As the Milwaukee Bucks returned home for the annual MACC Fund game, a loss to the Chicago Bulls couldn’t cover over a number of striking positives from the team’s performance.
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Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
A quick glance at the final score of Saturday’s preseason meeting between the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls at the Bradley Center may show a 21 point blowout win for the visitors, but it doesn’t come close to telling the story of what was really a successful tune-up game for the hosts.
Although the lopsided final outcome makes it a little harder to believe, the Bucks actually led the game by double figures for the majority of the 48 minutes, only succumbing to the Bulls in dramatic fashion in the final period after Jason Kidd had wrapped his star players up for safety.
The Bucks moved the ball well, were active defensively as they continued to look to trap and switch as they had done in previous outings of late, and perhaps most importantly of all, they got big performances from the men who are most central to their plans for the coming season.
Having finished last season with very well defined weaknesses, the evidence so far suggests that the Bucks are at least making progress towards improving upon their deficiencies. Even without Khris Middleton, they should be a more competitive team on a nightly basis in the coming season.
What were the highlights and most important takeaways from Saturday’s game with Chicago though? Let’s take a closer look.
It was clear from the moment that Milwaukee’s season finished prematurely last April that Jabari Parker was raring for a new season to begin, and if his preseason play is anything to go by, he’s well positioned to make a big impact.
Parker looks to be in the best shape of his life, and now even further removed from the ACL injury that disrupted his rookie season, his movement, ease and general awareness on the court seems better than ever.
Although defense is certainly an area where Parker will need to continue to improve, he’s shown a real hunger and intensity on that end of the floor in his team’s preseason games, particularly when it comes to amassing steals in the passing lane. Averaging 1.3 steals per game during Milwaukee’s four exhibition style games sets up extra opportunities for Parker to do what he does best, as he illustrated against the Bulls.
Also worth noting was the fact that play immediately followed up a made three-pointer from the Chicago native. The importance of Parker adding that shot has been a topic of frequent discussion, and with a 42.9 percent success rate on 1.8 attempts per game so far, at least the very early returns seem positive.
Always billed as an out and out scorer, Parker has the tools to breakout in a major way this season. Bucks fans will have no shortage of Jabari highlights over the coming months.
An emerging topic of conversation over recent weeks as the wider NBA continued to fully adjust to the idea of Giannis Antetokounmpo operating as Milwaukee’s primary ball-handler has been the adjustments that teams will make to nullify the Greek Freak’s strongest weapons and go-to moves.
In a league filled with players and coaches as smart as the NBA is blessed with, adjustments are an inevitability. At the present point, it’s too soon to deny that Giannis could be nullified by some of the league’s best teams and players, but perhaps what’s more important is that it doesn’t feel like it’s too soon to believe it will take the best of the best to have any chance of stopping him.
Against a depleted Bulls team that was missing the likes of Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo to name but a few, it was clear from the opening tip that Milwaukee’s 6’11” playmaker was going to be allowed to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted.
That feeling was perhaps punctuated best by a beautiful spin and dunk by Giannis that the Bulls were left powerless to defend.
It’s easy to say that teams will adjust to those kind of moves and cut off the space for Giannis to execute, but as he proved on Saturday night, his versatility means that successfully doing so will be incredibly difficult for most opponents he faces in the NBA.
The Bulls had another opportunity to stop the Bucks from scoring as Giannis found himself in a similar isolation set later in the game, but if Felicio rotated over to offer help anticipating Giannis was going to spin back to the rim for the second time, he was sorely mistaken as a no-look pass found the then unguarded Miles Plumlee.
It’s easy to say that teams will find an answer to the questions Giannis poses, but constructing the playbook for containing such a gifted, intelligent and physically unique athlete is a much more challenging proposition.
Will Kawhi Leonard be able to shut Giannis down behind a Gregg Popovich masterplan? Maybe. Will the average teams, coaches and players the Bucks face for the majority of the season be able to find an answer? Definitely not.
The consistency of the core pieces means there’s a familiar feel to the Bucks entering the new season, but in reality with an almost entirely different supporting cast, this is a completely different team.
Although using preseason as a microcosm for what could come in the season proper is a dangerous game to play, at the very least the early indications suggest that Milwaukee’s newbies have bedded into their new surroundings very quickly.
For many, Matthew Dellavedova represented an almost perfect theoretical fit for the Bucks at point guard prior to his signing, and so far it appears as if that can translate to the court when it matters. Dellavedova made a number of intelligent plays to help his teammates find open shots in their preferred spots on Saturday, most notably, Malcolm Brogdon from deep and Giannis right under the rim.
Although Brogdon has struggled with his shooting percentages, he’s shown sound decision-making that will likely make him a fixture in the rotation immediately. Thon Maker played limited minutes against Chicago, but his energy will allow him to play while he learns.
Among the more experienced new faces, Jason Terry, Mirza Teletovic and Michael Beasley are all doing mostly what was expected of them too. If that continues, the Bucks will be well-positioned to have a much more effective second unit than they did last year.
Away from in depth analysis of the action on the court on Saturday, it’d be remiss of us not to mention the outstanding work of the Bucks and the MACC Fund throughout the season following the team’s annual MACC Fund game.
Set up by Jon McGlocklin following his retirement, the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) has long been a staple of the community in Wisconsin, and as demonstrated by Saturday’s game marking the 40th annual game in support of the foundation, a frequent charitable partner of the Bucks.
Although the franchise’s work alongside McGlocklin and the MACC Fund extends throughout the season far beyond a single game, Saturday night’s matchup with the Bulls was significant as a portion of ticket funds from the game went to the foundation to help fund further research into childhood cancer.
Aside from any worthwhile takeaways on the court, it would be dishonest to suggest that there was anything more important to come from the game than the funds that could help those who have been cursed by one of our planet’s deadliest diseases. Let’s hope the Bucks and the MACC Fund continue their good work for the next 40 years and beyond too.