We are 90 days to Christmas.
We are 59 days to Thanksgiving
And we are 29 days to the opening of the 2016-17 NBA season!
So in Part 2 of the Greg-martin.com NBA Season preview, we break down the CENTRAL DIVISION. Just like Part 1 (The Atlantic Division, which you can READ HERE), We look at the Most Interesting Storyline, the Most Interesting Personality, the Most Interesting Stat, the Most Interesting 5-man lineup, and the projected record. I cut out a lot of the extra stuff so that this time, it's the reading length of a short drive or a good trip to the lieu. Enjoy!
Most Interesting Storyline: Will the honeymoon linger?
Objectively, the converging storylines of last June’s NBA finals were amazing. A cursed city, void of a championship in any of the 4 major sports in over five decades, wins its first NBA title. They won their first title behind a home grown prodigy, who, after playing for the franchise for seven years, left under an avalanche of scrutiny and hurt feelings, only to return four years later a two-time NBA champion, and promising to deliver on the unrealized potential from his time there before. The team that the home-grown prodigy helped to bring down in the NBA finals was weeks from being the most celebrated and decorated regular season team in NBA history. The Golden State Warriors were/are in the process of completely revolutionizing the game of basketball at the professional level, and in the middle of the revolution, a team from a cursed city broke their own curse and the hearts of the Bay area fans at the same time. If you wanted to dig further into the numbers, there were dozens of other storylines in that one series.
So as you can imagine, when victory was finally their’s, the team from Cleveland, and it’s tortured fans, had a massive party. There was parade in the city where retired athletes from other historical Cleveland teams were invited to participate. The attendance for that party reached epic/fire code violating proportions. I’m still not 100% sure whether or not JR Smith has put a shirt on since the team won back in June. The players and organization employees made the press rounds to do interviews everywhere, and the summer ended with a punctuation, as the team and it’s hometown hero agreed to the biggest per-season contract in the NBA, locking Lebron up to a 3 year, $100 million deal. As a whole, the team’s roster didn’t undergo huge changes, as they lost their backup point guard to Milwaukee (Dellavedova), and their backup center to LA (Mozgov), while picking up some aging spare parts for their bench.
So, after a championship that was as dramatic as any NBA titles in recent years, the obvious question now is: Is it possible to deliver an encore? Lebron James carried a crazy workload in last spring’s playoff run. Kevin Love was under enormous scrutiny about whether he could even stay on the floor during important playoff games. Kyrie Irving had his defensive ability questioned. Ty Lue had never coached before. And on and on...and yet they pulled off the unthinkable. Did they empty the gas tank?
This year, they’ll rely on the continued development of Irving, especially in an effort to take some stress away from Lebron, who turns 32 this year, and who has played nearly 100 games every season for the previous six years. They’ll hope that letting Mozgov go, and replacing him with a less defensively adept, yet more offensively explosive Channing Frye won’t hurt the team, at least during the regular season. Much like last year with Tristan Thompson, they’ll eventually cave in to the contract demands of JR Smith before the season begins. On a strictly human level, I don’t know how a team that climbed the mountain that the Cavs just climbed doesn’t fall back into being “fat and happy”, after enjoying their unprecedented success.
Most Interesting Personality: Lebron James
Lebron has been the center of the NBA universe for 13 years. With one, incredible chase down block with 2 minutes left in Game 7 of the NBA finals, he proved that he was going to stay in that spot for at least another year. There will be dozens of stories written nationwide, throughout the season, breaking down his relationships with his coaches, his leadership of the Cavs, and his offensive and defensive metrics (as his usage rate and efficiency will inevitably drop in his 14th year). Each story will be interesting to read, each one probably with a slightly different angle, because there is a lot of meat on that bone. From the sportswriter’s perspective, Lebron is the gift that keeps on giving. For 13 years, he always has been.
