The Scouting Report: Milwaukee Bucks
Projected starting line-up: Nate Wolters, Brandon Knight, Khris Middleton, John Henson, Zaza Pachulia
The Milwaukee Bucks come into the Moda Center with the worst record in the league.
The irony of it all is that in a year where tanking has been a major focus of blogs and columns, almost everybody is in agreement that the Bucks were not tanking.
Looking at their offseason moves, it’s hard to disagree.
They signed veterans like OJ Mayo, Gary Neal and Zaza Pachulia to the roster after signing Larry Sanders, looking like he was primed to be a Defensive Player of The Year candidate for the next few years, to a big extension.
They also traded for Luke Ridnour to bring him in as a number two point guard behind Brandon Knight after the Bucks gave up on the experiment of a Monta Ellis-Brandon Jennings, ultra-chucking backcourt.
A more-efficient Bucks team, they said. A possible playoff team in the weak Eastern Conference, perhaps.
The way the wheels came off was spectacular.
Injuries, disappointments and bar fights effectively brought down the Bucks season before it even started.
Oddly enough, their best hope of relevance for their future and possibly their best hope of keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee is a 19-year old Greek prospect whom almost nobody had heard of by this time last year.
Giannis Antetokounmpo hasn’t done a lot in terms of real time basketball production just yet but the potential he represents is a glimmer of hope for a struggling team.
Mere months before he was the 15th pick in the NBA draft, before he became a starter for the Bucks, before he turned into a star of All-Star Weekend in the Rookie-Sophomore Game and Skills Challenge, Giannis was playing in Greece’s second division against talent that could be classified only sheepishly as professional. Out of the grainy video images, the precise scouting dispatches of Jonathan Givony’s DraftExpress website, out of the deft maneuvering of Giannis’ agent, Alex Saratsis of Octagon, a groundswell of information and intrigue inspired NBA executives to descend upon Greece for closer inspection.
Now, Giannis Antetokounmpo has grown to 6-foot-10 and could top out at 7-foot, and most league executives inclined to conduct a re-draft on the class of 2013 wouldn’t let him out of the top five. Giannis had been a cult following born of the YouTube Greek Freak clips, but he’s evolving into a decidedly mainstream attraction. League executives and coaches see such an extraordinary blend of talents within him, such natural and uncanny instincts for the game. His work ethic has been relentless, forged as a young man without practice time in Greece, who forever had to make more out of less because of his family’s need for him to earn money. If someone stays after Bucks practice, Giannis won’t leave until he’s the last one on the floor. Sometimes, this goes on for hours.
There’s some other great writing on Antetokounmpo’s rise from being unrecognized in his home country of Greece to adjusting to life in the NBA. His story is an inspiration and as Wojnarowski notes above, if there were a re-draft, he wouldn’t fall out of the top-five.
The Greek Freak, as he is known, is the most intriguing thing to look at in Milwaukee this season unless you’re into Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton frequently leading the team in field goal attempts.
They’re not very good, but Larry Drew gets the Bucks to play hard.
As Damian Lillard said yesterday in practice, the Blazers also lost to the Sixers at home. And this Bucks team has been at least competitive in games most of the season while the Sixers are riding extraordinarily bad 21-game losing streak (and the league’s worst pace-adjusted point differential by a mile).
Things got interesting in the fourth quarter of Portland’s November game in Milwaukee during their 11-game winning streak. With 15 games left, Portland can’t afford to take the Bucks for granted.