Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Bucks vs. 76ers

This wasn't all that interesting a game from a standpoint of watching high-level NBA basketball but it did feature a lot of fascinating match-ups between young talent, particularly in the front-court. Both these teams are trying to build for the future and it could be an interesting rivalry just from the perspective of two differing ways of rebuild - slash and burn in Philly vs. try to stay competitive and build from the middle in Milwaukee.

The Bucks have a lot more vets on their roster and that was a huge part of the reason they were able to add Greg Monroe this off-season. The 76ers would probably say they don't want to add a guy like Monroe and that free agency is a loser's game for a small-market franchise. It's the same reason they dumped MCW to the Bucks last season. Are they making the perfect the enemy of the good or are they making the right long-term moves by not boxing themselves into guys with clear holes in their game? 
  • Maybe the most impressive thing about Jahlil Okafor early in his NBA career is how under control he plays. He's in his first week in the league and the game isn't too fast for him. He has a pretty decent feel for the floor and for spacing and he knows how to draw a double team in the post, when to kick it out and when to go up strong. He's obviously got great touch around the rim and he's a pretty good passer already. 
    • He was going up against the Ghost of Christmas Future for him in Monroe. They aren't exactly the same player because Jahlil is a little thicker and he's more dynamic off the dribble but they share a similar skill-set in terms of being post-up big men with questions about their jumper and their defense. Monroe should be a lesson for Jahlil. If you don't become a better shooter and a better interior defender, it doesn't matter how good you are as a scorer because you are probably going to be playing on a lot of bad basketball teams.
  • What would really take Jahlil's game to the next level is the consistent 15-20 foot jumper. If he can force defenses to respect his shot, he can use his quickness to get around them and be absolutely deadly. For the moment, other C's are just going to leave him open on the perimeter. He does have a nice counter with his ability to dribble into the floater, though. I don't care how big you are - everyone in the NBA should be able to shoot the teardrop off the dribble. It adds 5+ points to your game.
  • Nerlens Noel needs a little refinement. He makes a lot of the right decisions but the results still aren't quite there. It feels like he doesn't have any touch around the basket, like he's just throwing the ball at the vicinity of the rim and hoping it goes in - a little softer shot and he would be a pretty good offensive player. He's also got the right idea on a lot of his passes but they aren't quite on target at the moment. He's a guy who should benefit from playing as many possessions as possible on a bad team and getting a lot of NBA reps in a low-pressure situation to develop his game.
  • Nerlens is really a modern NBA C. He's not great playing with his back to the basket and he's still got a long way to go in terms of being able to defend the post. He's long and lean and built like a No. 2 pencil so he struggles to body up against a thicker big man like Monroe on the block. Where he should be able to shine is in the two-man game on both sides of the ball - he has the quickness to defend on the perimeter and the athletic ability to catch and finish above the rim.
  • It seemed like both Nerlens and Jahlil played better when the other wasn't on the floor just from the extra space it provided them. Philly can't really run the two-man game when they have both C's on the floor and both guys can be really effective when they are diving to the rim in space. Most good C's can, which is one of the main reasons why you are seeing just about every team in the league starting to play more 4-out. It seems like the obvious move for Brett Brown is to stagger their minutes as much as possible and always have one of the two in the game at the C position.
  • The guy who would really benefit from playing more 4-out is Jerami Grant. I don't watch a ton of 76ers basketball but when I do I am always interested in what he is doing. He was a combo forward with limited range on his jumper at college which means he's a 4 in the modern NBA. He's super fast and super long and he's gotten a lot better with the ball in his hands - he made some nice passes on the move on the way to 3 assists on Wednesday. He also had 4 blocks because he's a magnet for activity around the rim. If he had a consistent 3-point shot, he could be a really good player in this league but it feels like you can say that for half the guys on this roster. Apparently being unable to shoot is the new market inefficiency.
