Thursday, October 27, 2016

It's Early and I'm Tired

To give up on a Bucks season after one game would be rash.

We've seen turnarounds before.  The 2010 Bucks -- the team of Brandon Jennings' rookie year -- looked woeful on offense and overmatched down low when they lost their first game in Philly.  That was the Fear the Deer team, and the city was inspired by Playoff time.

It's just that they looked so bad, and in all the ways I worried they might.  They have a star, but not a top star.  They have athletes, but not athletes who look smooth.  They have vets, but the vets aren't their best players.  They have size, but their Bigs aren't tough.  And they don't play as a team.

Beyond the fake sellout (there were thousands of empty seats), the boo birds (I was one of them) and the antagonism towards their own fans (at one point Novak, in full Cubs Fans At Miller Park mode, defiantly stood an clapped for Plumlee as the crowd booed him), that was the worst part: the teamwork.  It felt like the Hornets loved playing with each other.  They looked the part of Contender. The Bucks looked like they just wanted to justify their place on the court.

I could run down a list of puzzling personnel moves made by this regime, or perplexing philosophies that appear to have been instilled by the coaches, or players who lost their spark the moment they got paid.  But what's the point?  It's 5:45 a.m. on a Wednesday.  I'm awake because I wanted to watch the Bucks game when there was work to be done.  I'm tired of giving this franchise attention that it doesn't deserve.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Dreams of Jabari

The Bucks won their annual (maybe?) Madison pre-season game on Saturday.  They beat the Dallas Mavericks 88-74.

It's always nice to beat a Playoff team, even if it is pre-season.  Pre-season is not the time to mention that the opposing team was without their All-Star, or that the opposing team missed a metric ton of open jump shots.  No, pre-season is a time for optimism, and a decisive victory for a likely 2017 West Playoff team is something good.

Reaction from online Bucks fans focused on the play of Jabari Parker, and for good reason.  He led all scorers with twenty-one points, he shot an "efficient" (GOSH, do I hate that word) nine-for-fourteen and he even grabbed six rebounds.  (His plus/minus was plus-sixteen; tops amongst either team, for those looking for stats even more worthless than typical NBA stats.)

It was impossible not to notice Jabari while watching the game.  He was active, he was athletic and he was finishing.  It was great to see teammates reward him for his activity.  Six of Jabari's nine baskets came off assists.

Just as noticeable, at least for those of us accustomed to watching young players develop, was Jabari's coordination.  Or, more precisely, his lack of coordination.  This is not a smooth dude.  He's an incredible athlete in terms of explosiveness, but when it comes to touch and feel, he's no Chris Paul.  He may not even have the motor skills of Ron Paul.  He's just a naturally herky-jerky guy.  It happens.

Bucks fans who dreamt of Jabari turning into the next Paul Pierce or Carmelo aught to treat those ideas like a Larry Sanders practicing a hook shot: think about it occasionally, toss it up just in case it hits, pout for a while after it doesn't and get over it using your preferred stash of drugs and alcohol.

None of this is to say that Jabari is a waste.  He can undoubtedly contribute.  But for him to contribute the same thing's going to have to happen that happens with every valuable NBA player: he's going to have to be used right.

For Jabouncy (new nickname; we'll see if it sticks), being used right means being used like another athletic phenom with suspect motor skills: Blake Griffin.

When Blake debuted during the 2011 season, he took the League by storm.  He was just flying all over the place; dunking on people seemingly at will.  Clippers games turned into an event.

(In fact, I trace my own ticket-buying addiction not to the decision to sign up for Bucks season tickets in 2009, but to my decision to plunk down some cash for a late season five-pack of Clippers tickets the next season.  It morphed me from a guy who just attends sporting events to root for his team to a guy willing to buy a ticket to be a part of a hot crowd.)

Jabouncy may not quite be the athlete Blake is.  Few are.  He may be close enough.  Blake was measured to be six feet, ten inches tall, with a thirty-five and a half inch vertical leap.  Jabari is an inch shorter and his vertical leap has never been independently measured, but the way he propels off the floor certainly makes it look like he could approach Blake's number.

2017 is Jabouncy's age twenty-one season, which happens to be the same age Blake was as a rookie.  Blake's results: twenty-two points and twelve rebounds (!) per game, while shooting over fifty percent and getting to the line eight times per game.

Can Jabouncy do twenty-two and twelve?  Oh goodness.  The Bucks will be a handful this season if he does.

The key -- as Bucks Forest sees it, at least -- is for both Coach Kidd and Jabouncy to embrace who he is.  A little work on the jump shot or the post moves is fine; surely Blake Griffin worked on both of those things when he was Jabouncy's age.  The more important thing is for Jabouncy to play like an animal.  He has to be bowling people over and punishing opponents on the glass.

Jabari is an ambitious fellow -- he clearly thinks that he'll end up being one of the greats -- but ambition without discipline just makes you a dreamer.  The NBA is not a kind place to dreamers.  Hopefully Jabari and Coach Kidd do the right work and leave the dreaming to Bucks fans.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The NBA Sucks This Year or: Bucks Forest's 2017 League Pass Rankings

As the patina of Wisconsin begins to turn a lovely reddish-brown, so too does Zach Lowe of ESPN release his 2017 NBA League Pass rankings.  It's an autumn tradition on par with warm apple pie and my trying to fit into the Flipper Anderson replica jersey that my grandma bought me in 1989.

Also an annual tradition is me rolling my eyes and shouting ineffectually into cyberspace about the order of Zach Lowe's rankings.  But it's a new season, I'm trying to grow and it's just tacky to pick apart the words of those with larger followings than you.