Most Interesting Stat: 9
9 is the number of seasons, including last year, when Lebron’s single season PER (Player Efficiency Rating) has been in the top 75 of best single season ratings in NBA history. That ties him for first with Michael Jordan, who also had 9 PER season ratings in the top 75. (MJ and Lebron together hold 25% of the top 75 greatest PER season ratings...they’re in a class by themselves) There are arguments amongst NBA junkies about who is in their top 10 players, all-time, who is on their Mount Rushmore of NBA players, or who is the best player ever at each position. In those discussions, partly because they don’t want to succumb to recency bias, and partly because they want to bid homage to players of the past, but sportswriters often leave Lebron out of their “top 5”, usually listing names like MJ, Magic, Bird, Russell, Wilt, Duncan, or Oscar Robertson.
But the numbers bear it out, and I’ll stake my claim here: If Lebron were to retire today, he would be the second best player to ever play the game of basketball. For a guy who has had a crushing level of expectation/pressure on him since he was 18 years old, he’s sustained a level of greatness matched only once in the history of the league. And we need only rewind two minutes of game action to see the awe-inspiring moments he’s still capable of. He’s close to the best ever, and he’s still got his A-game.
Most Interesting 5-man Lineup: Irving/Smith/Lebron/Love/Frye
This lineup isn’t much different from the one that anchored last season’s championship run. But replacing Thompson with Frye adds a nice little wrinkle to Cleveland’s half-court offense, with his shooting creating even more space for Lebron to post on the elbow, Kyrie to drive the lane, and Love to swallow up offensive rebounds.
Cleveland’s projected 2016-2017 record: 59-23
Most Interesting Storyline: Will the team’s offense be offensive?
A 45 win team, with a superstar that successfully bounced back from a nearly career-ending leg injury, the Pacers went into the playoffs a 7th seed, and nearly pulled off the first round upset, taking the Raptors to seven games, and nearly stealing the fourth game they needed when a buzzer beater 3 pointer by Solomon Hill was a milli-second after the game ending buzzer. Relatively speaking, Indy had a pretty good year, and had some pieces to continue to build on for the future.
And though President of Basketball Operations, Larry Bird, had to feel hopeful about the ends, he was very unhappy with the means. Bird did not like the lack of cohesion of the Pacers offense all year, and had to admit that, at times, his team was hard to watch. So Bird made the bold move of firing a relatively successful head coach, in Frank Vogel, in an effort to change the leadership, the direction, and the style of the team.
But Bird didn’t stop there. He let go of his center, defensive stalwart Ian Mahinmi, who signed with the Wizards for a hefty 4 years, $64 million, and replaced him by trading for athletic and wily power forward Thaddeus Young of the Nets. He made a draft day deal, where he moved point guard George Hill, who specializes more at shooting and defending, and picked up Atlanta point guard Jeff Teague, who has, year in and year out, been among the league leaders in drives to the basket. Finally, Bird replaced Vogel with veteran NBA coach Nate McMillan, who was the coach of the Sonics back in the days of the Ray Allen/Rashard Lewis combo.
Bird made a gamble this offseason that he could, on the fly, switch the team’s identity, and make up for any losses on the defensive end by improving the team that much more on the offensive end. Bird is betting on his offense, though his gamble has flaws. Shooting guard Monte Ellis, though a speedster and great offensive penetrator, is notorious for poor shot selection and a high turnover rate. Losing Hill on defense means that McMillan loses out on the option of hiding Ellis’s poor defense on the worse of the two opposing guards, since Teague doesn’t have the ability to switch over and guard bigger 2 guards. And Bird is relying on the potential of 2nd year big man Myles Turner to be realized much earlier than most young bigs typically develop.
Perhaps this team is a work in progress, though that’s not how Bird describes them. He’s banking on the Pacers’ offense, and hoping that it isn’t flat-out offensive
Most Interesting Personality: Larry Bird
This pick is influenced heavily by the feature piece that Jackie MacMullan did on Larry Bird last year. In it, Bird openly questioned his own mortality, quipping that, if we look at the statistics, big guys don’t typically live very long...alarming self-awareness from a guy who was an elite athlete, guys that sometimes are lacking in the self-awareness arena. Larry has had a lot of success as a front office NBA guy, but has yet to win a championship like he did as a player in Boston.
