On one side, the Brooklyn Nets, who boast transcendent players like Kevin Durant and James Harden, alongside grizzled veterans like Patty Mills, Blake Griffin, and LaMarcus Aldridge. On the other side, the Milwaukee Bucks, who sat...basically everybody, and despite the massive disparity in name recognition Milwaukee lost by only 4 points, 119-115.
I mean, look at this:
Tonight's Starters vs. Brooklyn— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) October 8, 2021
⭐️ Tremont Waters
⭐️ Georgios Kalaitzakis
⭐️ Jordan Nwora
⭐️ Thanasis Antetokounmpo
⭐️ Sandro Mamukelashvili pic.twitter.com/D2Tk9TqoNm
Snark aside, this is exactly what preseason basketball is – and should be – about for the defending NBA Champions. The other side has two former MVPs? That’s fine, we’ve got five second round picks coming at you. 2 < 5 after all. Some of the players who logged time tonight have limbo-stick low expectations for their ongoing development, but two notable prospects that certain factions of Bucks Twitter has absolutely locked on to are Jordan Nwora and Sandro Mamukelashvili.
Let’s start with Nwora, who coming into the year is thought of as a score-first, score-last, score-all-the-time wing with little else to offer. He offered plenty of scoring tonight, notching 30 points (on 21 shots, including 6/10 from deep), alongside 8 rebounds and 2 assists. Those aren’t the gaudy Giannis-esque totals we expect from a Bucks forward, but it continues to demonstrate what Nwora is innately gifted at, as well as what he’s working on developing.
If Jordan Nwora can do just enough of the little things (read: play passable defense and function as more than a chucker on offense), he can earn actual playing time on the wing this season, which would go a long way towards his viability as an actual NBA player. He clearly has a special knack for scoring, which will always have a place in the league, but if he can do other things alongside getting buckets? Now we’re talking, and tonight he was a team-high plus-15, matching Kevin Durant for the game high.
Asked @JordanNwora about seeing Kevin Durant covering him on a switch tonight: “It was crazy. I think in that moment I wanted to shoot a 3, but at the same time, I didn’t want to settle. So I ended up dancing too much and giving the ball up. It’s still crazy though.” pic.twitter.com/UNIG4ZesAb— Eric Nehm (@eric_nehm) October 9, 2021
Moving on from last year’s second-rounder to this year’s, Sandro Mamukelashvili continued to demonstrate a level of basketball acumen far beyond what his draft slot would suggest. Scoring 20 points on 14 shots (including 2/5 on threes) to go with 11 rebounds, the 54th overall pick notched an actual double-double playing an actual exhibition game against much of the Nets’ actual NBA roster. Not only that, Mamu was central to a 10-0 Milwaukee run that gave the Bucks a significant fourth quarter lead, including this nifty reverse layup, which happened on the same court as Blake Griffin and Kevin Durant. No small feat.
Obviously, it’s preseason. None of this means anything in the grand scheme of things, if you go by the odds. That being said, the flashes we’re seeing now are at least suggestive that the regular roster spots represented tonight (Mamu if you count two-way guys, Nwora, Georgios Kalaitzakis, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo) are worth continual monitoring, at the very least to see what these players can turn into once they’re buried on the bench behind the normal rotation.
Bonus Bucks Bits
- Kyrie Irving didn’t play tonight. We all know why he didn’t play, no sense in discussing it further right now.
- Kevin Durant and James Harden did play, but less than half the game. Neither one really impressed, but neither one really needed the preseason. Shoot, neither one really needs the regular season to be considered amongst the best to ever do it.
- I mean, KD had the ball bonk on his noggin and he still turned it into a plus play. Look!
- As a team, the Bucks went 15/31 from deep (48.4%), about ten points higher than Brooklyn’s output (15/39, 38.5%). This is, now that I think about it, probably a big reason for why this wasn’t a bigger win for Brooklyn at the end.
- Milwaukee managed 49 total rebounds on the evening, including 11 on the offensive end: 4 from Thanasis, 3 from Elijah Bryant, and 2 each from Mamu and old friend Johnny O’Bryant. This is a theme worth monitoring for when these teams meet again, as Milwaukee’s size was a saving grace in the playoffs last year despite their “just enough” small ball success against Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference Semis.
- Speaking of Elijah Bryant, he managed 21 points and 8 rebounds, which would be encouraging if he was still on the regular season roster. But he isn’t; he was recently waived and then re-signed to a training camp deal, meaning he’ll likely be plying his trade elsewhere in a few weeks. It saves the Bucks (read: ownership) some money in the form of luxury tax dollars by keeping that final roster spot open, but if anybody were going to have a chance at nabbing it, Bryant would have a good case. They didn’t bring him aboard at the last minute last year for nothing!