Question: How do you stop a team that features multiple big men capable of hitting 25-foot shots?
Answer: Wait for the game clock to read triple zeros.
That was the general feeling as the Milwaukee Bucks dropped their first of two preseason games against the Minnesota Timberwolves Saturday night. On their way to a 117-96 victory in front of a suddenly-Spanish Target Center crowd (Ricky Rubio will do that), the Wolves caught fire from beyond the arc (16-24 on three pointers) and put the game safely out of reach by the middle of the third quarter.
With Andrew Bogut anchored within five feet of the basket, the Bucks’ defense worked as expected, closing off the interior (just 26 points in the paint) and daring the Wolves to bomb them to oblivion. Unfortunately, the shooting range of Kevin Love, Michael Beasley, Anthony Tolliver, and Derrick Williams (10 combined threes) forced the Bucks to close on the shot or risk an easy lay-up. Milwaukee chose the latter more often than not, and Minnesota made them pay with open jumpers.
The Bucks did score a respectable 42 points in the paint, and converted a decent 7-20 shots (35%) behind the three-point line. But realistically, the laws of preseason dictate that nothing we saw Saturday night should be taken as a major harbinger of success/failure to come. Wednesday night’s re-match in Milwaukee could very well flip the script, forcing our recap to directly contradict anything our NBA-starved fingers concluded today.
In any preseason game, it’s hard to judge a team when they’re attempting to feel each other out, especially when the time frame for doing so is shortened. As such, most of the notable bullet points from Saturday’s loss centered on the performance of the rookies and new role players.
Jon Leuer (22 min., 18 pts, 6-11 fg, 6-7 ft, 5 rbs)
The Milwaukee Bucks have done well finding role players in the second round over the past four years (Luc Mbah a Moute, Jodie Meeks, Ersan Ilyasova, maybe Darington Hobson), and the 40th pick in this year’s draft gave reason to believe they found another one. Scott Skiles made it known before the game that the younger and newer players would get a lot of playing time, and Jon Leuer took full advantage.
Leuer led the Bucks in scoring, mixing his decent mid-range jumper with some nifty post moves. Leuer’s basketball IQ may be his best supporting argument for meaningful playing time during the regular season, and he definitely helped his case skill-wise, even though the Timberwolves are not exactly known for their defensive prowess.
Mike Dunleavy (26 min., 16 pts, 6-12 fg, 3-6 3fg, 5 asts, 2 stls, 1 blk)
Not fifteen seconds after the tip, Mike Dunleavy took a kick-out pass from Andrew Bogut at the top of the key, and gracefully buried a three pointer that made us forget all about the Corey Maggette experiment. Dunleavy also showed some flare in transition, hitting a three and assisting on a couple fast break layups.
Defense isn’t typically mentioned as one of Dunleavy’s strongest attributes, but his awareness and length helped Dunleavy notch a couple early steals. He also had no problem switching and following his man as the Wolves ran on and off-ball screens, and in Skiles’ system, a high basketball IQ will help Dunleavy continue to fit in as a capable team defender.
Dunleavy and Carlos Delfino (11 pts, 4-8 fg, 2-5 3fg) also have a lot of potential playing together in shooter-heavy lineups, and Skiles has to feel pretty good knowing the insurance policy for Stephen Jackson is a sharpshooting starter masquerading as a sixth man.
Shaun Livingston (25 min., 8 pts, 3-6 fg, 4 rbs, 2 asts, 1 blk)
Two of Shaun Livingston’s three made shots were dunks coming off drives from the corner, but it was fairly obvious throughout his time on the court that the Bucks could have a point guard “controversy” once the season begins. I say that in jest, but it’s clear that the Bucks have a very good collection of floor generals that deserve more playing time than an NBA game can allot.
Skiles played a lot of two point guard sets throughout the game, and Livingston arguably out-performed Beno Udrih (9 pts, 4-13 fg, 1-3 3fg, 3 rbs, 1 ast) and Brandon Jennings (7 pts, 3-9 fg, 1-2 3fg, 2 rbs, 3 asts). Livingston was smart about his shot selection, settling in the mid-range area only when it was open, and had no problem deferring the ball when necessary. Livingston also used his size to effectively defend bigger guards in the post, and has the length to take on athletic wings along the perimeter.
There were, and still are, a lot of questions in need of answers before the Milwaukee Bucks start playing games that have meaning. The only legitimate conclusions we can draw from the Bucks loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves is that they still have a lot of work to do, and they still look better on paper than the 2010-11 Bucks.