After seven games, the Bucks are 4-3, and Thursday’s upcoming rematch against New Orleans marks the 10% mark for the 2016-17 season. With one-tenth of the season gone, Frank and Eric took a closer look at the trends that have dominated the Bucks’ early-season play in today’s Locked on Bucks podcast:
A few weeks back, the staff put their heads together to determine what we would be looking at this year, and what sorts of goals/expectations we should keep in mind. Here is where we stand now, as of November 8th:
Have you seen anything that is looking like a “success?”
Mitchell: My barometer for success in 2016-17 has been predicated on finding out two things: how well are Giannis and Jabari able to carry the team to a win, and who else on the team is a good fit with them. By my view, this early portion of the season has been a massive success. I give Giannis a ton of credit for besting the Pelicans and later the Kings (in only 3 quarters of work!), and we saw both he and Jabari at their best (so far!) against Indiana. After only seven games, that’s pretty encouraging!
Moreover, we’ve also seen some exciting signs from the supporting cast insofar as their fit relative to Giannis and Jabari. Matthew Dellevadova has been about as good as we expected, Malcolm Brogdon has somehow been better, Mirza Teletovic shoots (and makes) threes, and the early returns from Tony Snell are very encouraging. Huzzah!
Eric B: Yes (as I type this before the Mavericks game)! I’m encouraged by this new look offense, heavy on pushing the pace and launching threes from all over the court. Against the Pelicans, Pacers, and Kings, the Bucks fired 92 threes and averaged on ORtg of 123. How fun! Scoring lots of points is cool and good, in my opinion.
Of course, the Bucks probably won’t be able to keep up this rate of success once they face more put together defenses, but if they can stick to this style of play—whether the shots are falling or not—then I consider that a huge success for everybody’s development.
I also echo what Mitchell said about the supporting cast. Consistency will come and go, but the early returns on several guys are encouraging, which probably exceeded some of our expectations.
Adam: I’d tend to agree with everything Mitchell said. Giannis and Jabari have looked great, the supporting cast is succeeding and, maybe more importantly, looks content in their limited roles. The Bucks also have more wins than losses. It seemed like they tapped into something during those Pelicans, Pacers and Kings games when they were pushing the pace and getting shots up early in the possession. Against defenses that get back properly, the strategy may not work quite as well, but the Bucks are at their best when their helter-skelter defensive play translates to similar easy buckets on the other end.
Also the coaches implementing a proper staggering strategy. I was scared we would keep lamenting the absence of it all season.
Eric N: Antetokounmpo outplayed two of the toughest defensive assignments (Nic Batum and Paul George) he will see all season long and vaulted himself into the All-Star conversation. If his play sustains over a season, he should be in the All-NBA conversation as well. I’m not sure you could have described a bigger success to me before the season.
Other successes: Greg Monroe, Mirza Teletovic’s transition threes, the Bucks’ three point shooting, signs of life from Rashad Vaughn, handoffs to Giannis Antetokounmpo to start Bucks’ possessions, #DellyOops, #DellyDimes, and that Beasley dunk.
Brett: Giannis has been incredible and he’s also still 21 years old, so that’s good I guess. Jabari has shown (very limited) glimpses of shot creation ability (mostly in the first five minutes of the Mavs game, but still). Malcom Brogdon is everything you could hope a 23 year-old rookie touted for his savvy and work ethic could be in his first few weeks of NBA action. Greg Monroe looks retainable. Matthew Dellavedova is the best possible fit alongside Giannis, second only to Khris Middleton.
Frank: Giannis is looking like a star by any metric — no one has ever done what he’s doing in terms of points, rebounds, assists, and blocks over the course of a full season, and just as importantly it’s translating into team success. The Bucks are really good when he’s on the court (+9.3 pts/100) and horrendous when he’s off (-14.5), which speaks volumes about his growth as a player — after all, even with Khris to lean on last season, the Bucks were a negative margin team with Giannis on the floor. We’ll see how those numbers hold up over a full season, but it doesn’t feel unsustainable.
Refreshingly, Monroe has embraced his reserve role and played the best defense of his life will doubling his per minute assist rate, which for me was a major question mark. Monroe sulking as a sixth man could have been a major negative on multiple levels, but he’s been balling. And beyond that, a number of young guys look like very legit rotation players, namely Brogdon and Vaughn. Considering the latter was unplayable last year, that’s a major win.
