After averaging 19 turnovers per game in their first three preseason contests, the Bucks were able to limit their turnovers to just 14 on Saturday night. Unfortunately, improved ball control wasn't enough as the Bucks fell 105-101 to the Wizards.
Despite the end result, there were signs of life from a Bucks' rotation that played most of the first three quarters. Khris Middleton had an efficient night, scoring 21 points (9-14 FG, 3-6 from 3) in 22 minutes. Greg Monroe and Giannis Antetokounmpo also found their way into double digits on the night with 13 points and 12 points respectively, incuding a pair of confident-looking threes from the latter. John Henson added 12 points off the bench for the Bucks.
The biggest difference-maker of the night though had to be Chris Copeland coming off the bench. Copeland shot plenty (13 FGA, 9 3PA) and scored (16 points) plenty of the bench, but the real difference came in the way the ball moved with the Bucks bench unit on the floor. While it probably wasn't quite the same as last season, for the first time this preseason, extra passes were made and the ball really moved from side to side when Copeland hit the floor midway through the first quarter.
After Bradley Beal hit back-to-back threes midway through the third quarter, it looked like a scoring duel might develop between Middleton and Beal (18 points), but both players were subbed out and nothing came of Beal's jawing as he defended Middleton after those made threes. The Wizards had four others in double digits on the night and eventually pulled out a 105-101 victory with all Bucks starters except Monroe sitting out the entire fourth quarter.
The Bucks' starting lineup: Michael Carter-Williams, Antetokounmpo, Middleton, Johnny O' Bryant, and Monroe. Same starters to start the second half.
Fourth quarter starters: Jorge Gutierrez, Rashad Vaughn, Copeland, Marcus Landry, and Henson. Related: the Bucks lost.
The Bucks started the game with the half court set I talked about last Saturday with Middleton back screening for Carter-Williams after a Monroe elbow touch.
Chris Copeland was the first player off the bench for O'Bryant.
The first quarter featured two catch-and-shoot threes from Antetokounmpo. The first came on a Monroe kickout from the post, while the second came on a pass from Middleton. The pacing and release of both shots looked much better than at other times this preseason.
Antetokounmpo also had a beautiful shot fake at the top of the key before driving down the lane to dunk on Marcin Gortat. The photo is likely fantastic and it could make a great poster. Unfortunately, Gortat committed a professional foul, forcing Giannis to double clutch and settle for a pair of free throws.
We discussed both of these things on our Xs and Os Podcast with Gibson Pyper, but the Bucks continue to run great plays out of dead ball situations. Top notch stuff. They are also one of the best off-ball cutting teams in the entire league, evidenced tonight by Middleton's backdoor dunk.
During the first quarter, Copeland trailed behind the play and caught the ball at the three point line on the right wing. After drawing a defender, he kicked it to Middleton in the right corner. That exact sequence is how Dudley started a lot of the the tiki-taka sequences the Bucks bench executed so well during the first half of last season.
A few moments later, Copeland made the extra pass again to get Mayo an open three. Copeland's scoring will not be the reason he is on the floor this season. It will be extra passes that keep the offense moving.
If Rashad Vaughn puts the ball on the floor and he can't get a shot off, watch out. It's probably going to be a turnover.
One of the regularly cited positives of the Greg Monroe addition was his defensive rebounding ability and how it could help shore up the Bucks' problems on the defensive glass. Aside from the numbers suggesting there may not be an automatic improvement, early evidence would suggest the Bucks' defensive rebounding may not improve this season. Although Monroe is a great rebounder individually, the Bucks defensive system may just make it difficult to corral defensive rebounds.
Carter-Williams does a fantastic job moving the ball up the floor with the pass. It may be his best trait as a point guard. Any time he gets a chance to find a wing streaking up the floor, he does. That will be especially important this season with Monroe running the floor hard and establishing early post position.
The Bucks are struggling with their defensive responsibilities. This isn't all that surprising considering it was a struggle for the first two months of last season, but everything is a few steps slow right now. Monroe is struggling somewhat with when to step out and hedge high and the team's rotations are still probably a few steps slow. It will certainly get better, but it's just not great right now.
Antetokounmpo's handle is still a little loose for my liking and it'll be necessary to take a wait-and-see approach with his shot, but he knows how to get to the free throw line. As long as he does that, there will always be a chance for him to become an elite offensive player.