So though I won’t go as far as Larry did about his mortality, I will wonder out loud how much longer Bird will work as a front office executive. His Pacers have had multiple iterations of teams that contended for titles, most recently with the Paul George/Lance Stephenson/Roy Hibbert teams, and the Reggie Miller/Ron Artest/Jermaine O’neal teams before that. But neither of those two cores were able to break through and win a title. So in the midst of his 3rd or 4th rebuild, it’s fair to wonder when Bird might get tired of the rebuilding roller coaster.
Most Interesting Stat: 1
Nate McMillan has been a head coach in the NBA for 12 seasons, first with the Seattle Sonics, and then with the Portland Trailblazers. With those teams, Nate won more games than he lost, and he generally has a great reputation across the league as a manager of talent. But in his 12 years, Nate has ONE playoff series win. That’s it. If this Pacers team is going to move on to the next level, and win playoff series, they’re going to have to do it with a coach that has about the same amount of experience doing it as they do.
Most Interesting 5-man lineup: Teague/George/Miles/Thaddeus/Turner
As mentioned earlier, Teague is a ball-handling point guard who excels at getting the ball into the lane and then making decisions from there, based on how the defense reacts. Paul George is also a superstar who has the ball in his hands, initiating offense throughout the game. Monte Ellis was last year’s starting shooting guard, and has been an on-ball creator throughout his entire NBA career. Having 3 ball handlers with those usage rates won’t work in one five-man unit...there won’t be enough basketballs to go around.
Indiana would be better to bring Ellis off the bench for a couple of reasons. First, he’d be devastating for backup guards to defend in the second and fourth quarters of games. Second, inserting Miles into the starting lineup would balance the floor (with his spotup shooting prowess), and give the Pacers some extra length on the defensive end. A defense with Miles posted in the corner, Turner spotting up around the top of the key, with Teague/George running side pick and rolls and Thaddeus being a menace along the baseline is one that Bird might have had in mind when he decided to put more of an emphasis on the team’s scoring.
Indiana’s projected 2016-2017 record: 40-42
Most Interesting Storyline: Is continuity a 4-letter word?
At the end of the Pistons 2015-2016 season, coach Stan Van Gundy and GM Jeff Bower sat behind a table with two microphones, and went through the motions of a time honored NBA tradition, known as the end-of-the-year press conference. Mostly it’s meant for teams to reflect about their season out loud, hopefully with some punchy quotes that journalists can use to write the obituary on the team’s season. Sometimes, in these press conferences, questions will arise about offseason plans and what direction the team wants to go. Now, no coach or GM worth their salt ever wants to show their cards that early, especially in an NBA climate where player movement is at an all-time league high, a lot of that being in free agency.
However, Stan and Jeff did take the questions they knew were coming about what the team could look like the following season, and in the exchange, Van Gundy dropped a phrase that signified what the summer was going to look like: internal improvement. Without giving much away, Van Gundy let it be known in the year end press conference that no one should expect the team to swing for the fences with a big name acquisition. Even after signing Ish Smith (3/$18 mil) to be the backup point guard, Jon Leuer (4/$41 mil) to be the backup power forward, and Boban Marjonivic (3/$21 mil) to be the backup center of the future, Van Gundy was still quoted as saying, “We said to our team and coaching staff that we thought we could go out and improve our depth but most of the improvement would have to come internally.”
Internal improvement isn’t fun. It’s not going to get the general NBA fan’s attention. Adrian Wojnarowski isn’t going to get thousands of retweets when he reports that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has taken 1000 corner 3’s a day this offseason, or that Tobias Harris has improved his post-defense by working with Hakeem Olajuwon. (I doubt either of these are true) But however Detroit’s coaching staff directed the players, the fate/improvement of each individual player is going to make the difference between an increased team win total and flatlining.
