After wrapping up November with an encouraging 92-74 blowout over the slumping Nuggets at home, the Bucks begin their brutal month tonight in San Antonio against the 14-4 Spurs, a rather fitting starting point for a December schedule that features the highest opponent winning percentage, most road games, and most back-to-backs of any team in the league. Just reading the schedule made our Eric Nehm and Aron Yohannes make these faces while reviewing it on Monday night.
That's not typically the recipe for clawing your way back into the playoff race, though at this point the Bucks don't have any choice.
Jason Kidd's decision to shakeup the starting five had the desired effect on Sunday and Monday, as the Bucks looked a bit more motivated and energetic defensively against the Hornets and Nuggets. What that means for the future of the Bucks rotation is less clear, however. Jabari Parker won't come off the bench forever, while Jerryd Bayless and O.J. Mayo can't (and shouldn't) play 40 minutes a night with any regularity. Getting some semblance of consistency from Michael Carter-Williams is thus essential, though it's difficult to say whether MCW can be the guy we saw against the Nuggets and Pistons more than once a week -- or whether he should be starting even if he does. Getting Greivis Vasquez (ankle) back would also ease the burden on Bayless and Mayo, though he's expected to miss his third straight game tonight.
As for the frontcourt, Kidd suggested on Monday that the team wanted to keep Parker in the 20-25 minute range, which is a bit interesting given he played 30 minutes twice in the previous couple weeks. Still, if Parker is on a minutes restriction then there's something to be said for staggering his time and that of Giannis Antetokounmpo, as splitting them up does allow for more spacing and (in theory) more opportunity for both of them to touch the ball when they're on the court.
Unfortunately, while Parker scored a season-high 16 on Monday, Giannis was recording his second straight single-digit scoring performance. He was again shackled by early foul troubles, though unlike Sunday he wasn't bashful about putting up jumpers, seemingly overcompensating for his disinterest in shooting at all on Sunday. Alas, he didn't look particularly confident in starting 1/7 from the field, though he did score six points in the third as the Bucks pulled away. They'll need much more from him tonight.
Spurs Scouting Report
Good news: the Spurs looked vulnerable late in their 92-89 loss in Chicago. Bad news: the Spurs are really, really good, undefeated at home and figure to be hell-bent on not losing a second game in a row.
Our friend Matt Tynan from 48 Minutes of Hell wrote after the Bulls loss that while the Spurs continue to rack up wins, they're a different animal from the team that dominated the Finals two years ago:
The Spurs have become more reliant on Leonard and Aldridge for the scoring. And the Spurs are scoring in different ways. Less 3-point attempts, more mid-range scoring. That doesn't mean the Spurs ball movement has gone away. In fact, the Spurs are averaging slightly more assists per game this year (24.9) than last year (24.4). Both years they've assisted on more baskets than their opponents. Monday night, the Spurs not only had five fewer assists than their season average, but they also let the Chicago Bulls dish out more assists.
So the offense stalled and we can mostly blame the bench for that. Five players scored 15 points total on four assists. Not great. Also not typical of the bench. Fact is three of the five Spurs starters played really well, the other two were good and the bench was bad. The Spurs can't afford for the bench to have a bad night even with the presence of Leonard and Aldridge. Two encouraging takeaways though. One, the Spurs defense continues to be rock solid. In the last 10 days, San Antonio has a staggeringly good defensive rating of 90. Two, Aldridge was hitting his jumpers. He has not been very good from what is typically his sweet spot, but right now he's shooting 34 percent between 10 and 19 feet. Last season he shot 41 percent from the same range. Those shots are going to start falling as he gets more comfortable. It's going to happen, just maybe not as quickly as we're hoping.
With veteran stalwarts Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili easing further into complementary roles, Leonard has made the leap from up-and-comer to franchise cornerstone, upping his scoring from 16.5 to 22 points per game this season. He still does all the other all-world stuff he used to do, only now he's creating offense when needed and taking pressure off the old guys, who can also rely on summer signing LaMarcus Aldridge to steady the offensive ship.
Speaking of which, this isn't quite the same free-flowing offense the Spurs once had, but they still lead the league in passes per game and remain a respectable 10th in offensive efficiency. Adam Mares at Hardwood Paroxysm writes:
The first thing the Spurs do better than anyone else is that they own the elbow. While they are the 2nd most frequent post-up team in the league according to Synergy, most of their post ups come a step away from the low block or on the elbow. The Spurs are masterful in the way that they make the elbow the pivot point in the offense.
The elbows are prime real estate in basketball, especially if you have a front court that is a threat to shoot from that spot and has the ability to pass without turning it over, since front court shooting and passing from the elbows might be a top five most valuable NBA skill. Most teams don't have a single big who can do both at an elite level. The Spurs have four in LaMarcus Aldridge, David West, Tim Duncan, and Boris Diaw.
Those bigs are an obvious reason why the Spurs are no longer a particularly prolific team from three -- for all the talk of the Bucks' lack of spacing, they actually make, attempt and convert threes at a higher rate than San Antonio (weird, right?). Giannis in particular figures to have his hands full defending either Duncan or Aldridge to start the game, so it will be interesting to see if he can avoid foul trouble for a change.
Defensively the Spurs have shown no signs of aging, ranking first in overall efficiency, sixth in opponent three-point shooting and third in opponent two-point field shooting. Oh, and they're also among the league's elite defensive rebounding teams and concede the fewest number of free throws in the league. In short, the Bucks have their work decidedly cut out for them.
|15/16 NBA Season|
|December 2, 2015|
|AT&T Center | San Antonio|
|FS Wisconsin | 620 WTMJ|
|Tony Parker||PG||Jerryd Bayless|
|Danny Green||SG||O.J. Mayo|
|Kawhi Leonard||SF||Khris Middleton|
|LaMarcus Aldridge||PF||Giannis Antetokounmpo|
|Tim Duncan||C||Greg Monroe|
|15/16 Advanced Stats|
|102.5 (17th)||Pace||92.2 (29th)|
|104.7 (10th)||ORtg||103.6 (16th)|
|95.2 (1st)||DRtg||110.7 (29th)|