Opening Statements: Wizards vs Bucks, Game 37 | Wizards Blog Truth About

Opening Statements: Wizards vs Bucks, Game 37

Updated: January 13, 2016


I could be wrong, but I don’t think the Wizards were feeling overloaded with healthy players, hoping, praying, flipping pennies into wishing wells in an effort to rid themselves of all the functioning basketballers. I’ve been wrong once or twice before, so it’s certainly not out of the question. But just as the team was starting to approach 100 percent, Marcin Gortat appears to have contracted a staph infection. Nene and Drew Gooden had just returned and Bradley Beal is, supposedly, going to return sometime this week; evidently, the hoops gods decided the Wizards locker room was getting a bit too crowded, so a 7-foot Polish Machine had to be removed from the equation.

Under the assumption that Gortat, Beal, Alan Anderson, and Kris Humphries are all out for Wednesday night’s contest against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Wizards should be in for a hell of an experiment. (1) Consider the last matchup between these teams, a 115-86 rout of the Bucks in D.C. The starters for Washington that night were: John Wall, Garrett Temple, Otto Porter, Humphries, and Gortat. Humphries (144 Offensive Rating, 93 Defensive Rating that game) and Gortat (105 and 94) combined for 21 points, 13 rebounds on 6-for-13 shooting, while Milwaukee’s starting big men of Giannis Antetokounmpo (68, 121) and Greg Monroe (70, 125) combined for 13 points and 10 rebounds on 4-for-19 shooting. That statistical disparity isn’t huge, but Antetokounmpo averages 14.9 points and 6.7 rebounds per game on .508 eFG% for the season, and Monroe is good for 15.6 points and 9.6 rebounds on .514 eFG%.

Holding Milwaukee’s big men in check is not a huge accomplishment, generally. The Bucks are 29th out of 30 NBA teams in rebounds per game (40.5) and 26th in rebounding percentage (48.1 percent); however, the Wizards are 30th in the former category (40.3) and 28th in the latter (47.6 percent). In the first meeting between these two teams, the second game of the season for each team, Gortat and Humphries combined for 14 points, 12 rebounds, and a minus-22 NetRtg, while Monroe and Antetokounmpo (who started at 3 as Johnny O’Bryant got the nod at 4 and was mildly productive but forgettable) led the Bucks with 49 total points, 14 points, and a NetRtg of plus-7. The Wizards sneaked out a 118-113 win, and the much smaller winning margin was not a coincidence. Exploiting the Bucks’ weakness down low is arguably the easiest path to a victory against Milwaukee this season.

Milwaukee, as our guest will elaborate upon soon, has been dreadful on defense. The Bucks have a DefRtg (2) of 106.9 and a NetRtg of minus-5.7, the fourth- and second-worst in the league, respectively. O.J. Mayo has the best DefRtg on the team at 103.2; no other Bucks player is below 105.0. For comparison, eight of the 15 players to see action for Washington so far this season are below 105.0, and Otto Porter (105.1) is the only projected starter in Wednesday’s game who is above that threshold.

Of course, we’re assuming Washington’s two starting big men from the first two Wiz-Bucks games, Gortat and Humphries, will both miss the third contest. That leaves a likely starting lineup of Wall, Garrett Temple, Porter, Jared Dudley, and Nene, as it was against the Chicago Bulls Monday. To confuse matters further, Jabari Parker is likely to play against the Wizards for the first time this season, and he should be the third different starting 4 Milwaukee has trotted out against Washington in as many games. The Bucks will likely use a starting group of Michael Carter-Williams, Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo, Parker, and Monroe. Monroe (106.1) has the best DefRtg of that group; the only Wizards with a DefRtg worse than his are DeJuan Blair, Humphries, Gary Neal, Drew Gooden, and former Wizard Ryan Hollins.

The Bucks’ biggest problem is their defense. Their OffRtg of 101.2 is nearly on par with Washington’s 101.4, but their DefRtg is a full 3.0 below Washington’s—and the Wizards aren’t exactly known for their defense this year. If Washington is to win this game, it will likely come via another 115 points or so.