The focus on internal improvement also builds on the Pistons greatest strength going into 2016-2017; team continuity. The NBA’s latest collective bargaining agreement shortened the length of players’ contracts, and NBA agents over the past 3-4 years have encouraged their clients to work player options into their deals, so that they can take advantage of a constantly rising salary cap that resulted from a lucrative TV deal signed by the league a couple years ago. Combine those two factors, and team chemistry has become endangered, with teams that have played longer together, developing their chemistry, regularly outperforming their preseason, projected win totals. (think of teams like the Memphis Grizzlies, San Antonio Spurs, and Toronto Raptors)
To the average fan, the Pistons had a ho-hum, almost boring summer. Look around the Eastern Conference. The Bulls signed Dwyane Wade AND Rajon Rondo (Wow!). The Pacers traded for Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young (Dang!). Atlanta picked up Dwight Howard (Woah!). And Boston somehow got Al Horford to sign with them (Holy Crap!). Yet, the Pistons, who had the cap space to make some big signings, are bringing back the same core they had last year. Internal improvement is boring. But, if recent NBA history is any indication, continuity will factor into the Pistons outperforming the “experts’ projections”.
Most Interesting Personality: Stan Van Gundy
As long as “Most Interesting Personality” is a category, Stan is going to be the one listed. Whether Stan is urging his team to “Form a F---ing Wall”, speaking out on social injustice issues in our country, or restocking the talent pool in the Pistons’ deep, front office organizational chart, his actions are usually thoughtful and positive, leading to success. This hasn’t always been the case.
You’ll remember that he was roasted by his own players in both Miami (Shaq) and Orlando (Howard). You’ll remember that his boss fired him to take his job, because his boss didn’t believe that Stan was able to win at the highest level. You’ll remember that it was Stan who, in retrospect, took a team of Howard and non-all stars to the NBA finals, beating Lebron when he was entering his peak years the first time around in Cleveland. But even as his Orlando run was happening, he was criticized for giving Rashard Lewis too much money, for not getting the ball to Dwight enough, and for seeming to panic in spots because of his high energy demeanor on the sidelines.
Back in 2014, the Warriors wanted Stan Van Gundy as their coach. But, having been burnt too many times professionally in the past, Stan demanded a dual role as coach and president of basketball operations, basically ensuring that he would get to coach the team that he put together with some job security. The Warriors balked at the offer, hired Steve Kerr instead, and shortly after won an NBA title and set the regular season record for wins. Van Gundy got the deal he wanted in Detroit, but it meant starting with a lot less talent in a lot less attractive city to free agents. So he started doing what he’s done at his other coaching stops: he put together a plan, and worked thanklessly to build something that other teams quickly became jealous of.
Stan has taken his lumps, not just in his lower level positions, but in the NBA’s brightest spotlight. And here he is now, at the age of 57, turning a dormant franchise into a team with deep playoff run aspirations in just over two years. He’s spent the majority of his NBA coaching career being second guessed and underappreciated, but just 2 years into a 5 year deal, he’s on his way toward facing the demons of his coaching past, and bringing a young, talented core of hungry players with him.
Most Interesting Stat: 73/18.5
The Pistons did make one major move during the season last year, trading Ersan Ilyasova (and Brandon Jennings) to Orlando for Tobias Harris. Harris replaced Ilyasova in the Detroit starting lineup, joining Jackson, Pope, Morris and Drummond.
Before Ilyasova was traded, the starting 5 of Jackson/Pope/Morris/Ilyasova/Drummond averaged 19.1 minutes/game in the 48 games that the unit played together. That number led the league in mpg for any 5-man unit. After the trade happened, the Jackson/Pope/Morris/Harris/Drummond lineup averaged 18.5 minutes/game in the 25 games that they played together, which led the league in mpg for 5-man units over that stretch.
In total, last year the Pistons had two 5-man units that averaged at least 18.5 minutes per game over 73 games, a number that was WAY more than the next highest for 5-man unit mpg’s.
If Detroit is relying on the internal improvement of the players to make their next jump in the standings, perhaps that belief comes from the idea that, not only will they get better, but they will understand each other’s games better.
