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PODCAST: Making sense of Jabari, Giannis and the Bucks’ small forward position

Milwaukee Bucks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Weirdly, the Milwaukee Bucks’ small forward position might qualify as simultaneously their best and shallowest spot in their rotation. After all, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Khris Middleton can all play the three — but two of them will be starting at other positions, and there’s precisely zero guys off the bench who qualify as true swingmen.

That feast-or-famine effect means small forward will be a position requiring careful attention from head coach Jason Kidd, especially given his roster’s relative strengths and weaknesses. We dug into that and plenty more in today’s podcast:

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The fluidity of the Bucks’ matchups and switching might make it something of a semantic debate, but it’s still worth considering the defensive merits of Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo at both forward spots. And in many ways that’s a matter of limiting the effect of Parker’s struggles and maximizing the far-more ranging defensive toolkit of Giannis. Given Parker’s struggles in P&R and as a help defender more broadly, last season’s sample suggests Parker could be most effectively hidden on the wing, even if it means one-on-one matchups with talented wings like Paul George. Likewise, putting Giannis closer to the basket likely means for help-side blocks and rebounds, areas where he’s infinitely more capable than Jabari.

But can the Bucks’ balance the Big Three enough to make sure they don’t need anyone else playing small forward? Considering the only other swingmen in camp will be guys on non-roster deals, Kidd better hope so. And in many ways that conundrum highlights the broader lineup challenges Kidd will face moving forward. Aside from Middleton and Matthew Dellavedova, the Bucks don’t have any players who are both useful shooters and defenders — the most fungible resource in the modern NBA.

Everyone else seems to have a flaw. For all his talents, Giannis can’t shoot and thus needs the ball to be at his best; Jabari can play without the ball but doesn’t defend and thus makes for an awkward fit with the likes of Greg Monroe and (to a lesser extent) Mirza Teletovic; MCW needs the ball and doesn’t shoot; none of the Bucks’ young guards — Rashad Vaughn, Malcolm Brogdon, Tyler Ennis — have proven themselves as shooters. It’s not hard to see the rationale for the Bucks’ summer additions and there are plenty of two-man combinations that make sense, but finding perfect five-man combos is another story.