Make no mistake: Milwaukee is a talented squad. They remain the only team to beat the Golden State Warriors with Steph Curry in action, and the Bucks won 41 games a year ago. They’ve also beaten the Cleveland Cavaliers, Indiana Pacers, Dallas Mavericks, and, a night ago, Chicago Bulls. The Bucks can put together a hell of a game at times, even in the midst of a highly disappointing, injury-riddled season. Sound like anybody you know?

Joining us for some behind-the-scenes conversing on all things Wiz-Bucks is Nick Whalen (@wha1en) of the TrueHoop Network blog, Bucksketball. Read on…

Teams: Wizards vs Bucks
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Verizon Center, Chinatown, Washington, D.C.
Television: CSN
Radio: WNEW-FM 99.1
Spread: Wizards fav’d by 6 points.

Q #1: So, about that Skins-Pack game … never mind.

The Wizards had high hopes for the season after back-to-back trips to the Eastern Conference semifinals, and after a 2-0 start (including a win against the Bucks), it’s been basically downhill. The Bucks had similarly elevated expectations after a season of dramatic growth from a young core that resulted in enormous improvement (15 wins in 2013-14, 41 wins in 2014-15), but they, too, have suffered a healthy share of disappointment.

‘Round these parts, we like to blame things on the team’s myriad injuries, identity confusion, and a possibly outdated coach. What are the primary culprits (justified or not) up in your area?

@wha1en: The organization’s mantra for the last couple of years has been “Own the Future,” so the “but this team is so young” narrative has certainly been tossed around quite a bit. And it’s true, they’re the youngest team in the league, so maybe expectations were set a bit too high entering the season. However, the Bucks brought back the same core—minus a couple of veterans (,)—that led them to the sixth seed last season, so I think the expectations were, for the most part, justified. In fact, on paper, this year’s roster looked considerably better, especially with the return of Jabari Parker and addition of Greg Monroe.

Obviously that has not been the case. The team’s youth has been somewhat of a scapegoat, but I certainly wouldn’t say that people—fans, writers, those within the organization—are looking for excuses. There seems to be more of a general frustration with the results, rather than a large-scale scramble for some sort of logical justification. That said, the team’s leadership (or lack thereof) has been called into question, as have the defensive abilities of Monroe and Parker in the frontcourt. And there is certainly a faction of the Bucks community that has soured a bit on Jason Kidd, especially with how the Michael Carter-Williams deal has turned out.

Q #2: Speaking of Kidd, on paper and without context, he is not looking great for the future.

He went 44-38 in Brooklyn before unceremoniously ending up in Milwaukee, where he orchestrated the aforementioned turnaround, but he did win three fewer games than he did the year earlier with the Nets. This year, the Bucks are just 15-24 heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the Bulls. So his winning percentages as a head coach are: .537, .500, .385 (so far).

Obviously, that doesn’t tell the whole story, but what has been your takeaway from Kidd in his second year as a coach?

@wha1en: To put it simply, Kidd’s reputation has taken a hit over the last three months. What he was able to do last season with a tricky collection of young talent and unheralded veterans was impressive, but his second act has been a disaster with what was thought to be a much more talented roster. Perhaps most concerning is that the team has been mostly healthy, and it’s tough to point to one or two players who have woefully underperformed. Instead, Milwaukee has failed as a unit, arriving late to shooters, mishandling switches, and providing little resistance in the paint and on the glass. That loss of the defensive identity that made the Bucks a top-5 defense last season falls mostly on Kidd and his staff, and the offense hasn’t been nearly efficient enough to salvage many victories.

The other half of the story is Kidd as the Bucks’ de facto GM. John Hammond still holds the official title, but the prevailing belief is that Kidd is the one pulling the strings. If you buy into that narrative, it means Kidd was behind choosing Carter-Williams over Brandon Knight and that protected Lakers pick, drafting Rashad Vaughn over Bobby Portis, trading Zaza Pachulia to Dallas, and dealing a first-round pick for Greivis Vasquez.

