ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — Depth is something the Milwaukee Bucks feel they have quite a bit of this season, and it was on display during an intrasquad scrimmage Thursday afternoon at the Cousins Center.
The second unit comprised of Luke Ridnour, Gary Neal, Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson and Ekpe Udoh jumped out to an 18-point lead over the starting five and held on to win the scrimmage, 40-29.
“As a staff we’ve been talking about that since we’ve assembled,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said. “Looking at our second unit, we’ve got some really good pieces — veterans, guys who can make shots. The second unit really did a great job and got out to a great start in the scrimmage. They didn’t miss many shots.”
Practicing just once Thursday after two straight days of two practices per day, the Bucks wrapped up their three-hour practice by running the second unit against the starters with members of the third team mixed in as subs.
Neal and Ridnour came out shooting the ball well, building a big lead over the starting group made up of Brandon Knight, O.J. Mayo, Caron Butler, Ersan Ilysaova and Larry Sanders.
“We knew Gary was the guy to go to,” Henson said. “We ran him off screens and tried to get him the ball early. He knocked them down and the rest was history.
“I told Luke after practice ‘You can play, man.’ He runs the show like a vet like him should. That really got us going. It was a good day for us.”
The starters eventually chipped into the lead and played better, but Henson took over inside when the outside shooting of Neal and Ridnour begun to cool. Ridnour hit Henson inside on a couple of nice passes, and the second-year forward finished twice with his left hand.
“I think John is really starting to find his niche,” Drew said. “With his size and and his length, defensively he’s obviously really good around the basket. Offensively, he’ll know from within what we do where his scoring opportunities will come.”
Though it took some time for Milwaukee’s starting group to get going, Drew wasn’t alarmed and was happy they fought back at the end. Knight had a nice steal and finished on the other end with a dunk, while Butler and Mayo started knocking down open looks.
“I’m almost glad it happened just so they know they have to bring it every day against this second unit,” Drew said. “But it’s more important that we learn from this and not panic when we get in a situation where a team gets off to a good start and we are down. That’s no time to panic because there’s too much basketball to be played. The first unit was able to play really well after kind of that rough start.”
The performance of the reserves tied in perfectly with Drew’s training camp number of the day. Signs around the practice facility read “1-15” on Thursday, indicating the Bucks need all 15 players to buy in as one.
“When we step out on the floor we need to have a team effort,” Drew said. “It has to be one through 15. It won’t be one guy, won’t be two guys, won’t be three guys. Our mentality when we step out between those lines is to be a total team effort. That’s our mindset going into every game.”
Drew also went out of his way to praise the play of Udoh over the first three days of practice. With Zaza Pachulia only participating in non-contact portions of practice, Udoh seems to be taking advantage of his opportunity.
There will be a fight for minutes in the frontcourt with Henson, Pachulia, Udoh and Miroslav Raduljica battling for time behind Ilyasova and Sanders. Some figured Udoh would be the odd man out of the mix, but he’s making an early case against that notion.
“Ekpe has had a great three days,” Drew said. “He’s been really, really good. I’ve watched Ekpe and know what he’s capable of. When I first got to see him at Golden State I was very impressed.
“When I took the job I had a really good conversation with him about where I see him with this team. He’s done really well on both ends of the floor. Hopefully we can keep him healthy and keep him active.”
Injury update: Bucks forward Khris Middleton was again limited in practice Thursday due to a sprained ankle. He came down on the ankle wrong during Wednesday’s practice, but feels he could return as early as Friday.
“We just wanted to limit him today,” Drew said. “We had a lot of contact stuff that we did. We gave him another day of rest with the ankle, and we’ll see how he is tomorrow.”
Middleton feels it’s a minor sprain and won’t be something that lingers into the season, but he certainly wasn’t happy with the timing of the injury.
“Definitely it’s frustrating,” Middleton said. “It’s the first couple of days of training camp with a new team, new role. I just want to go out there and play but something like this forces you to sit out.”
Look ahead: The Bucks will return for their final day with two practices Friday before Saturday’s open practice at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
The team’s inaugural fan fest gets underway at 10 a.m. on Saturday with the open practice beginning at 2 p.m. The Bucks will practice Sunday and Monday before flying to Cleveland for Tuesday’s preseason opener.