By RICK SOLEM
The Milwaukee Bucks are growing.
Wednesday night, they helped their new coach Jason Kidd get back at his old team in dramatic fashion with a 122-118 triple-overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
The night before, they nearly blew a 26-point lead in the fourth quarter to the New York Knicks, but held on to win 117-113. If you remember back to the season-opener, they blew a 24-point lead to the Charlotte Hornets and lost in the final seconds.
So, yes, they’re growing. Or, 25 points is the happy medium to winning or losing games based on blowing a lead.
The last two wins cap off a three-game win streak for Milwaukee – a fifth of the Bucks’ win total from last season. That’s something they haven’t done since winning four in a row from Feb. 26-March 4 of the 2012-13 season.
The Bucks have been on quite a ride since then. They were a playoff team that season, led by up-and-chucking Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Up-and-chucking, as in, those two would dribble up and chuck a shot the first chance they got.
They dropped to the lowest of lows last season for reasons nobody can really put a finger on, after making trades and free-agent signings in a direction everyone thought was to get better.
And, after getting way worse, they did get better, thanks to some savvy draft picks and the emergence of point guard Brandon Knight – one of only two good things that happened during last year’s debacle (the other being Giannis Antetokounmpo’s development).
The Bucks are 7-5 now, and are growing an identity – one of length, speed and unselfishness. As the season develops, and Kidd gets more acclimated to his roster, hopefully that ID grows – and the veteran minutes dwindle.
It’s comical to say after a 15-67 season, but this roster has too much talent. Basketball is a game of consistency and confidence, but it all comes down to minutes.
So far, Kidd has been inconsistent in getting the talent minutes.
It may be laughable to complain about anything Bucks, seeing as how they’re nearly halfway to their win total of last year, but this is an important time for a team so young, yet Kidd keeps playing guys so old.
Maybe it’s a rite of passage. Maybe he think the veterans level off the youngsters – sort of bringing a calm to the madness. The problem is, Milwaukee’s veterans aren’t very good. They’re all journeymen, who may have once had their day, but those days are gone.
The biggest face-palm is center Zaza Pachulia. He plays. Why? All, while John Henson watches, for the most part, when all the 23-year-old does is produce.
Pachulia is second on the team in turnovers (2.0 per) to Brandon Knight (3.7). Oh, he plays a third less minutes than Knight. Pachulia’s go-to move is outletting defensive rebounds to the other team like the ball is a hot potato. His patented move on the offensive side of the floor is shooting an ugly, quick-release 15-foot jumper. Why Milwaukee’s 270-pound “you’re out there to set screens and rebound” center ever shoots is a mystery. Why Kidd plays him, an even bigger one. He went 2-for-7 on Wednesday with some awful sequences.
So, Henson sits while Pachulia plays, despite him being easily the Bucks’ best low-post threat. One who would complement their outside shooting power forwards – Jabari Parker and Ersan Ilyasova – perfectly.
Henson is the grounded version of foul-happy Larry Sanders, without the fouls (4.2 per 22.4 minutes a game) or complaining.
Sanders shoots 41.1 percent from the field to Henson’s 60. The two players are nearly identical in size and Henson’s per-36-minute stats are better than Sanders’ when you factor in the field-goal percentage. Henson’s averages are 12.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.6 blocks. Sanders is at 10-12.1-2.7.
Moving on, Kidd appears to have finally transitioned a bit from journeyman Jared Dudley, who started nine of 12 games. Unlike Pachulia, Dudley was once a good player, but not for three seasons. Why do you think the L.A. Clippers gave the Bucks their first-round pick to take him?
Dudley and Jerryd Bayless continue to take precious playing time from Khris Middleton and Antetokounmpo, who both came into Wednesday averaging just 24.6 minutes. Basketball is a long season, so this is hopefully just a transitioning phase.
O.J. Mayo sees only 25.3 minutes a game. He didn’t deserve to see much of the court last season, but appears to have rededicated himself this season and is the Bucks’ only true 3-point threat. Side note, it is ironic how a player can sign a three-year, $24 million deal and come in out of shape.
Hopefully Kidd is still playing lineup roulette, simply seeing who’s a gamer and who plays well together. The easy thing to say is sit all those veterans and let the young studs run wild, but, in basketball, that’s not always the best case – bad habits can develop.
Playing Dudley, Bayless – and maybe Pachulia – perhaps quells the madness a bit, but, hopefully, at some point, we’ll start seeing lineups much like Wednesday night – save for Pachulia, of course.
Regardless, the Bucks have a roster full of rising stars. They’re starting to pull out the close games – even if they blew leads … they did get a lead, afterall – and, if the core of this team can stay together, we could be talking NBA Finals a few years from now.
But that’s getting a bit ahead of everything. Right now, perhaps just focusing on four wins in a row is a good starting point.