasn't so kind. Avery Bradley had no problem shutting Knight down around the perimeter, and his court vision left many shots to be desired (namely, Ersan Ilyasova's signature leak-out three).
Three point defense. The Celtics had as many threes in Tuesday's first five minutes as they did in all of Saturday's game against the Bucks (four). Boston finished with 11 threes on 45.8% shooting, despite being one of the NBA's least successful perimeter shooting teams (21st in 3FG%).
All of the offense. How a team manages more than one shot clock violation in a game, without getting a shot off, is beyond me. Barely functional pick and rolls, perimeter ball swings and off-ball screens that create no spacing, no real post-up threat beyond a weird Henson lefty hook, OJ Mayo taking contested threes as a primary option. Pick your cyanide capsule.