  • Grant (+22) and Nik Stauskas (+17) had by far the best plus-minus for Philly tonight. I'm thinking that's because Grant was the 4 when they were playing small and Stauskas shooting and ability to space is just absolutely crucial next to a bunch of jokers who the other team isn't guarding outside of 5 feet. Stauskas is going to stick in the league a long time because of his shooting - the question is whether he can diversify his game enough to be a starter. He had a nice alley-oop to Jahlil in the two-man game but he also got ripped a couple times when trying to create against the Bucks ball pressure. JJ Redick is the obvious comparison which means he needs to be spending a lot of time in the weight room. If you aren't going to be super fast at your position at least have some core body strength.
  • TJ McConnell definitely helps this team because he's a "true PG" who makes the easy play, knows how to set his teammates up and run an offense and doesn't make a lot of bad decisions. That 12 assist to 1 turnover ratio is one of the main reasons why the 76ers were in this game. The question for him long-term is whether he can become a more consistent shooter. He's never going to be a great defender or shot-creator but he has to able to force teams to respect him when he's playing off the ball. As the smallest guys on the floor, PG's need complete games and there are enough holes in his game to where I didn't think McConnell would be able to make it in the league. He's not very big and he's not very fast so he just has to be able to make 3's. 
  • I can't say I saw much of Richaun Holmes at Bowling Green but there's a lot to like in terms of him being long, athletic and super bouncy. Can he shoot though? That's the question with every 4 in the modern NBA.
  • Same deal with Jakarr Sampson. He's a crazy athlete. Can he shoot though? If the 76ers can figure out a way to get all these guys to shoot, they could really have something. Maybe Brown should have brought Chip Engelland over with him to Philly.
  • Shout out to Phil Pressey. I remember him when he was at ESD in Dallas straight dunking on fools at 5'9 maybe. He's super fast and he's a great playmaking PG but he can't shoot 3's and that's just not going to work in the modern NBA at his size. Get in the gym and start shooting or you are going to have to upgrade that passport real quick. Philly is like the opposite of that old saying about New York - if you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere.
This game was pretty much a rock fight for most of it because neither team can shoot very well and they both played a lot of traditional two big-man line-ups that only further cramped their style. Things got going in the 4Q when both teams started playing 4-out with shooters, which has kind of been the theme of the first week of the NBA season. It doesn't matter who you are or who is on your roster, it is almost impossible to score against modern NBA defenses if you can't space the floor and just about everyone is better off when they add more shooting to their line-ups. 
  • This was Jabari Parker's first game back from ACL surgery. He looked like he was moving OK and he looked like he had been spending a lot of time in the gym. He looked thicker and like he had less baby fat - like he has to be substantially heavier than Nerlens at this point. The key for his whole game is the jumper, especially adding some range on it so that he can become a knock-down 3-point shooter. As it stands now, other teams are going to make him the long 2 king and he doesn't have the super quickness (ala Giannis) to where he can blow by guys who are giving him 1 or 2 steps on the perimeter. He has to make people respect the outside shot.
    • The other big thing for him is passing the ball, which he has the capability of doing but didn't do too much of it at Duke. Carmelo is quicker and a better shooter so he had an easier time getting away with being 1-dimensional than Jabari will. 
  • Giannis looked absolutely fantastic tonight. He's definitely put on some weight and he's a legit 6'11 so he can cover pretty much every position on the floor. He's crazy quick and he has a great handle and surprisingly good passing chops for a guy his size. He's almost impossible to stay in front of and he has the length to finish over the top of just about anyone in the paint. Don't even think about letting him get out in transition, where he's absolutely murder. He was even hitting the jumper on Wednesday, which will take his game to whole different level. There has kind of been a bit of a backlash on Giannis on Basketball Twitter but he still has franchise player written all over him to me. I just hope the Bucks can put enough shooting around him to really maximize his talents.
    • I'll put it this way - I'm taking Giannis over Wiggins. He's bigger and longer and he has a much better feel for the game. Like the Wolves, the Bucks spend a lot of time trying to pound the ball into their star young wing and it certainly feels like Giannis is more dangerous down there, although I don't have any numbers to back that up. At 6'11, he can put pretty much any perimeter player on his back and then spin into an open shot.
