Preview: Bucks vs. Knicks
The Milwaukee Bucks would like to build on last season’s playoff appearance in the early going of 2015-16, but they won’t have their talented 20-year-old forwards for the opener.
The New York Knicks hope the arrival of their own 20-year-old can spark a turnaround.
Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo will be out for Jason Kidd’s Bucks on Wednesday night when Kristaps Porzingis makes his Knicks debut.
Milwaukee was 13-12 last season when Parker, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft, went down with a torn ACL in his left knee. Parker, who was averaging 12.3 points and 5.5 rebounds, still does not have a timetable for his 2015-16 debut.
"He’s going to come back and change the dynamic (once he returns)," forward John Henson said.
The Bucks (41-41) managed to hold their own without Parker, reaching the playoffs in Kidd’s first season thanks in part to the emergence of Khris Middleton and Antetokounmpo, along with the acquisition of 2013-14 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams.
Middleton, re-signed to a five-year, $70 million deal in the offseason, averaged a career-high 13.4 points in 79 regular-season games before putting up 15.8 in a six-game first-round loss to Chicago. He’s scored 16.5 while hitting 12 of 19 from 3-point range in four home meetings with New York.
The 6-foot-7 guard may have to step up with Antetokounmpo, who averaged career highs of 12.7 points and 6.7 rebounds last season, suspended for the opener after running over the Bulls’ Mike Dunleavy in Game 6 of the playoff series.
After ranking 19th in the NBA with a minus-0.8 rebounding margin, the Bucks added some muscle up front by bringing in Greg Monroe via free agency from Detroit. Monroe, who turned down an offer from the Knicks, averaged 15.9 points and 10.2 rebounds last season.
"They got a great big guy to add to what’s a really solid young perimeter core," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Things look like they are on the way up (in Milwaukee)."
Things aren’t as cheery for New York (15-67), which plummeted to the worst record in franchise history just two years after winning the Atlantic Division title and a playoff series.
Team President Phil Jackson made pitches to free agents LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre Jordan and Monroe in an effort to turn things around quickly. He had to settle for Robin Lopez, Arron Afflalo, Derrick Williams, Kyle O’Quinn, Kevin Seraphin and Sasha Vujacic.
Afflalo was projected to start in the backcourt after averaging 13.3 points with Denver and Portland. However, he could be out for up to two weeks because of a strained left hamstring.
Jackson and coach Derek Fisher still have Carmelo Anthony, whose 29.6 scoring average in 16 career games at the Bradley Center is his highest at any venue. The star forward insists he’s finally healthy after being limited to a career-low 40 games before undergoing left knee surgery.
"If rebuilding for us is based on the fact that we don’t have a certain caliber of player on our roster, quote-unquote, other than Carmelo, so people assume that we’re rebuilding," Fisher said. "But was Atlanta rebuilding last year when they didn’t have that quote-unquote player on their roster?"
Porzingis might be one of those players if he can live up to the potential that made him the No. 4 pick in the draft. The 7-foot-3 Latvian, who has range well beyond the 3-point line, is expected to start at forward after overcoming a mild quad strain during a promising preseason.
The Knicks dropped all four meetings in last year’s season series.