Most Interesting 5-man lineup: Jackson/Johnson/Harris/Leuer/Drummond
A lineup that isn’t expected to get much run, putting Johnson at the 2, and dropping Harris down to guard small forwards, this lineup would provide a little more shooting by adding Leuer to the mix, but would be what I would refer to as the “length and strength” lineup. All five guys in this lineup would be above average rebounders for their positions, and all 5 would be longer than the average player at their position. It’s definitely a lineup that would excel more in the halfcourt, while inserting Pope and Morris makes them more potent playing up and down.
A little extra...
When I was studying standup comedy in Charlotte in 2005, there was another comic there at the Comedy Zone named Joe Zimmerman. Joe was a naturally funny guy who has actually gone on to succeed in the comedy world, cutting an album and having his own Comedy Central standup special a couple years ago. When he first started, he told a joke about dating a girl that intimidated him because it seemed she had way more sexual experience than he did. Finally, he worked up the courage and asked, "So how many guys have you been with, anyway?" She thought for a second and then answered, "mmm...80...ish". His next line was my favorite: "Damn! That's a big number for an 'ish'." That joke has stayed with me for 12 years.
At 3:30am on July 1, Woj tweeted out that the Pistons had signed point guard Ish Smith to run their second unit. As a lifelong Piston fan, I know that about 50 times this season, the broadcast will flash a stat that has to do with how Smith is playing, and every time, I'll say out loud, to no one in particular, "Damn! That's a big number for an Ish." I'm sure I'll chuckle right after, and if anyone else is around, they'll look at me like I'm crazy.
Cheers to you, Joe. Keep making people laugh.
Detroit’s projected 2016-2017 record: 47-35
Most Interesting Storyline: Will ticket sales translate to wins?
For eight years, the Chicago Bulls had their poster boy. He was a hometown kid, a borderline prodigy, who made heads turn both in high school and college. He was a near can’t-miss prospect, and when the Bulls won the lottery in 2008, it was a match made in heaven to bring in Derrick Rose to be their franchise guy.
For 4-5 years, Rose was breathtaking. What Russell Westbrook is now, that’s what Derrick Rose was when he entered the league. He had the rare athleticism and ball handling skills that allowed him to drive right into a defense, even when the defense was set up to stop Rose from driving to the basket, and dunk over whatever poor soul was standing closest to the rim. Rose was so good that in year four, he won the regular season Most Valuable Player award, and led his team to the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a year later, in Game 1 of the playoffs, that Rose ACL snapped on the way to the bucket, and from that moment on, the franchise has never been the same.
This summer, the Bulls brass decided it was time to move on from the hometown hero, and traded him for a couple nice players to the New York Knicks. For a few days, it seemed as though the Bulls were going to be absent a homegrown talent, and would start to form their core around point guard, Rondo, looking for a new start, and a Jimmy Butler, the guy who, in actuality, the team already was built around.
But doors of opportunity open in weird places, and in mid-July, the Bulls found themselves in a place to be able to afford and obtain a hall-of-fame talent, albeit nearing the twilight of his career, former Heat guard Dwyane Wade. And for a little extra sugar on top, there’s the convenient fact that Wade, much like Rose, had grown up in Chicago. The hard-working, Midwestern baller, the prodigal son, had returned home, and Chicago once again has itself a hometown hero.
In the four weeks after the Wade signing, the Bulls ticket sales increased significantly compared to ticket sales at the same time last year. Wade is a marquee name, and anyone who saw him in last year’s playoff run by the Miami Heat knows that Wade still has nights where he can bring his marquee game.
But the acquisition of Wade, and Rondo, for that matter, begs the question: Hey, weren’t you guys rebuilding? The Bulls new backcourt is north of 30, and both on short, two year deals with options after the first year. There’s no guarantee that either of them will return next year, which is a weird energy to have around a team that has been pretty stable for a few years. Young guys like Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, and Jerian Grant will now have to fight for scraps of playing time that seemed like it would be available after the Rose trade. Perhaps the signing two veteran, former stars will provide a two mentors for the young guys still molding their professional game. Or maybe, it stunts them. Either way, there’ll be lots of work to do at training camp to assimilate these two unique talents. Sure, the hometown hero is back in Chicago. But did he bring his heroics with him?
