Opening Statements: Wizards at Bucks, Game 63 | Wizards Blog Truth About It.net

Opening Statements: Wizards at Bucks, Game 63

By
Updated: March 7, 2015

bucks

At the beginning of the season, the Wizards were generally considered a team on the rise that had already begun their ascent into eventual title contention. At the same time, most saw the Bucks as a team with a lot of young talent that would definitely improve, but coming off a 15-67 record with a new head coach, Jason Kidd, who essentially traded himself to Milwaukee, they were expected to be a few years away from relevance.

In the season’s early months, those predictions proved valid, if not understated. On Jan. 1, the Wiz boasted a 22-9 record while the Bucks had already surpassed their win total from the previous year and sat at a respectable 17-16.

Now, 65 days later, Milwaukee holds a 32-29 record and finds itself fighting John Wall and Co. for the 5-seed in the Eastern Conference. Washington, on the other hand … well, you already know.

The starting lineup the Bucks trotted out in Game 1 featured former NBA player Larry Sanders, No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker and now-Sun Brandon Knight. Knight led his team in points (22), assists (13) and rebounds (eight) in that game, a 108-106 overtime loss to the Charlotte Hornets. Knight and Sanders represented the present for Milwaukee while Parker and the still-raw Giannis Antetokounmpo were billed as the future cornerstones of the franchise.

If you told the average Bucks fan back in October that Parker would play in just 25 games this season, Sanders would give up on the sport for personal happiness and Knight would be traded, that fan wouldn’t watch many Bucks games this season and would instead spend his or her time trying to come up with a clever nickname for tanking this year. (Bill Simmons suggests Choke More for Okafor, the best I came up with was Just Lose for Jahlil. It’s not easy this year.)

Nevertheless, Jason Kidd—in just his second year holding a clipboard and his first in Milwaukee—has scraped together the remnants of his early-season roster and kept his team very much in the postseason hunt. Randy Wittman, in his ninth season as an NBA head coach, has made Kidd look like a coaching prodigy and has Wizards fans (and even fans of other teams) calling for his head.

While Witt and the Wiz struggle to piece together wins against depleted, mediocre Eastern Conference teams despite one of the better starting lineups in basketball, Kidd has come to Milwaukee and worked miracles in his first season with the Bucks. On his watch, Khris Middleton has turned into a quality player, Jerryd Bayless has become a reliable backup point guard and Antetokounmpo, The Greek Freak, has blossomed into one of the most exciting and watchable players in the league.

In some ways, these two teams have a similar makeup. Both are 3-point shooting teams by quality, but far from it by quantity: the Wizards are seventh in percentage but 27th in attempts while the Bucks are third in percentage but 25th in attempts. The difference here is that Milwaukee has five players—six if you include Knight—who have attempted at least 90 3-balls, and each has made least 33 percent, while Washington basically has three reliable shooters from beyond the arc.

Paul Pierce (92-for-236), Rasual Butler (75-for-190) and Bradley Beal (78-for-185) are the only ones on the team who make 3s regularly. Wall is the only other Wizard to attempt 90 or more treys, and he has made a paltry 47 of his not-so-paltry 167 attempts. For comparison’s sake, Jared Dudley has gone 68-for-165 from deep this year, and Jared Dudley is not exactly Kyle Korver.

After Wall, Garrett Temple has attempted the most triples with 83, followed by Otto Porter (72) and Drew Gooden (30). Martell Webster is still recovering from back surgery, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, but he’s made six 3s this year. Six. In 26 attempts. In 20 games.

What all this means is the Bucks (and all other Wizards’ opponents) basically just have to shut down Beal and hope Pierce has an off night. Then they can live in the paint all night.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee could theoretically trot out a super-small lineup of Bayless, O.J. Mayo (not tonight though, as Mayo will miss the game with a hamstring injury), Dudley, Middleton and Ersan Ilyasova and have shooting at all five positions. The best shooting lineup Washington can construct is probably Temple, Beal, Butler, Pierce and Gooden, which is not a fearsome lineup by any standards, and it’s really not even a very good shooting lineup.

The one distinct advantage, aside from Wall, that Washington has is down low. The Polish-Brazilian tandem has been shaky at times this season, but it’s been one of the few bright spots over the last month. Nene has been dropping dimes and dunks for days (alliteration is fun) while Marcin Gortat appears to have re-learned the game of basketball after wandering the court aimlessly for much of the season.

The Hammer has been nothing short of dominant recently, and his numbers over the past seven games are on par with the elite big men in the league: 14.1 points on .608 shooting, 13.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.

While Gortat is putting up the numbers, Nene is out building his highlight reel.


Teams: Wizards at Bucks
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Venue: BMO Harris Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Television: CSN+
Radio: WFED-AM 1500/WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Bucks fav’d by 4.5 points.


For a view from the other side of the fence, Nick Whalen (@Wha1en) of ESPN TrueHoop’s Bucksketball was decent enough to share his thoughts on the Eastern Conference, Michael Carter-Williams and all things Greek and Freaky.

Q #1. The Wizards and Bucks haven’t played each other since Nov. 22.

Larry Sanders, Jabari Parker and Brandon Knight started that game. What is the biggest difference between Milwaukee’s style of play early on versus now?

