Andrew Gruman’s Oct. 14 Bucks mailbag

Giannis Antetokounmpo is 6-foot-11 but the Bucks have been playing him at point guard during the preseason as the team tries to figure out positions, roles and rotations.

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Three games into the preseason, numerous questions surround the Milwaukee Bucks as they enter a new era. 

In our first-ever Bucks mailbag, fans inquired about the balance of young players and veterans on the roster, how Larry Sanders will bounce back from a rough season, expectations for Giannis Antetokounmpo in year two, the team’s shooting woes from a year ago and potential lineup combinations.

Question: It seems as if the Bucks have too many veterans who will demand time to justify contracts at certain positions (G and PF/C). If there is truly going to be a "new era," how do players especially like Pachulia, Ilyasova, Bayless and Dudley fit into a team and be happy with youngsters like Giannis, Parker, Knight, Marshall, Middleton, Henson and Wolters who should be getting the majority of the playing time (not to mention the ability to get looks at O’Bryant and Inglis)? — Matt, Dousman

Answer: First and foremost, you have to fill out a 15-man roster. Teams are usually trying to round out their roster by adding somewhat-veteran players on reasonable contracts, especially when those players are good in the locker room. The Bucks have the youngest roster in the NBA with an average age of 23.7. Look at how the players you named were acquired or given the contract they are currently on. Ersan Ilyasova, Zaza Pachulia and O.J. Mayo were signed when the directive John Hammond had from ownership was to compete for a playoff spot at all costs. The mindset of the organization has changed under new ownership, but teams still need veteran players to help the young players develop both on and off the court. The key is finding the veterans willing to accept a leadership role despite a lesser role than they are accustomed to. Jared Dudley seems to get that. He was acquired in a deal that rid the Bucks of Carlos Delfino’s contract and gained them a future first-round pick in the process. Taking on Dudley was why Milwaukee received a future asset. 

Pachulia is an excellent locker room presence and will be nothing more than a backup center. It is highly unlikely Larry Sanders and John Henson will be healthy for all 82 games. Jerryd Bayless was signed to an incredibly reasonable deal — and he’s just 26 years old himself. The Bucks needed another player who can play shooting guard, especially with the contributions of Mayo unknown.

Look, every Bucks fan wants to see the young players play, and they almost certainly will. From the new owners down to Jason Kidd, all signs point to the kids getting the majority of the minutes. Ilyasova and Dudley may generate interest on the trade market come the deadline if both show they’ve bounced back from what was a tough year for them last season.

Q: What should I expect more? Larry Sanders returns to past glory as a defensive stopper and adequate scorer around the rim? Or the continued development of John Henson to reach his potential? I believe the team’s ability to become competitive depends on one of these two happening. Thanks — Mike, Lake Geneva

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A: That’s a great question, Mike. I can see both happening, but I’ll give the slight edge to Sanders returning to form. He’s had a good training camp and has played well in the preseason — averaging 10.7 points and 10.0 rebounds in three games. Jason Kidd has repeatedly said Sanders is Milwaukee’s "quarterback on defense" and has said he’s looked like the defensive player of the year candidate he was two years ago thus far in practice.

I gave Larry Sanders an F after last season because he deserved it. He hurt his team and himself by his involvement in the nightclub incident after the home opener. An elbow from James Harden fractured his orbital bone that knocked him out for the season in February was out of his control, but Sanders’ five-game suspension for use of marijuana was a fitting end to a terrible year. He seems to be in a good place now and says he rarely goes out, surrounding himself with the right people if he does. He says he’s learned from his past mistakes and will be better for it. We’ll see.

The unknowns around Sanders are how he deals with his issues off the court and his emotions when he’s on the court. Milwaukee’s front office has to be pleased with what Sanders has shown this preseason.

I don’t want to count out Henson from realizing his potential though. To me, Henson himself controls whether that happens or not. He is very talented, but sometimes the dedication wasn’t there. Maybe that changes this season.

Q: Wouldn’t the most logical starting lineup be Marshall, Knight, Giannis, Jabari, and Sanders? Marshall was second in assists per 36 minutes and assist percentage last year to Chris Paul. He’s a very good point guard. Knight would be able to slide over to his more natural position, the two. — Eric, New Jersey

A: Try telling that to Brandon Knight. He has made it clear to the media that he wants to play point guard. That doesn’t mean he isn’t going to see minutes at shooting guard though.