Have you seen anything that is looking like a “failure?”
Mitchell: I struggle to find anything consistently negative so far, but the mixed signals we’ve seen from the center position are cause for some concern. John Henson has played relatively well, but his playing time has been sporadic. Miles Plumlee has mostly disappointed relative to his contract, and while Greg Monroe has been simply outstanding off the bench, there’s no guarantee that the Bucks will benefit from his reinvigoration beyond this season (if that long).
Eric B: With this offensive makeover, I don’t think anything else could really be considered a failure so far, though there are a few things worth keeping an eye on. Maybe a guy like Plumlee has been more of a disappointment, but I don’t think calling his play a failure is fair. Beer is still expensive at the BMOHBC, so I guess I’ll go with that.
Adam: While not necessarily a failure, the rotation decisions are something I’m interested in monitoring. Last night’s Mavericks game was a particularly egregious example as Giannis’ foul trouble seemed to decimate the staggering strategy. It felt like a Jaguar, and one little issue caused the whole thing to shut down.
I also get why they’re playing guys like Beasley and Terry early in the season, they brought them in to be steadying forces who are competent. But particularly in Terry’s case, it may be coming at the expense of Rashad Vaughn, who’s actually flashed some ability to score for the first time in his career! Kidd benched Vaughn last night despite him hitting 4/8 the night before from three. I also get that Beasley can initiate offense on second units, but selfishly I’d just rather see Thon get some minutes. I’m on board with bringing in those veterans, but how Kidd balances their roles as mentors versus on-court contributors potentially at the expense of player development is something worth watching as the season unfolds.
Eric N: It doesn’t appear as though Jabari Parker’s defense is any better this season. Like they did in the second half last season, the Bucks have often assigned Parker to their opponent’s best offensive player with the idea that he is better on-ball than off-ball (he is) and giving him the most important assignment will keep him locked in defensively. That hasn’t worked.
Even with the toughest assignments, Parker has still managed to regularly lose focus off-ball. It may improve one day, but that day has yet to come.
Other failures: Plumlee’s look, the three man big man rotation, no Thon Maker, the first three games.
Brett: I’ll second what Adam talked about with regards to the rotation thus far. Other than that, something that will be interesting to monitor is how the defensive scheme (and the players in it) fare against teams with competent-to-good coaches (see Carlisle, Rick) and players that look like they’re playing like they’ve actually, you know, seen it over the past two years. Over the course of our favorite three game winning streak last week, I think it’s important to consider how helpless these teams often looked taking advantage of the typical holes in the Bucks defense, and the subsequent transition opportunities that resulted from it. For some reason, I feel like those might not come as easy against the Spurs and Celtics of the world.
Frank: A week ago I would have said the team’s mindset regarding its tempo and willingness to chuck three-pointers was a major disappointment, but thankfully those things seem to be improving.
And while “failure” seems harsh, Vaughn is the only young guy making threes with any consistency — Giannis is shooting 20% and, other than the Indy game, Jabari’s perimeter shooting has been underwhelming. Thankfully Jabari’s offense has been coming around after a slow start, though defensively I’m not sure we’re seeing much difference.
Which player has exceeded your expectations the most?
Eric B: Greg defensively and a tie between Snell and Vaughn offensively. I didn’t expect much impact from any of these guys on their respective ends of the floor, but it appears as if they’re all capable of giving something that can help the team. Again, it may not be as consistent as we’d like, but it’s an encouraging development and I’m looking forward to seeing if more progress can be made.
Mitchell: Greg Monroe has impressed me far more than anybody else, relative to my assumptions. His scoring is down, but he’s so active on defense and is moving so much better than I thought he would. Honestly, it makes me question whether or not I want him to opt into his third year, especially if he’s OK coming off the bench.
Adam: Brogdon. I thought he could be a competent backup after the preseason, and while he’s not some revelation, he shows up across the box score almost every game. He’s also displayed a little more craftiness driving to the lane, using his booty to ride the hip of his defender and wait for something to open. His shot is still suspect, but he’s getting to the free throw line at almost the same rate as Giannis. We’ll see whether it lasts, but considering the Bucks history of second-round picks, he’s been a nice surprise.
