Somehow, some way, the NBA is returning to action, in 2020, with a global pandemic yet to be curbed and the NBA Finals having just concluded in October. But with the NBA Draft, free agency, and Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror, our sights are set on the league’s commencement of the 2020-21 NBA season just before the Christmas holiday. To prepare, each team is getting three preseason games with which to tune up, and tonight the Milwaukee Bucks get their first against the Dallas Mavericks.
It’s only been three months, and the Bucks’ roster has been completely revamped. We have said so long to Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Sterling Brown, Robin Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova, Kyle Korver, Marvin Williams, and Wesley Matthews. In their place, we said hello to Jrue Holiday, D.J. Augustin, Bryn Forbes, Bobby Portis, Torrey Craig, Jordan Nwora, and Sam Merrill. The Bucks are a slightly younger team than last year, and with the exception of Craig, their offseason additions focused on shoring up the team’s offense, which failed them in the playoffs. They join Giannis, Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Donte DiVincenzo, Pat Connaughton, and (technically) D.J. Wilson and Thanasis Antetokounmpo on a roster that seeks to secure the league’s best regular season record for a third consecutive year.
For the uninitiated, this preseason game kicks off what may be the most important campaign in the history of the Milwaukee Bucks franchise. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time NBA MVP, has not yet signed an extension offered by the Bucks front office, and is not under contract beyond this season. Given the team’s disappointing finish the last two years, this year must be considered a success by Giannis in order to convince him to commit to the franchise long-term. Without that, the team is doomed to repeat the hapless history they lived in the decades preceding Giannis, only this time they don’t have draft picks in stock to rebuild with. No pressure!
Player to watch: Jrue Holiday
Holiday is the Bucks’ most important offseason addition, and by and large was one of the best players to change teams this year. Perennially underrated, Holiday is a guard who can defend positions 1 through 4, score at all three levels of the court, and set up teammates for easy shots with his patient ball-handling. Having spent most of his career in New Orleans and with the pre-Process Sixers, Holiday doesn’t have a lengthy playoff resume, but represents a significant upgrade from the postseason version of Eric Bledsoe, who was an annual shadow of his regular-season self for three years running. Holiday in the backcourt, with Middleton on the wing and Giannis in the frontcourt, should help balance the roster and make the Bucks more versatile when they need it most.
Dallas had an up-and-down year last season, going 43-32 and getting ousted in the playoffs after drawing the 7 seed and taking on the Los Angeles Clippers. They’ll be off to a tough start this year with both Kristaps Porzingis (meniscus surgery) and Dwight Powell (Achilles) coming back from injury. However, they are widely considered to be a dark horse candidate for the 2021 offseason, when they have enough cap space to sign a certain pending free agent. Just like it is for us, this is hanging over the heads of Mavs fans, and they’d like it to be resolved sooner rather than later.
The next month or so will be interesting, with the lightening fast training camp and the looming deadline for Giannis Antetokounmpo to sign his super max extension. If he doesn’t, oh boy does 2021 become both very exciting and extremely nerve-wracking. In a way, I almost hope Giannis signs the extension, if only so the Mavericks can move to plan B in December, rather than next year. Maybe that will force them into being more aggressive at the trade deadline and abandon the need to carry massive cap space into the offseason of 2021.
Player to watch: Luka Doncic
No matter what, Dallas’ future is as bright as anyone’s with Luka Doncic at the helm. Doncic, 21, is the early front-runner for MVP this season after finishing fourth last year, and swapped Seth Curry for Josh Richardson as a backcourt partner. He’s an offensive wizard, but a subpar defender who struggles against NBA wings. Fortunately for him, Dallas has stocked up on capable defenders with Richardson, Wes Iwundu, and rookie Josh Green. From Mavs Moneyball:
It’s just exciting that the Mavericks have options. A season ago they struggled to match up with the teams that had length and beef on the perimeter, forcing the Mavericks big men to perhaps guard spots they weren’t comfortable with. Now they have Richardson, Johnson, Iwundu, Green and maybe Bey to throw out there and make some truly fun, versatile lineups. A lot of this depends on how much they can get out of Johnson and whether Green will be ready to play. Carlisle used a ton of different lineups last season and with more toys at his disposable, I bet he does it again. At least this time it won’t feel as much like smoke and mirrors — Dallas has legitimate wing depth for the first time in years.
Preseason Game 1: Against the Mavericks, Milwaukee will...
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