I feel the biggest unknown with the Bucks right now is how the backcourt is going to look come the regular season. Jason Kidd is using the preseason to evaluate different combinations, so it is hard to get a feel for what he is thinking, especially with practices closed to the media. Kendall Marshall was a good and low-risk pickup for the Bucks, but I don’t think you can say he’s a "very good" point guard right now. He made the most of an opportunity with the Lakers last season but was still inconsistent. It is hard to ignore that he was out of the NBA at this time last season. Still, the Bucks need to find out what they have in Marshall. He may just be the point guard they are looking for.

Kidd is trying Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo in the backcourt currently, so I think it is too early to know what the starting lineup is going to be. There’s logic behind the one you threw out there, but I’m not sure Knight will be at shooting guard come the opener.

Q: It has only been a couple of games but looks like the Bucks didn’t solve their shooting woes in the offseason. Who on the team do you think needs to )or will) step up and make a high % of shots? — Brutus, Milwaukee

A: I think it is difficult to read into statistical trends during the preseason, especially with the way the Bucks are handling their rotations during the exhibition slate.

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That said, the Bucks were a below average shooting team last season. Khris Middleton should continue to shoot well, as he’s probably the best pure shooter on the team. Just about everyone else needs to improve. Ersan Ilyasova tops that list. He went from one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA to hitting just 28.2 percent of his 3-point attempts last season. The ankle injury likely contributed to that, but he must bounce back because he’s one of the few proven outside threats on the roster.

Jared Dudley is going to have to shoot the ball well in order to play. He was a lethal outside shooter during his days in Phoenix and could help stretch the floor. O.J. Mayo is another player who must step up and shoot better. The Bucks have more shooters on the roster this season than they did a year ago, but that doesn’t always mean a better field-goal percentage.

Q: Any roster movements going to happen before the regular season? — Austin, Milwaukee

A: Doubtful. Chris Wright’s decision to leave the Bucks and sign overseas really eliminated any roster decisions the front office had. Training camp additions Elijah Millsap and Michael Eric will almost certainly be the two waived by the start of the regular season to get Milwaukee down to the required 15-man roster.

As far as trades are concerned, I’m not anticipating anything at this point although the Bucks have a logjam at multiple positions. Ersan Ilyasova is constantly on the trade block, but I feel teams want to see him on the court again after a rough year last season. The same can be said for Jared Dudley.

Q: How much do you think Giannis will play the point this season? What are your expectations number-wise for him in his second year? — Eric, Sheboygan

A: Good question. My personal belief is that Giannis will play point guard more than people are anticipating. I could be wrong, but the Bucks have to give it a try, right?

We’ll get a better read on if it is a realistic possibility during the regular season in the coming weeks, starting with Antetokounmpo getting the start at point guard Tuesday in Cleveland. The sample size is just too small right now to say one way or the other.

As far as expectations, I expect Antetokounmpo to make a significant jump in his second year. That isn’t just in terms of statistics, where an improvement will come with time. I’m talking more about his knowledge of the game, confidence while on the court and understanding what he has to do offensively and defensively. Those things don’t show up in a box score. Remember, he’s not a pure scorer like Jabari Parker. Antetokounmpo can do a lot to impact a game. 

Q: How many minutes do you see Henson getting this season, and at what position? I’d love to see him get over 30 a game all season. — Josh, Madison

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A: Jason Kidd was asked about Henson’s role the other day. His response was that Henson is going to play "a lot of minutes." He went on to say that nobody is going to play close to 38 minutes per game because of the depth on the roster.

The frontcourt is crowded. Henson will have more minutes available to him if Jabari Parker plays at the three and Giannis Antetokounmpo plays in the backcourt or at small forward. Ersan Ilyasova is going to play at power forward, while Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia will see minutes at center. Henson gained 16 pounds this offseason and should be more prepared to play some at center. Because of how many players there are competing for time, I’m not sure Henson will play 30 minutes per game unless he is playing really well. And that certainly could happen.

Q: Do you see any friction between Jason Kidd and David Morway/John Hammond? If not, could you see this being a problem down the road? — Peter, Madison

A: From what I’ve observed, there has been no issue between Kidd and the front office. It is way too early to judge the hire of Jason Kidd, but so far, so good. I don’t think the Bucks have to worry about friction between the coach and the front office until there are signs of trouble. There aren’t any yet and there shouldn’t be just three preseason games in.

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