Eric N: Brogdon, Snell, and especially Monroe are all great choices, so I won’t go there. Give me Antetokounmpo. As I said in Monday’s Locked on Bucks, I wasn’t quite ready for him to outplay Batum and an All-NBA guy in Paul George. I thought he would put up numbers this season, but I wasn’t ready to see him look better than those two guys in the first seven games of the season.
Frank: I always hoped Monroe was capable of playing like this, but I wasn’t sure if his ego might get in the way. Thankfully that hasn’t been the case.
Which player has fallen short of your expectations the most?
Mitchell: It’s honestly kind of hard to find anything to put here, but Mirza Teletovic seemed to struggle to fit in before dropping all the threes on the Kings. His 3PAr is appropriately high, but if those shots aren’t dropping, I struggle to point to anything else that he does. I have to remind myself that three-point attempts create spacing by definition, and Telly can provide that just by stepping on the court...but he’s tough to watch if he’s not in his groove.
Eric B: Giannis. He should have been given the MVP trophy by now, but he’s fallen short so far. Huge disappointment.
Adam: Maybe Plumlee. I guess he’s doing what he was supposed to be doing, stay out of the way and occasionally finish with a dunk. But he’s been virtually invisible and has fumbled a few balls in the lane. Look Miles, all we need you to do is make some dunks, not turn the ball over and rebound at a better rate than Jabari Parker. Is that too much to ask!? Also, I don’t think his new haircut is very good.
Eric B: I second the haircut point from Adam. Several scientific tests have revealed that if your hair is on point, then you will jump higher and be stronger in the interior because you don’t want it to get messed up. Bring back the real Miles.
Eric N: Plumlee. We just haven’t seen much of the rim-wrecking, alley-oop-catching, and volleyball-blocking terror that burst on to the scene last season. Certainly, there were plenty of concerns voiced on this website about his contract over the offseason and those concerns have been validated, at least somewhat.
Brett: Big, shiny new $50 Million contract? —> Expectations.
Only 14.7 minutes of mostly mediocre play thus far? —> Falling short.
Awkward new haircut? —> Cherry on top.
Frank: As much as Monroe has impressed, Henson’s numbers are abysmal and Plumlee hasn’t done anything to validate the Bucks’ weird urgency to lock him up (though thanks to Giannis he is a team-best +9.7!).
At their current rate, the Bucks are on pace for 46 wins. Who’s prediction was the closest?
Mitchell: 37 wins
Eric N: 35 wins
Brett: 33.27 wins
Eric B: 30 wins
Adam: 29 wins
The preseason over/under was set at a league rank of 15th: the Bucks are currently 11th.
Eric B: Under (20-23rd)
Mitchell: Under (22nd)
Adam: Under (25th)
Eric N: Under (18-22nd)
3-ANNIS AND JABAR-3
The preseason over/under for combined threes made from Giannis and Jabari was 100; their combined total is currently 9 (Giannis has 4, Jabari has 5); which extrapolates to 105 makes.
Eric B: Under
Eric N: Over
The over/under for Michael Beasley’s usage rate was 25.0%; he’s currently at 22.6%.
Eric B: Over (I think?)
Eric N: Over
CENTER OF ATTENTION?
We asked who would play more minutes at center: John Henson or Miles Plumlee? Currently, Henson has played 81 minutes, and Plumlee has played 103 minutes.
Mitchell, Adam, Frank, Eric B, and Eric N: Plumlee (it was unanimous!)
POINT OF ORDER
We asked who would average more points per game: Michael Beasley or Mirza Teletovic. Currently, Beasley averages 6.6 ppg and Telly averages 8.3 ppg.
Eric B: Teletovic
Eric N: Teletovic
SHOTS, SHOTS, SHOTS
We asked which player would make the most three-pointers: Novak, Vaughn, Terry, or Snell. Currently, Vaughn has 12, Snell has 7, JET has 1, and Novak has none.
Eric B: Snell
Eric N: Snell
So that’s what we thought before the season started, and how things have turned out so far. What about you? What has surprised you, or is looking exactly as you expected? Join the comments, and if you’re in the United States, don’t forget to vote!