@wha1en: I wouldn’t necessarily say Milwaukee’s style has changed, but they’ve certainly had to adjust to changes in personnel. Without Parker and Sanders, Jason Kidd has been forced into using more unconventional lineups with Jared Dudley, Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo frequently playing three positions. The loss of Sanders hurts most from a rim-protection standpoint, but both John Henson and Zaza Pachulia are markedly better all-around players, so his departure hasn’t been as big of a blow as some might have expected. Since trading Knight to Phoenix, the Bucks haven’t looked great offensively, but the general level of concern has remained low. It’s clear that Milwaukee misses Knight’s scoring ability, however, especially late in the shot clock.

Q #2. Michael Carter-Williams has had an unusual start to his NBA career and has now had a handful of games to get acclimated to Jason Kidd’s coaching, as well as his new teammates.

What’s the early takeaway from MCW going forward?

@wha1en: The Bucks are only 1-4 in games with Carter-Williams available, which has led to the belief that he’s off to a poor start. While Carter-Williams hasn’t been great, he also hasn’t played poorly enough that his play alone has cost Milwaukee any games. The biggest issue has been his inability to stretch the floor, something that Knight did well from the point guard spot. With defenses able to sag off of him, he’s had trouble getting into the lane, and it’s caused problems with the Bucks’ spacing. That said, his poor 3-point shooting isn’t a surprise. MIlwaukee knew it would be part of the deal when they brought him in. There seems to be confidence within the organization that his shot is fixable, but the question is whether he’ll be able to improve quickly enough to make a difference this season.

Q #3. The Greek Freak has made a major leap from last year to this year, and his minutes have increased every month this season.

What specifically stands out to you about his growth and what are people around Milwaukee expecting of him?

@wha1en: I’m genuinely surprised by how much Giannis has progressed this season. After a breakout rookie year, I thought expectations might have been set too high, but he’s improved almost every aspect of his game. The biggest criticism early in the year was that he couldn’t shoot, and while he’s still not a threat from the outside, his confidence from 10-18 feet grows from game to game. Right now, however, defenders routinely sag several feet off of him when he has the ball on the perimeter, limiting his ability to do what he likes most: get to the basket. Once he proves to be even a slight threat from 3-point range, defenses will have no choice but to play him honestly, and he’ll become a true matchup nightmare.

Q #4.The Bucks are on pace for their best record since 2009-10 and have already won more than double the games they did last year.

Only two players on the roster (Zaza Pachulia and Jared Dudley) are above 27 years old, the apparent core of Giannis-Jabari-MCW-Middleton has an average age of just more than 21 years and they have a young coach who is making a name for himself. How close do you think the Bucks are to contending? Do you think this core can compete, or does Milwaukee need to add another piece (or two) before it can be counted among the top teams in the East?

@wha1en: I think they have the right core in place, it’s just a matter of that core making the leap from “having potential” to “producing results.” For as unexpectedly successful as this season has been, the Bucks still have plenty of questions to answer going forward. Will Parker be the same when he’s back? Can Giannis continue to progress at his current rate? What if Michael Carter-Williams doesn’t develop as expected? And that doesn’t even get into Milwaukee’s situation at center, which remains muddled after the Larry Sanders departure. We might not know the answers to some of those questions for several years, but looking on the positive side, the Bucks are already a playoff team with this young group. They’re still a step below the Chicago/Toronto/Washington tier in the East, but they’ll probably have the highest upside of any of those teams in three years. I don’t think they’ll be ready to contend by next season, or even the season after, but the pieces are certainly in place for a bright future.

Q #5. Considering the Wizards and Bucks appear headed for a race for the 5-seed, there could be some record-tweaking toward the end of the season like we saw with the Nets last year.

Between the Hawks, Raptors, Bulls, Cavs and Wizards, rank the teams Milwaukee should want to face in the postseason based on ideal matchup.

@wha1en:  

  1. Toronto – I’m lower on the Raptors than most, and that’s mostly because I don’t trust their bench, and I think their frontcourt is easily the worst of the top five teams in the East. This is nearly the exact same roster that couldn’t get out of the first round against Brooklyn last season.
  2. Washington – The Bucks struggle against versatile big men, so this is far from an ideal matchup, but the Wizards are definitely beatable. If they were to end up as Milwaukee’s first-round opponent, I think they could take at least a game or two.
  3. Atlanta – Ranking Atlanta third isn’t so much a knock on the Hawks as it is a credit to the Bulls and Cavaliers. Mike Budenholzer has turned this team into a matchup nightmare for almost anyone, Milwaukee included.
  4. Chicago – Even with injuries, the Bulls have owned the Bucks, and Milwaukee has shown no ability to keep Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah in check. Plus, a first-round series with the Bulls would mean about a 50/50 playoff crowd split at the Bradley Center.
  5. Cleveland – LeBron has shown the Bucks no mercy over the last several years, and this Cleveland team is far too deep for Milwaukee to handle as currently constructed. The Cavaliers are the only team of this group who I’d predict to roll easily in four games.

More Vines.

Bryan Frantz on EmailBryan Frantz on LinkedinBryan Frantz on Twitter
Bryan Frantz
Reporter / Writer at TAI
Bryan is a D.C. native with a degree in something or other from UNC. He has important, interesting hobbies, but mostly he just weeps over D.C. sports teams. You can find him on the Metro, inevitably complaining about Red Line delays.