ST. FRANCIS, Wis. — The number was everywhere at the Cousins Center on Tuesday. From the front door to the practice gym, signs reading 43 percent hovered over the Milwaukee Bucks on their first day of practice.
What does the number mean? Well, Bucks forward Caron Butler and center Zaza Pachulia tried to figure it out as soon as they arrived in the morning. Butler eventually had the right idea, as Bucks coach Larry Drew was trying to put the team’s defensive field-goal percentage goal in the minds of the players right away.
“I threw it out there and (Zaza) said, ‘No, it would be closer to 38 or 39,’ ” Butler said. “That’s a decent number and an obtainable number we can definitely achieve and reach.”
Last season, Milwaukee allowed opponents to shoot 45.4 percent from the field, which was 15th in the league. The only teams with a defensive field-goal percentage of 43 percent or lower last season were Indiana (42.0) and Oklahoma City (42.5).
Drew will have a number representing a different team goal hanging throughout the practice facility for each day of training camp.
“The minute I asked them if they knew what the number represented they all said it in unison,” Drew said. “It was a goal that we want to achieve defensively and how we want to defend and how good we want our defense to be.
“It’s a challenge. I’m not afraid to throw a challenge out there in front of them. I want our guys to have a target to shoot for. I don’t want them coming out not knowing what we want our goals to be on both ends of the floor. I think that’s a good target number. We are going to work our behinds off, and I think we can reach it.”
Milwaukee began its first day of training camp with a practice lasting four hours. The Bucks began their day in the weight room, then hit the classroom for a video session before taking the court. The second practice of the day gets under way later in the evening.
“Not a bad first practice,” Drew said. “I was very, very encouraged with some of the things I saw. We did quite a bit of teaching today … Guys were good. I thought they picked it up well. It was a very, very energized practice. I was happy to see that for the first day. I was very pleased with this morning’s practice.
Drew plans to continue to do work in the classroom before hitting the floor for most of training camp.
“I’m a big visual guy, just giving the players the visual first and then coming out here and walking through it and then going live through it,” Drew said. “We threw a lot at them today. They are very quick in picking a lot of that stuff up.
“I don’t want to throw things at them and they aren’t picking it up. I’ve got to be selective in that area. But if this morning’s practice is any indication, they will pick things up quick. We then would be really able to move forward in the things we want to try to get done.”
The Bucks wrapped up practice with sort of an around-the-world free-throw game. Players around the gym had to hit a free throw in order for the team to be done. If there was a miss, the entire team had to do a pushup.
Drew and the coaching staff joined in on the fun, but of those only assistant coaches Bob Bender and Scott Williams and advance scout Luke Steele were the ones to hit their free throw. To show unity with the players, the coaches all did pushups when they missed, as well.
“I loved the energy of the practice and guys just coming together and being on a string on defense,” Butler said. “I think communication is key and we did a great job on both ends of the floor of talking a lot and hearing voices. We need to keep that going for the rest of the season.”
Injury update: Pachulia was limited in practice Tuesday as he continues to recover right Achilles surgery. The reserve center participated in parts of practice, but was held out from contact.
Pachulia says his Achilles is doing well, but he’s suffering from bursitis relating to the procedure he had done April 3.
“I want to give credit to the training staff in Milwaukee, they’ve done an amazing job,” Pachulia said. “I couldn’t do any of these workouts when I came here at the beginning of September. They really took care of me. I feel better, way better. I’m close to a full practice, but we are trying to be smart. It’s all about being healthy and being 100 percent because I miss this game so much. I’ve never been out this long. I can’t wait to come back, but we need to be smart about it.”
Pachulia hopes to return in time to play in some of Milwaukee’s exhibition games, but he may need more time to recover in order to be ready for the regular-season opener.
“That’s the goal, but we’ll see,” Pachulia said. “We still have a whole month, and we need to use October to our advantage. The main focus is to be ready to go for the 30th of October. If it is going to be before that, great. If not, that’s the goal.”
Forward Carlos Delfino sat out as he awaits further test results on his right foot. He attended Tuesday’s practice in a walking boot and was on crutches.
Giannis debuts: The long learning process for Bucks rookie forward Giannis Antetokoumpo began Tuesday, as the 18-year-old experienced his first NBA practice.
Drew plans to have a coach shadow Antetokoumpo at all times, answering questions and offering further explanation.
“He did pretty well,” Drew said. “I can tell he was a little lost at times. We’re going to have to just spend extra time with him to help him along. Everything I explain, we’ll have somebody next to him just making sure he understand. It’s going to be a learning process for him, we understand that.”
Bucks assistant coach Jim Cleamons was right by Antetokoumpo’s side Tuesday, something the Greek forward appreciates.
“It’s helpful because this is a new language for me,” Antetokoumpo said. “Maybe sometimes I have to listen to things coach said for a second time. Sometimes I pick it up the first time. It’s good that I have a coach to explain for me.”
Antetokoumpo appeared to struggle a bit to keep up with teammates during sprints at the end of practice, but O.J. Mayo stepped up to help the rookie along, running with him to finish the drill.
“The first practice of training camp was nice,” Antetokoumpo said. “It was a little bit painful, but it is worth it.
“I expected that, but what can you do? It’s training camp. You have to do it to show you are better for the season.”