To be fair, none of those moves, with the possible exception of the Vasquez trade, seemed particularly ill-fated at the time, but Kidd’s track record isn’t exactly in great shape right now.

Q #3: Milwaukee generally likes to play a slow game.

They play at a pace of 96.17 possessions per 48 minutes, the eighth slowest in the NBA. By contrast, the Wizards play at the fifth fastest pace (99.85). That disparity has benefited Washington so far this season, with the Wiz Kids winning the two previous matchups and scoring 118 and 115 points in the process.

How do the Bucks try to slow John Wall and the Wizards down?

@wha1en: The Bucks have tried and failed to slow down just about any offensive style they’ve seen this season, but it starts with protecting the paint. The biggest consequence of the aforementioned Pachulia trade is that the Bucks’ interior defense has fallen off of a cliff, and it’s the primary reason their defensive rating has ballooned in the manner it has this season. Milwaukee has the athleticism and ranginess to stick with Wall, Porter, and the rest of Washington’s perimeter players, but once they penetrate that first level of defense, the Bucks have trouble getting stops at the rim.

I expect Carter-Williams to draw the matchup with Wall for much of the night, and it will be interesting to see what kind of pressure interim coach Joe Prunty dials up. The first time these teams met (the one that wasn’t a 29-point blowout), Wall was held to only 4-for-10 shooting with five turnovers, but he went 10-for-10 at the line and was able to get into the paint at will. Keeping him out of the lane and limiting his playmaking opportunities will be priority number one, especially given the injuries to several of Washington’s other key contributors.

Q #4: The Bucks average the second fewest rebounds per game in the league (40.5). The only team worse is the Wizards (40.3).

Milwaukee secures just 48.1 percent of rebounds in its games, the fifth worst in the league, while Washington hauls in just 47.6 percent, the third worst. The Wizards won the battle of the glass in the previous two matchups, but Marcin Gortat might have a staph infection in his knee and is questionable to play Wednesday.

How does that change the way Round 3 shakes out?

@wha1en: First of all, how has Gortat not been ruled out if he might have a freaking staph infection in his knee? Evan Fournier might be the real “Never Google,” but staph infections are pretty high on the list, as well. But I digress.

If Gortat plays, that certainly doesn’t play to the Bucks’ favor, but as the question notes, Washington is the rare opponent that might actually be worse at rebounding than Milwaukee. I think the rebounding battle will be close, but it’s what the teams do with those rebounds that will ultimately decide the game. Milwaukee pulled down 17 offensive rebounds against Chicago last week but was still outscored in the paint en route to a double-digit loss. On a somewhat more positive note, the Bucks have been an average team at converting second chance opportunities overall this season, while the Wizards rank dead last in second chance points.

Q #5: Milwaukee’s Net Rating of -5.7 is the fourth worst in the league, and its Defensive Rating of 106.9 is the second worst.

Over the past 10 games, that DefRtg is even worse, at 111.0, but the offense has made up the gap a bit (-5.3 NetRtg).

What is going wrong on the defensive end for the Bucks?

@wha1en: A lot of things. Many, many things. Strange as it sounds, Monroe has struggled to replace what Zaza Pachulia brought to the table defensively, and pairing him with an even worse defender in Parker has resulted in the Bucks being taken advantage of inside against teams with capable bigs. Monroe is far from a rim-protector—he blocked just two more shots than Jeremy Lin (Jeremy Lin!) last season—while Parker is often out of position and struggles to maintain position against larger forwards.

Even so, it’s difficult point the finger at just one or two players when Milwaukee’s starting five is among the two or three worst defensive five-man units in the league. Right now, the Bucks simply don’t have the savviness to play the scrambling, hyper-aggressive style that Kidd prefers. It may have worked well in 2014-15, but as they’re finding out this season, it’s a high-risk, high-reward system that can falter if all five players are not on the same page.

  1. Bradley Beal has been deemed a game-time decision and could come off the bench, per Jorge Castillo.
  2. Before Tuesday’s games.
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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.