We’re only at game four of this young season, but already the new Milwaukee Bucks are looking eerily similar to the old Milwaukee Bucks. While their 1-2 record isn’t worth fretting over, the performances thus far have been... lackluster, to say the least. On paper, visiting an MVP-form Anthony Davis in a city where they’ve lost 14 straight doesn’t seem to be a recipe for a turnaround, but the winless Pelicans are also dealing with their own issues.
In short, Sunday night was a pretty thorough disaster for Jason Kidd and Co. Jabari Parker continued his pronounced offensive slump (shooting 6-16 for a grand total of 13 points), Rashad Vaughn came cratering right through the core of the Earth after his 22-point surprise against Brooklyn (a rough 2-8 from the floor), and even Giannis has seemingly reached the limits of what he alone can do to drag the roster to victory (17 points on 15 shots, eight assists, eight rebounds, three blocks).
In reality, Jason Kidd’s reliance upon Giannis to cover up for the team’s weaknesses is what is most disturbing through three games. We’re dealing with small samples here, but his offensive usage has skyrocketed from 22.3% last year to 27.4% this year with no sign of slowing down any time soon. That’s a lot to handle even for a guy as talented as Giannis is.
He’s posted some pretty crazy per game across the board (23.0 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, 2.0 bpg) to match his usage rate, but it is also very clear that Kidd’s approach to Antetokounmpo at the end of last season (i.e. as Point Guard/Forward) has been moderated somewhat by the arrival of Matthew Dellavedova. Whether that move makes sense given Dellavadova’s abilities as a P&R guy can be debated, but so far this season, Giannis has continued to post big numbers while the team struggles to achieve any sort of consistency.
Besides all that negativity, at least there’s Miles Plumlee’s minutes allocation to watch for (jumped from eight minutes to 17 (!!!)), and everyone can wait in suspense to see if Thon Maker makes it off the bench in garbage time for the second game in a row. Yes, these might feel like dark times, but in many respects there’s nowhere to go but up, especially for a player of Parker’s caliber. He won’t shoot 42% from the field for long — the guy we saw last spring and in the preseason will hopefully be back soon — though it’s up to both Parker and the Bucks’ coaching staff to get him back on track.
In regards to injuries, Khris Middleton continues to be out, and Jason Terry is attending to a personal matter which leaves him as questionable for this evening’s game.
If there’s a comparable situation to Giannis’ for a star player struggling to win in a tough situation, it could certainly be Anthony Davis and his New Orleans Pelicans.
Davis’s numbers through three games have been, to gruesomely understate it, phenomenal. Per 36, he’s averaging 36.0 pts (on 58.2% True Shooting %), 12.1 rebs, 2.9 blks, 2.9 stls, and 2.5 asts. Unsurprisingly, his 38.0% usage rate is one of the highest in the league, and early discussions for an MVP candidacy don’t seem at all out of place.
And yet, for all the gaudy numbers, all the unbelievable highlights, and the heaps of universal praise, the Pelicans find themselves sitting with a 0-3 record. They possess the league’s second-worst offense (a whopping 94.8 ORtg) and only looked particularly competitive in their season opener against a young Denver Nuggets team at home. Injuries and an early season games against Golden State and San Antonio are also a big part of New Orleans’ struggles, but it’s not clear whether Davis will have enough help to sniff playoff contention this season.
The Pelicans still have plenty of time to get things right regarding the roster around Davis to ensure that his awe-inspiring talent doesn’t go to waste (or more likely to another franchise), but coach Alvin Gentry needs to concoct some sort of formula for winning if he’s planning on holding onto his job. If history is any indication, however, New Orleans should still have enough firepower to handle the Bucks tonight — the Bucks have lost six of seven to New Orleans overall and 14 in a row in Louisiana.
Much of the Pelicans’ troubles can be traced to injuries: New Orleans will be missing Tyreke Evans (knee surgery), Jrue Holiday (taking time away from the team to be with his wife post-surgery), and Quincy Pondexter (knee surgery) this evening, though the rest of the roster should be readily available.