  • Greg Monroe did Greg Monroe stuff all night. Contrary to their reputations, he actually had a much easier time scoring over Nerlens in the post than Jahlil because he could just bully him and push him under the rim while Jahlil had the sheer size to push him out of the paint. Monroe is kind of the opposite of Nerlens in that his defense is pretty good in the post but it is very questionable in the two-man game. The 76ers didn't have the personnel to run a lot of pick-and-roll at Monroe but you can bet that better teams will. That's one of the reasons why I'm pretty sure that switching out Ersan Ilyasova for Monroe was a net win for the Pistons. 
    • Here's a hot take which may not be all that hot now that we're one week into the season. I think Detroit will finish ahead of Milwaukee, which would say something about Monroe's game and how he affects his teammates. I don't want to blame Monroe completely for the Bucks being 30th in the league in defensive rating right now but man that does not look good. 
  • Khris Middleton has a ton of size for a 2 guard and the Bucks really tried to force the issue with him on the block against the smaller 76ers guards. It wasn't all that effective but you can see why they tried it because his shoot just looks so smooth and smaller players can't even affect it really. He's just super crucial to what they are doing on both sides of the ball and he would make just about every team in the league significantly better if he were on it. He's the epitome of the modern 3-and-D wing.
  • Jerryd Bayless didn't have a great game against Philly and he seems like one of those guys whose better playing as a 2 and just hunting shots as opposed to having to run an offense. He's a better shooter than MCW, though, which means the Bucks might just have to stick with him in the starting line-up because otherwise Middleton is the only guy out there whose consistently stretching the floor.
  • That dynamic is why I suspect we may see some Tyler Ennis action this season, even when everyone is healthy. Ennis is a lot like McConnell in that he's a great pure PG with defensive questions - the difference is that he's a much more consistent shooter. That's what you have to love about Philly. 4rth string PG's on average at best teams would get serious minutes with them. I like Ennis but undersized and unathletic PG's just don't get a lot of chances at this level of basketball and he has to be one of a million young guys around the league who would murder someone for the chance to get 30+ minutes a night with the 76ers.
  • While Greivis Vasquez didn't shoot all that well, he was still +20 in his 22 minutes on the floor which shows just how desperate the Bucks were for someone who could shoot the ball and run the offense tonight. I'm guessing he will end up closing most games for Milwaukee this season because there just isn't enough space out there when Giannis, Jabari and Monroe are all in. 
  • The other guy who was crucial off their bench was Chris Copeland, who was +10 in 10 minutes. It was the same basic idea - once they put Copeland in there, they were playing 4-out and they were actually capable of attacking the rim, moving the ball and creating open shots. I'm kind of surprised it took Jason Kidd until the 2nd half to go with Copeland because they absolutely need to have his floor spacing out there with the 2nd unit.
  • Kidd went with Johnny O'Bryant III at PF in the 1rst half and JOB is exactly the type of PF whom is getting squeezed out the league. He's big and athletic and can compete on the boards but he's not a great shooter and there were way too many possessions (i.e more than 0) that ended with him firing up a wide-open long 2. He's a classic 4/5 tweener and I get the feeling those guys aren't long for the league. 
  • Rashad Vaughn is a lot like Stauskas. That's great that you are a shooter but can you do anything else? Shooting will keep a young guy on the roster but a good team needs their shooters to not be totally one-dimensional. Can you play defense? That's probably a stretch for a rookie but Vaughn needs to be able to attack a close-out, move the ball and shoot acceptable percentages from 2 if he's going to get consistent playing time in Milwaukee. If he is playing while not doing those things, that's a pretty good sign that Kidd is out of ideas and the Bucks could struggle to get back to the playoffs.
I like Milwaukee's young talent but I wouldn't be stunned if they took a step back this season. They just have to find more shooting. It's the lifeblood of the league. The good thing about having Kidd as your coach is that if there are answers on your roster he's going to find them. He does as good a job as any coach in the league of maximizing the talent on hand. 


