There's just something special about this time of year; the leaves begin to change color, the weather becomes a bit more crisp, and holiday spirit is truly in the air.
And, of course, the NBA season kicks off once more.
As the season begins, we'll finally start to get tangible answers to many of the question marks that surround this team. Not everything will come to a satisfying conclusion after the first game of the season, but you have to start somewhere, and the Bucks will begin their path by hosting the Charlotte Hornets in Milwaukee on Wednesday night. Check out Eric and Frank's preview podcast below and then read on for more:
As of Tuesday evening, the Bucks were still holding out hope of having everyone (but Khris Middleton) available for the opener, which would give coach Jason Kidd as wide a range of strategic possibilities as he can handle. Getting to watch Jabari Parker (21.7 pts and 8.6 rebs per 36 on 57.2% TS) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (21.0 pts, 6.8 rebs, and 5.7 asts per 36 at 59.5% TS) build on a strong statistical preseason run will rightfully be the focus this evening, but figuring out the rest of the Bucks rotation is the hard part.
Among the players hoping to make his Milwaukee debut will be newly-minted Buck Tony Snell, who went through some on-court activities on Tuesday but has yet to practice with the Bucks due to a sprained ankle. While Snell has had a week to get a crash course in Kidd's system, one wouldn't expect him to come in and be an immediate seamless fit without at least some practice time. His game theoretically fits quite well with the strengths of the starting unit, but only actual minutes on the court will prove that idea out. If Snell misses the opener, Kidd could slot Rashad Vaughn, Jason Terry or Malcolm Brogdon in his place at the two, or he could once again go big with Giannis and Jabari on the wings and Mirza Teletovic at the four.
Elsewhere, we should note that of four meetings last season between these two teams, Charlotte had the upper hand with a 3-1 record. That shouldn't come as a surprise, especially with where each side ended up in the East's playoff picture, but it is important to note that while the Bucks are being forced to swap out Khris Middleton's production with Snell, Terry, and Vaughn, the Hornets come into tonight with a new addition or two to their own starting five. However, scoring against Charlotte is going to be a pain, and may end up as too much of an obstacle for Milwaukee to overcome.
Notwithstanding Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's recurring shoulder injuries, just about everything else seemed to go right for Charlotte last year. They ended the season as the sixth seed in the East (and with a 48-34 record), had both a top-ten offense (107.1 rtg) and defense (104.3 rtg), and saw the emergence of Kemba Walker (21.0 pts and 5.3 asts per 36) and Nicolas Batum (15.4 pts, 6.3 rebs, and 5.7 asts per 36) as a very legitimate one-two punch capable of keeping Charlotte in any game on any given night. While Steve Clifford's teams have been consistently good defensively, the real surprise last year was offensively: they moved from a bottom-five team in both three point shooting and offensive efficiency to ninth in offense and fourth in both threes made and attempted.
However, their off season also saw them saying farewell to a number of key contributors: Jeremy Lin, Al Jefferson, and Courtney Lee. In order to offset the loss of that production, head coach Steve Clifford will be relying on the return of MKG as well as the acquisitions of Marco Belinelli and former Buck Ramon Sessions. While there appears to be an imbalance in quality between outgoing/incoming players, Clifford has proven plenty of times in the past that a mediocre collection of talent may be all he needs to create a competitive team.
In injury news, the Hornets are a little banged up: Frank Kaminsky is dealing with a sprained right foot and his status is questionable for tonight, while Cody Zeller is dealing with a knee injury that may keep him out this evening as well. Brian Roberts has dealt with a hamstring injury and Marvin Williams a fracture in his left middle finger, but both of those guys are expected to be ready to go if needed.
On the Hornets: At The Hive