Jabari Parker is back.
Great! Now how about the Bucks' winning mojo?
That's the obvious question heading into a Big Apple-flavored weekend for the Bucks, who could move above .500 if they take care of business against the Knicks and Nets over the next two days. The Bucks have the struggling Nets on Saturday night in Milwaukee, but first up is a trip to Madison Square Garden for a rematch with the Knicks, just 10 days after Derek Fisher's team poured raw sewage on the Bucks' first home opener in three decades.
Unfortunately, injuries will once again be among the major talking points tonight. The good news is that Jabari Parker will play again tonight after making his season debut on Wednesday, with Jason Kidd expecting to increase his workload after Parker made it through 16 nondescript minutes on Wednesday. John Henson (sore Achilles) is also expected back to boost the Bucks bench (sorry, Miles Plumlee) after missing the last four games and seeing just 10 minutes against the Knicks. On the downside, Michael-Carter Williams remains out with the ankle injury he suffered in Brooklyn, while O.J. Mayo continues to be out with his perpetually sore hamstring. MCW did some light work on Friday, but he could miss Saturday's game as well.
After starting Jerryd Bayless at the point on Wednesday, Kidd offered a bit of a surprise on Friday when he revealed Tyler Ennis -- just two days removed from his own season debut -- would start against the Knicks. The 21-year-old Ennis hasn't shown more than flashes since arriving from Phoenix last year, and similarly had some nervous fourth quarter minutes on Wednesday before Greivis Vasquez closed out the win over the Sixers. Here's how Kidd described the decision to Charles Gardner after the team's walk through:
"We need to see him (Ennis) play," Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. "We need to get a sense of what he can do on the floor, so we thought we would get him with that first group.
"It also puts Bayless back into his role off the ball, so hopefully that helps."
As we've seen previously, Kidd won't hesitate to test a youngster's mettle like this, especially if it means he can keep his bench rotation fairly constant. Both Ennis and Johnny O'Bryant benefited from that strategy last season, with Ennis starting in a loss in Memphis last March 14 as well. In this case, that means keeping Vasquez and Bayless as a backup backcourt duo, while Ennis will both face a ton of pressure to play well (he's starting at MSG!) and less pressure to lead the offense (just give it to Moose, Giannis, Khris and Jabari, kid!). This is basically Kidd saying "we've got enough scorers, just give me a guy who can get out of the way." So can Ennis be the point guard equivalent of Johnny O'Bryant and just do well by, you know, not being noticed? And how weird is that Johnny O'Bryant is doing totally OK at something?
(Random Arrested Development joke: has the Milford School produced its first NBA basketball players?)
Personally I'm a bit torn on the move. I still like Ennis as a longer-term prospect, so I'm happy to see him get a chance to get reps with the Bucks' best players -- especially when I hear him say he wants to "get guys some open shots in transition" (I'm looking at you, Greivis and Jerryd). But we've also seen little to suggest Ennis is *really* ready to contribute; after looking savvy beyond his years during his one season at Syracuse, Ennis really hasn't distinguished himself in any one respect thus far, and missing the entire summer with a shoulder injury didn't help. He does seem to have some "true" point guard instincts (whatever that's worth), he can occasionally score, and he does try on defense. He doesn't seem to have any fatal flaw, but he also doesn't really seem to do anything at an average level yet, nor does he have the can't miss physical tools to extend his ceiling. Given his age I'm hopeful that he can make big strides as a decision-maker and shooter (I hope he's watching Mike Conley tape), but in the meantime I'm not expecting that he'll be leading the Bucks to victory in crunch time either.
As for the bench, let's hope that Henson's return and Ennis' start allow them to start finding some kind of rhythm. While the pre-Jabari Parker starting lineups have all outscored opponents, the bench units have been something of a disaster, with Plumlee lineups (-24.8 pts/100) in particular struggling to find any success. You would hope that Henson will take all of Plumlee's minutes and perhaps some of JOB's as well, which should provide some much-needed back line protection to both the Bucks' bench and the team's overall defense (now up 29th in the rankings!).
Knicks Scouting Report
The Knicks have dropped three of four since their opening blowout in Milwaukee, their latest loss a 96-86 defeat in Cleveland. Carmelo Anthony looked like vintage Melo in Washington last Saturday (37 points on 18 shots), but has been miserably inefficient in the two games before and after (he's just 30.7% from the field in those four).
On the bright side, the Knicks' losses have come against some of the league's best teams from last season (Atlanta, San Antonio and Cleveland) AND they actually have an NBA-caliber big man rotation this season, with rookie Kristaps Porzingis impressing alongside summer signings Robin Lopez and Kyle O'Quinn. Porzingis hasn't shot well thus far (39.6% overall, 20% from three) but he's done a bit of everything else, rebounding at a high level, passing surprisingly well, and piling up blocks and steals at very impressive rates. His jumper will eventually come around, and if he keeps doing all the other stuff look out. It's far too early to proclaim what any rookie will become, but it's already obvious we're not looking at the next Andrea Bargnani.
Otherwise the Bucks will have to hope they can do a better job containing the Knicks bench, which lit them up in the opener for 73 points and all the offensive rebounds, like, in the universe (OK, 19). Derrick Williams hasn't broken double-digits since scoring 24 in Milwaukee, though Brew Hoop favorite KOQ is currently outplaying Lopez with some big numbers off the bench (21.4 PER, 17.7 pts and 13.3 rebs/40) and they're also getting some rather frisky play from Jerian Grant and Langston Galloway. Overall, the Knicks' bench ranks third in the league with over 47 points per game (on 49% shooting), nearly double that of the Bucks (25.0 ppg, 38% shooting, 27th).
|2015/16 NBA Season|
|November 6, 2015|
|Madison Square Garden | New York|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Tyler Ennis||PG||Jose Calderon|
|Khris Middleton||SG||Sasha Vujacic|
|Giannis Antetokounmpo||SF||Carmelo Anthony|
|Jabari Parker||PF||Kristaps Porzingis|
|Greg Monroe||C||Robin Lopez|
|2014/15 Advanced Stats|
|93.6 (28th)||Pace||97.9 (15th)|
|104.9 (9th)||ORtg||104.2 (10th)|
|113.0 (29th)||DRtg||104.0 (20th)|