The last dress rehearsal has arrived.
Three days after dispatching the Timberwolves in Madison, the Milwaukee Bucks travel to Minneapolis on Friday night looking to close out their preseason with a second straight win over Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and company. Then come four days to prepare and rest up for Wednesday's home opener vs. the Knicks in Milwaukee. In other words: SOON.
On Thursday, Jason Kidd also revealed he'd field a somewhat different starting lineup, reinserting rookie shooting guard (and Minnesota native) Rashad Vaughn at shooting guard, sliding Khris Middleton over to small forward, and using Chris Copeland as a stretch four. If you're wondering where Giannis Antetokounmpo is, keep in mind that he's suspended for the opener and thus it makes sense for Kidd to try out a lineup he might need to use in Giannis' absence against the Knicks. Charles Gardner writes:
"We'll go with a different starting lineup and see how that group responds, understanding we're getting closer to the opener," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "So there will be a little bit more minutes for those guys."
Kidd said the starting lineup against the Timberwolves also will include center Greg Monroe, point guard Michael Carter-Williams and small forward Khris Middleton.
"I don't know if it will be Wednesday's lineup, but we'll take a look and see how these guys play."
Damien Inglis, Miles Plumlee, Tyler Ennis, and Jabari Parker all remain out until further notice, though Inglis will hopefully be recovered from his illness by next week's opener.
While the Giannis absence is only a one-game thing, I do like the broader idea of slotting Copeland into the starting five while Jabari Parker is out: his hair trigger (and reasonably accurate) release forces teams to account for him on the perimeter, and he keeps the ball moving even when he's not open. Like Parker he's also not much of a defender, but I think that's a tradeoff worth taking a chance on (and would give us a sneak preview for when Jabari is back).
The alternatives would seem to be either going big (Henson with Monroe?) or moving Middleton to the three and adding another guard, though I think those options have clear down sides. For one, a Monroe/Henson combination would clog the floor for everyone (that's why Monroe left Detroit, remember?), and it's worth mentioning that Kidd has shown little interest in playing with two centers either in preseason or last year. He's suggested we could see it this season, but it would seem to say a lot that he's avoided it during the preseason.
The other option might be something we saw earlier in the preseason: Greivis Vasquez joining MCW in the backcourt with Middleton and Giannis manning the forward spots, or perhaps a more typical SG (Mayo or Vaughn) in place of Vasquez. This would alleviate some of the spacing concerns since Vasquez, Mayo and Vaughn can all shoot, but going with Vasquez feels like you're also wasting your two best playmakers somewhat by playing them together, especially since it would mean Jerryd Bayless is your only PG coming off the bench. In theory I'd much prefer staggering MCW and Vasquez's minutes so one of them is always on the court.
As for continuing to start Mayo or Vaughn once Giannis is back...meh, I'd lean towards staying big with Middleton at SG and Giannis/Copeland at the forward spots. Middleton was exceptional playing mostly at SG last season, and I'd generally prefer not to shuffle guys around too much while we wait for Parker to return. Copeland in that respect is the cleanest guy to swap in and out, and it's not as though you have to play him 30 minutes per night just because he's starting. Once Parker is ready he'd simply replace Copeland, keeping everyone else in the same spot. There's no guarantee it works, though Copeland has looked fairly sharp since returning to the lineup last week, including a 3/5 shooting performance from deep on Tuesday.
I'll run a proper story recapping the Bucks' final preseason stats over the weekend, but in the meantime there's some interesting (and counter-intuitive) stuff to unpack. As usual, small sample size disclaimers apply:
- John Henson hasn't played a ton in the preseason (14.3 mpg), but his numbers have been nothing short of eye-popping when he has been on the court. Per 36 minutes he's averaging 23.7 points, 16.1 rebounds, 4.0 blocks while posting a 37.3 PER. More of that, John.
- Speaking of bigs, Greg Monroe is adjusting quite nicely to his new surroundings: per 36 he's posting 21.2 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.7 steals.
- It feels like Rashad Vaughn has had a really good preseason, right? And yet his efficiency numbers range from below average (52.2% true shooting) to downright ugly (9.7 PER). The problem would seem to be a) he hasn't played well the past two games and b) right now he doesn't do anything other than shoot. In 118 minutes he's managed just 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 0 steals and 0 blocks. It's not worth worrying about a 19-year-old kid's rookie preseason numbers, but bear in mind that his scouting report doesn't suggest he'll ever do much other than score. Hopefully he's watching O.J. Mayo, who just so happens to be leading the Bucks in assists per minute (8.2/36).
- Giannis Antetokounmpo (13.6 pts, 8.2 rebs, 1.6 blks, 48.6% true shooting, 3/6 threes) and Michael Carter-Williams (13.5 pts, 6.7 rebs, 5.5 ast, 4.5 to, 51.1% true shooting) have been fairly sloppy in the preseason, but they've looked notably better over the last week. MCW has also cut his usage (down to 21% from 26% last year), which is something of a necessity given the guys he's sharing the court with are much more efficient scorers.
|2015/16 NBA Preseason|
|October 23, 2015|
|Target Center | Minneapolis, MN|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Michael Carter-Williams||PG||Ricky Rubio|
|Rashad Vaughn||SG||Andrew Wiggins|
|Khris Middleton||SF||Tayshaun Prince|
|Chris Copeland||PF||Kevin Garnett|
|Greg Monroe||C||Karl-Anthony Towns|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|102.7 (26th)||ORtg||102.9 (25th)|
|102.2 (4th)||DRtg||112.2 (30th)|