  1. I watched this game too (my third Philly game of the young season). Two takeaways that may seem outlandish:

    1) TJ McConnell is way more valuable than most people realize, and in a way, despite the fact that he may not even be on the team next season, he might be the Sixers most valuable player this year.

    2) If basketball players were stocks, I'd be more ready to invest everything in Giannis than I would Anthony Davis.

    With the modus operandi of Philadelphia being to optimize draft position, they certainly don't want to win many games, but with Noel, Okafor, and maybe Grant and Covington impressionable and set for long Sixer-stays, they certainly don't want the bad habits that form when you're consistently being blown-out. McConnell definitely has a low ceiling, but he has a great understanding of pace and rhythm, and with him pulling the strings, the Sixers shouldn't have errors pile up in ways that get a team blown out. He also plays with the type of moxie that drives three-four minute high-energy offensive runs that should make them competitive. He probably isn't talented enough to ever get a longterm deal, but I can see him carving out a long(ish) career as a caretaker floor general for bad teams who aren't ready to win, but are ready to gain the virtues of competing.

    As for The Greek Freak vs. The Brow. Giannis is two years younger, looks to have an extra inch of height, has a more impressive frame, is a more explosive leaper, and his ball skills are very comparable. I'd be very interested in your take on these two.

  2. 1) I'm with you as far as McConnell goes. The difference for a young team between a guy who knows how to point and a combo guard or a fringe player trying to boost his PG skills at the position can be massive. It will be interesting to see what happens once Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten return, though. Marshall is a floor general with a lot more size and experience and a better outside shot and Wroten gives them a whole different element in terms of being able to slash to the basket and generate offense.

    2) That's a pretty bold call on Giannis vs. The Brow. I have a hard time pulling the trigger on that just because of what The Brow has already accomplished. What he can do as a roll-man in the pick-and-roll is just insane - we just aren't seeing it a lot this year because of all the injuries to the Pels guards.

  3. Giannis doesn't have the mechanics down on his shot that Brow does. The next year/2 yrs are crucial to him developing that aspect of his game. You can envision Brow adding the 3 point shot to his game a lot more easily than you can Giannis right now.

  4. I feel like Brow playing the 5 full-time with a 3-point shot is the ultimate end point of his game. The crazy thing is Karl Towns is almost there already.

  5. Where do you see Giannis's end point? Despite him pushing seven feet, I see him staying on the perimeter. Am I crazy for thinking Scottie Pippen 2.0? Like a giant version of Kawhi Leonard.

    Towns is a beast!! He's so smooth with the ball in his hands, and unlike Brow and Giannis, he's already pretty filled-out. Most teenagers aren't barrel-chested. I like that his smooth stroke will stretch defenses, but I love how he's already initiating contact in the post. He's not even 20 and has no problem getting physical down low.

    I really like this draft class, and think there can easily be 10+ NBA starters that come from it, but Towns is clearly the best. Listening to analysts like Jay Bilas try to sell Okafor over KAT was laughable. Does Towns have any holes? I don't see them. He's the best thing that could've ever happened to Wiggins--a player, but whose holes will probably take years to fill-in. With Towns in the mix for the Wolves, the pressure for Wiggins to develop quickly is seriously reduced.

  6. Pippen is a decent comp in terms of an absolute ceiling for Giannis. He probably won't get there but it will be sure fun to watch him try over the next few years.

    Towns has zero holes in his game, which is absolutely insane for a 19-year old 7'0 whose also an elite athlete. I've never enjoyed watching an NCAA player more than Towns and I'm sure it won't be too different at the NBA level.