As expected, a Bucks team missing its starting center, point guard, and virtually its entire bench were manhandled by a hungry Miami Heat team seeking revenge for its four-game drubbing in last year’s playoffs.
The 1-1 record aside, it’s not all bad. As in the preseason games, where the defending champions absorbed a 1-4 win/loss record, it was the young Bucks that were given invaluable opportunities to shine. The results were a mixed bag.
Here are a few things we noticed.
Hill’s play for the Bucks is decent at best, for now
After a season where veteran point guard George Hill led not just the team but the entire league with his 46.0 percent shooting clip from distance, Bucks fans rejoiced when news broke that the former Buck was on his way back to Wisconsin.
It made sense at the time; Hill was always a steadying presence for the team both on the court and in the locker room. As the ball-handler off the bench for Eric Bledsoe, Hill was always reliable in his role, whether that was initiating the offense, spotting up from three, or running the pick-and-roll. These aspects of his game were still there — to a certain degree.
It’s tough to evaluate Hill’s value based on his performance against a player like Kyle Lowry. After all, he only took starting duties after Jrue Holiday when down with injury against Brooklyn. But it is what it is; his performance on both ends was a far cry from the production he once brought to the league. After a season with Philadelphia and Oklahoma, Hill is looking a step slow, and it’s clear father time is catching up to him.
He finished with just eight points, two rebounds, and two assists in 21 minutes of action. All things considered, it was a pretty standard game for him; he went 3/7 on field goals and made two of his four attempts from deep.
At age 35, it’s unclear whether Hill can eke out the performances he once did, and his play off the bench will be a storyline to watch moving forward. He is still a solid point guard off the bench all around, and certainly an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Teague and DJ Augustin, but you have to wonder if we can get more out of him.
Nwora as the Bucks’ main scorer off the bench
After a season of riding the bench and playing limited minutes, it’s exciting to see if Jordan Nwora has finally worked his way out of the rookie trenches. Though he displayed promise earlier on in the season, it looks like he finally hit his first bump in the road today.
All night long, the smooth shooting swingman struggled against the physicality of players like Jimmy Butler and PJ Tucker. Dating back to the preseason scrimmages, the sophomore forward has been steadily building up momentum as of late in his development as an offensive player. But never have we seen him cut his teeth against elite ball-stoppers like Butler, who can seemingly bother any shot with their intensity on defense.
At one point in the match, Nwora was the only consistent scorer on the floor with Antetokounmpo and Middleton on the bench. But his lack of athleticism (and that is to say, consistent slashing ability) ultimately caught up to him in this game. He finished with a decent 11 points, five rebounds, and two assists, but a player of his caliber shouldn’t be putting up 3-of-12 from the field just to make that stat line.
If Nwora is to play significant rotational minutes as one of the team’s primary bench scorers, he’ll have to find ways to put up points no matter the circumstances. Against Miami, his dependence on his jump shot showed. This writer will be on the lookout for how Nwora bounces back in the team’s next game.
Giannis as a perimeter defender for the Bucks
With no Brook Lopez to start the game, head coach Mike Budenholzer elected to field a starting lineup of Antetokounmpo and five guards. As the sole big on the floor, his defense just wasn’t the sharpest tonight. Per NBA.com/stats, Bam Adebayo shot 6/8 (75.0%) with Giannis as the closest defender after making a number of mid-range shots in the post and catching the former Defensive Player of the Year with his hands down.
It’s not so much a problem of motor or ability — we know the DPOY has limitless amounts of both on that end — as it is experience and fundamentals. He’s always had competent defenders to take on perimeter defense, but without PJ Tucker and Wesley Matthews to hold down the paint’s borders, it remains to be seen what Budenholzer’s plan is in this regard.
There were signs for optimism before this game, though. Against Brooklyn, both James Harden and Kevin Durant shot just 1/3 (33.3 percent) against Antetokounmpo, who also swatted one of Durant’s shots. Giannis may need to grow into an elite perimeter — and fast — if the Bucks are looking to offset the loss of PJ Tucker before the postseason. Their championship hopes may hinge on that one factor.
Could this finally be the season we see Antetokounmpo finally take on a more active role on perimeter defense? Or will the Bucks lean on the likes of Semi Ojeleye and Pat Connaughton later on in the playoffs?
All things considered, the loss wasn’t that bad. It’s pointless to overreact to a loss this early in the season, especially for a championship team that was missing starters. At the very least, the lingering questions for the Milwaukee Bucks were made clear in this loss. What matters now is how they respond to it moving forward.