Most Interesting Personality: Jimmy Butler
He’s an All Star shooting guard. He’s an Olympic Gold Medalist. He’s a guy who signed a max contract 13 months ago. And he was set to become the face of the Chicago Bulls franchise.
Then, with almost no warning, the ponied up money to sign Wade away from the Miami Heat. Now, Jimmy Butler is a small forward, and Wade’s picture is likely the one on the cover of the Chicago media guide. If the ball is going to be in someone’s hands in a tight game spot, it would behoove the team to give it to Wade, since he’s a below average off-the-ball player (though he still can make some nice backdoor cuts, even at his age).
There’s an enduring image from this summer’s Rio Olympics of the majority of the U.S. men’s bball team on the plane, belting out 1000 miles by Vanessa Carlton, Carmelo Anthony off to the side annoyed by the experience, and Butler is in the forefront, with some pretty rough vocals. In the middle of his prime, Butler is likely to play a lot of second fiddle to his new backcourt mates, guarding bigger guys, while at the same time, likely covering on defense for two guys not known for staying in front of their man on the perimeter or hustling back after a turnover they committed. In a year that should have been Butler’s coming out party as the Bulls’ alpha dog, I wouldn’t be shocked if Butler ACTUALLY had to run 1000 miles, and I doubt that he’ll be as happy about it this time.
Most Interesting Stat: 7.2
Chicago has a new starting backcourt, trading a broken down Rose to New York and moving Butler to small forward, and replacing them with past all-stars Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade. That sentence, on its surface, sounds like a positive thing for Chicago. There are questions about fit, about the ability for both to stay healthy, and how their additions will impact developing players like Denzel Valentine, Doug McDermott and Mirotic.
But the stat that is most ominous is Wade and Rondo’s combined turnovers last year. Between the two of them, they averaged 7.2 turnovers per 36 minutes. That is an exceptionally high turnover rate for two guys who will have the ball in their hands on the majority of Chicago’s possessions. Factor that number in with both Wade and Rondo’s notoriously bad transition defense, and those turnovers may put the Bulls in a hole too deep to recover from on most nights.
Most Interesting 5-man lineup: Rondo/Wade/Butler/Mirotic/Gibson
I highly doubt this will be Chicago’s best 5-man unit. For that, they will need one of either Denzel Valentine or Doug McDermott on the floor. But having the perimeter full of playmakers is a fun wrinkle. If you’re defending them, and you have one perimeter defender who struggles to stay in front of guys, Chicago can just pick on that guy with whoever he’s guarding. The struggle for Chicago will be who the ball gets kicked out to in the case that there’s nothing available on the inside. Both Mirotic and Gibson are good spot up shooters, with Gibson posting the best spot up numbers in the league last year.
Rondo and Wade are also two of the most vocal complainers to the ref in the league. Add that to the rest of the mix, and this lineup is as unpredictable/volatile as it is problematic for the defense.
Chicago’s projected 2016-2017 record: 41-41
Most Interesting Storyline: Can Jason Kidd exploit the NBA’s market inefficiencies?
The NBA seems to be going a direction. If you watched the playoffs last year, a couple things stood out on nearly every team: A point guard that can break down the defense, a lot of “small-ball” minutes, where teams would go with one big man, or even at times, zero big men, in their lineup, and a record-breaking number of threes taken over the course of the four playoff rounds.
But when Jason Kidd took over the Nets, and then the Bucks, a couple things stood out about his coaching. First, his point guard, much like Kidd as a point guard, was urged to be general on the floor, as opposed to an attacker. This could’ve been because that’s what the personnel dictated, but it’s at least coincidental that this matches Kidd’s style from his playing days. Second, Kidd gravitated toward long lineups. Both in Brooklyn and in Milwaukee, Kidd loved to play a combo of guys that almost mirrored the lineups that Jim Boeheim likes to put out in coaching at Syracuse: 5 guys with long arms, coached to drop back into passing lanes and make it nearly impossible for the other team’s offense to get into a flow. In Milwaukee, Kidd is blessed with a couple gems in this respect, with Michael Carter Williams, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo playing like three octopi at the top of the key, making life hell for opposing guards.
