ASHWAUBENON – Leading into new Milwaukee Bucks’ preseason opener at the Resch Center on Wednesday night, new head coach Jason Kidd said one thing he and his coaching staff would not be evaluating was the final score. He also didn’t want anyone to read too much into his starting lineup – or any lineup at all, really.
The game about combinations, who would fit together, who might not – and about his young team putting the principles of a new offense and defense together for the first time against an opponent.
True to his word, Kidd ran out (at least) 14 different personnel groups in a 86-83 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, and each performed with various degrees of success on both ends of the floor.
"I came up short," he quipped. "I wanted more combinations. I was telling the coaching staff and the players, it was a lot of things we can learn when we watch the tape, especially down the end, how to end games, up three, not fouling, protect the 3-point line and getting the rebounds, and then also be able to share the ball, trust."
There was no truly extraordinary, or experimental, grouping, aside from a brief moment in the second quarter when Larry Sanders, Giannis Antetokounmpo and John Henson were together. But, Sanders wasn’t in long enough to say that trio got a true look.
One surprise, however, was that veteran shooting guard O.J. Mayo did not play, though he did warm up and was dressed. Kidd said this was due to the fact he wanted to only play 12 players – to make his "matrix" of combinations a little easier to manage.
Expect Mayo to play Thursday in Detroit, while another (likely) veteran sits.
Rookie Jabari Parker got off to a rough start going head-to-head with Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph, as he had his first shot blocked, turned it over, missed a step back jumper, and then lofted up an air ball. He settled down however, taking advantage of his quickness over the Grizzlies' wings to get into the paint with ease.
The No. 2 overall pick settled in late, however, with several impressive finishes through traffic at the rim, including a nifty ball fake that led to a reverse dunk when he got caught underneath the hoop.
"I wasn't really nervous, I was a little bit more anxious. I had a lot of high energy," said Parker, who went 6 of 15 from the field to score 14 points. "But in the fourth quarter I settled down, let the fourth quarter come to me and I was able to get a lot of easy points."
Sanders played significant minutes in his first game action since Feb. 8 when he suffered a fracture to his orbital bone, and his first full game since Feb. 5. The center played 25 minutes, 20 seconds and scored 10 points while pulling down 15 rebounds.
"It felt good, it felt good," he said. "We had a good training camp, I felt like I was able to kind of knock some of the rust off at the end, get my legs underneath me and I was so excited to play with these guys."
It was also his first action against opponents wearing protective goggles.
"Still a little adjustment, but it felt good," he said. "They don't fog up, it's just the sweat kind of drips into 'em sometimes. Have to drain 'em out."
Second-year player Antetokounmpo, a crowd favorite, saw 28 minutes of action and alternately brought the ball up the court, defended Grizzlies’ off guards – and found himself in the final grouping in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory.
I was looking for ball movement on offense and a defensive presence in this first game, and certain combinations did these things better than others. The offense finally got going in the first quarter when the grouping of Kendall Marshall, Zaza Pachulia, Jerryd Bayless, Henson and Antetokounmpo were together.
"He's got to consider a lot of things here – I don't know where to start," Pachulia said. "We put certain offensive sets in that have a lot of options, so first of all we're working on it, trying to execute all the options from that particular set. Also, we had a couple other sets. Main stuff. It's all NBA, every other team is running those things, but the good thing about coach Kidd is he's putting us in the position where we're going to have a lot of options, from it. That way opposing team's doesn't really know what to expect."
Defensively, no one stood out particularly – though the decisions to see if Parker could hold his own on Randolph and Tayshaun Prince and Antetokounmpo on smaller back court players like Tony Allen and Courtney was interesting. There’s no better time for the coaching staff to find out who exactly these guys can defend – or take advantage of on the other end – than in these preseason games.
Kidd also mixed and matched his bevy of point guards, playing Brandon Knight, Marshall, Nate Wolters and Bayless in different pairs, each taking turns on – and off – the ball.
The Bucks don’t have much time to digest this one, though – they’re off to Detroit for their second preseason game Thursday night.
"There was a lot of good stuff but there's still, we've got a long ways to go," Kidd said.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.