Four things to watch for in Pre-Season Game 2: (7:30 PM CT, Radio: WTMJ 620, Out-of-town TV: Fox Sports Detroit)
After facing little resistance from the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night, the Milwaukee Bucks will look to continue their crisp play against the Detroit Pistons tonight. The Pistons come into Saturday’s game after beating the Toronto Raptors 101-99. The Pistons boast a young core of players that includes point guard Brandon Knight (20 years old), power forward Greg Monroe (22 years old) and rookie center Andre Drummond (19 years old.)
These three, although young, will prove to be the Bucks’ biggest challenges on the court Saturday night. In four games against the Bucks last season, Monroe averaged 20.5 points per game and 11.8 rebounds while Knight averaged 17.8 points and five assists.
Scott Skiles has said he likes to give his regular players more playing time in the preseason, which might be outside the NBA norm. Keep an eye on the rotation at power forward Saturday night. Ersan Illyasova, fat contract in hand, will assumedly get the bulk of the minutes at the position this season, despite playing only 15 minutes in Cleveland on Tuesday. However, it will be interesting to see how the logjam sorts itself out.
1. The Power Forward Plethora
Outside of Illyasova, the Bucks have Larry Sanders, who shared time at power forward and center. We can expect Sanders to continue in that role throughout the season, due to the depth at both positions. Sanders’ length and athleticism have looked promising at times but consistency and a wider array of moves is essential for Sanders to beat out his teammates for more playing time. Patience might be running out on Sanders, with so many options surrounding him.
Surprisingly still on the roster is Drew Gooden, who seemed to be the odd man out when Illyasova re-signed and Henson was selected in the draft. His minutes reflected that Tuesday, only playing eight minutes.
Henson played twelve minutes and grabbed seven rebounds and scored 6 points while in. Although he did some good things, he also looked like a rookie at times. His playing time will hinge on his consistency this season.
Although we must be careful of looking too closely at preseason games to determine what the season’s rotations and lineups might look like, Skiles’ admission that he takes them seriously means it could be a good indicator.
The one power forward who will not suit up against the Pistons is Ekpe Udoh. Udoh injured his knee in the preseason opener against Cleveland, and he is expected to miss one to two weeks.
2. How will the Bucks defend Monroe and Drummond?
This will be our first look at the two huge young bigs playing together. Although Drummond is raw, many people thought he could be the player with the second-most talent in the draft. The Bucks simply don’t have the size to matchup with two near-seven footers.
However, look for Skiles to pair center Samuel Dalembert with each member of the Power Forward Plethora to see which forward can shut down players who are bigger.
3. Tobias Harris
After starting out his rookie season on the sidelines due to dehydration, Tobias Harris struggled to find consistent playing time to showcase his skillset. The lockout didn’t help either, resulting in no Summer League for the one-and-done standout from Tennessee. After a Summer League that saw him average 20 points per game, Harris seems to have locked up the starting small forward position. Bucks fans should watch Harris’ game closely. He has excellent size and strength for his position and seems to have a nose for scoring the ball. His jump shot is improving, which will complement his ability to slash to the basket nicely.
Harris scored 11 points on 4 for 7 shooting on Tuesday in Cleveland. Look for him to build off of that but keep a close eye on his defensive performance. Scott Skiles doesn’t play players who can’t defend. Harris has said multiple times this camp that he is looking to improve his defensive skills and both he and Skiles said he is improving. At just 20 years old, Harris seems like he could be a legitimate player in this league. The Bucks might have gotten a steal at drafting Harris 19 overall. Keep up with his progression Saturday night.
4. The Ellis/Jennings backcourt
The Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis back court has to work. Both are relatively young, talented and have expressed to each other and the media that their egos won’t play a part in ball distribution and shot selection. So, why is it such a problem? Aside from the fact that Ellis is a shooting guard with point guard skills and Jennings is a point guard with shooting guard skills, they are both 6’3” and under. Forget offense, that’s going to make defense tough on the two guards.
Watch closely Saturday night, the chemistry both play with. Brandon Knight has proved difficult for Jennings to defend (three games over 20 points last season.) Ellis isn’t going to win any defensive player of the year awards, but he seems to understand the importance Skiles places on it in Milwaukee. The good news is that both players seem to be buying into one another and the team philosophy.
While their defensive fluidity will be important, offensive ball movement and shot selection will be important as well. Will the two be too worried about spreading the ball to each other? Watch closely to see if they take the open shot or over-pass. Both want this to work and that might be a problem in and of itself—the fear of being too selfish can result in overpassing when the player with the ball might have an open look.