Kidd’s system has promise, as it values certain defensive principles that have had defensive success in Kidd’s last couple of years coaching. However, the personnel that works best for this system in Milwaukee makes for a really bad offense on the other end. The Bucks have added a couple players in the offseason, Matthew Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic, that hopefully will continue the defensive foundation that Kidd has laid in Milwaukee, while also improving the halfcourt offense. Delly, in particular is an interesting add, as he’s looked great in some sequences, including the Cavs playoff run two years ago, and this year’s Olympics with Australia. But at other times, with Cavs, Delly has looked like a minus at the point guard position.
So Coach Kidd has assembled an array of NBA misfits, to an extent (we haven’t even mentioned Greg Monroe, Jabari Parker, and Michael Beasley). But perhaps Kidd, like Billy Beane portrayed in Moneyball, can gather this strange collection of market inefficiencies to cobble together a playoff level basketball team. If he does it, it won’t because he followed the trends of today’s NBA. He’ll have done it his way.
Most Interesting Personality: Jabari Parker
NBA life can be difficult when you have to miss your first year due to injury. Ask Blake Griffin (who bounced pretty well) or Joel Embiid (we’ll see). For Jabari Parker, it was already going to be difficult. There were questions about what positions he would end up playing in the pros, after Coach K played him all over the place, including center, in his year at Duke. Just as he was getting acclimated to NBA life and the NBA game, 25 games into his rookie year, Jabari went down with a torn ACL, and just like that, his year one was gone.
During his absence, something strange happened: another young guy on his team emerged, Giannis Antetokounmpo. Jabari had been mentioned as a small forward part-time, but with Giannis in the mix, Jabari would be pushed almost exclusively to power forward when he returned. Giannis just signed a 4 year/$100 million extension last week, and with the Bucks making recent big money commitments to guys like Teletovic, Monroe, and John Henson, and the drafting of athletic phenom Thon Maker, the big man rotation should be fairly tight.
Now look at the numbers for Jabari last year. He got nearly 32 mpg, but averaged just 5.5 rebounds/game, way below average for a starting power forward. Jabari has always been considered a minus defender, all the way back from his time at Duke, and his per minute numbers for blocks and charges taken are embarrassingly low for a power forward. On a team that regularly plays Michael Carter Williams and Giannis, it would be helpful to have a power forward that has some shooting range, but Parker is not a willing shooter outside 16’-18’.
Frankly, if Jabari could pick his own team, I highly doubt this is the team he’d want to be on. It’s not totally his fault, but he’s a bad fit on a below average team, fighting for minutes, after missing out on crucial developmental playing time his rookie year, because of the ACL. The Bucks have to hope that Parker has developed into much more than he showed last year, which is why he’s the most interesting Buck to watch this season.
Most Interesting Stat: 29.3
With the injury to Middleton last week, the stat that seemed interesting/pertinent was the outside shooting percentage of the guys coming back from last year. Of the six returning Bucks rotation players, not counting Middleton, The player with the best 3pt shooting percentage was Rashad Vaughn, who shot a meager 29.3%.
That, plus Middleton’s injury, is what makes the acquisitions performances of Dellavedova and Teletovic so important. If those two new guys don’t perform from outside, there’ll be no room for Giannis, Parker, or Monroe to operate.
Most Interesting 5-man lineup: Dellavedova/Beasley/Giannis/Teletovic/Henson
Kidd loves putting out lineups that irritate the other team in the halfcourt, shutting down nearly every passing lane. The combo of Delly and Giannis is going to wreak all kinds of havoc this year, and along with Henson on the backline, with his fairly quick hands, this five could end up having one of the highest live-ball turnover rates in the league. Add in the the only three shooters the Bucks have on their roster, and you may have a 5 man unit that could be a menace in short bursts, perhaps outscoring them by 4-5 points per 100 possessions
Milwaukee’s projected 2016-2017 record: 33-49