So, instead of rambling on about his annoying affection for the Celtics uniforms or his indefensible aggrandizement of Anthony "Heir to 'Out of Service' Pervis" Davis, I'll take the high road.  I'll simply post a list of teams that Bucks fans might want to watch on NBA League Pass, or some other legitimate, super-legal streaming service for out-of-market NBA games.

1. Milwaukee Bucks


But there is a reason why I want to mention Bucks fans watching the Bucks.  The NBA has become a provincial League in many ways.  Like with baseball, fans like to watch their own team play.  Unlike with football, NBA fans are becoming less and less interested in games that don't involve their team (unless the team on TV features Steph Curry).

Which brings us to number two:

2. Golden State Warriors

Another "Duh".

The Dubs are an absolute lead pipe cinch to win the Title.  They are the greatest basketball team ever assembled; better than the 1992 Dream Team.  They would have pants'd the Dream Team.  Space Jam may never have happened if Steph & Company were born in 1966.

This may sound like trolling or exaggeration or whatever, but it's 100% Shoot, brother (that's a pro wrestling term).  They are too talented, too smart and they enjoy playing with each other (*ahem*) too much.

I know I said I wouldn't talk about Mr. Lowe because he writes to a bigger audience than I do and it's taken when small aud writers attack big aud writers and all of that, but I have to.  He compared the Cavs -- the 'Luckiest NBA Champion in NBA History, Possibly' Cavs --  to this Warriors team.

Now, I realize that the Cavs were the recipients of an NBA Title in which they "beat" the Dubs in the Finals last season.  And I realize that LeBron James is a media infatuation non-pareil.  But come on.  They play a bunch of iso-ball, they clutch and grab instead of playing defense and they don't even seem like they're having fun together.  They suck.  I'd be fine never watching them again.  Bucks fans can feel free to ignore them.

3. Minnesota Timberwolves



Man, I love KATs (Karl-Anthony Towns).  The guy has a great nickname, he seems like a cool dude and he is a freaking freak of nature on the basketball court.

Oh, my gosh you should watch more KATs.  He is so slick on O, so savvy on D (like, Larry Sanders 2012-13 savvy) and he has taken the worst trend in nicknames (the lazy, "let's just use this guy's initials" nicknames) and turned it COOL.

KATs.  It just so cool.

There's also Rudio, who's nice.  And Thibs, who's a maniac.  And a bunch of overrated young bums, many of whom played college basketball for the scandal-ridden program called the UCLA Bruins.

But tune in for KATs.  He's a baller and he'll be around for a long time.

4. Brooklyn Nets

Ah hah!  The reason that I felt compelled to respond to Mr. Lowe.

He had the Nets 30th.  Last!!  How dare he.

The 2017 Brooklyn Nets are the NBA's sleeper team.  Kenny Atkinson will win Coach of the Year (because media members give coach of the year to the coach of the team that media members were most wrong about at the start of the season), Brook Lopez or Jeremy Lin will win Most Improved (because media members give most improves to the player that media members were more wrong about at the start of the season) and Sean Marks will win Executive of the Year (because media members blahblahblah you get the point).  This team is actually good.  And they'll play an attractive style.

But, still: Why the Nets?  Other teams are good.  Other teams play an attractive style.  Why should Bucks fans watch the Nets when there are 26 over teams (including the bum Cavs) available on NBA League Pass?

One: The Nets will compete for a Playoff spot.

The Bucks are also competing for a Playoff spot, so that's makes the Nets a natural rival.  Cross off the Western Conference from your League Pass list, because none of those teams compete with the Bucks for a Playoff spot.

Two: The Nets don't have any overrated, has-been "stars".

Overrated, has-been stars are only fun when they play for your team.  I absolutely LOVED watching Robin Yount pursue 3,000 hits.  It was fantastic.  However, I have a hard time believing that, say, a Twins fan enjoyed watching "The Kid" plink and plunk opposite field singles over the second baseman's head.  Those types of guys are ANNOYING.

D-Wade, you're out.  Carmelo, you're out.  LeBron (even though you amazingly made up for your slightly diminished athletic ability by becoming a superlatively accurate passer last year), you're out.  Even guys like Paul George, who stretch the definition of "star", are not particularly fun to watch.

Three: The Nets have my favorite announce team.

Ever wonder what happened to "The Czar of the Telestrator" Mike Fratello?  He's alive and well on Nets broadcasts!  And he's paired with Ian Eagle, who is arguably my favorite play-by-play man in any sport today.  (Why would a personal preference like "my favorite" require the adverb "arguably"?  I don't know.  It reminds me of Ric Flair's WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony, which was INARGUABLY one of my favorite live events I've ever been to.)

Hell is sitting through a telecast captained by Boston's broadcast team.  Or Orlando's.  Or Philly's or DC's or Detroit's.  The NBA season is long and monotonous, and by the end you're glad it's over.  Same with those teams' (and others') local broadcasts.

Being the fair and forthcoming broadcast journalist that I am, I will give special notice to the broadcast teams of the Raptors, Knicks and Bugs.  They are all quite good.

5. Houston Rockets

I could give a crap about the team.  They'll probably be better without Dwight.  D'Antoni is probably the perfect coach for Harden.  Capela is probably the most underrated center in the League.

But this is all about their hilariously bad broadcast team of Bill Worrell, Matt Bullard and Clyde Drexler.

Bill Worrell is a classic local sports homer.  He gets frustrated with bad play and he thinks refs are unfair to the local star, James Harden (of all people).  He's excited when the team wins and he usually takes a glass-half-full approach.

The comedy comes from Clyde and Bullard.  Bullard takes his job seriously.  He does his research and it feels like he would like to get a shot at national broadcasts some day.  Clyde, on the other hand, is all about having fun.  He's an all time great Houston basketball player (three Final Four appearances [yes, THREE] for the Houston Cougars and an NBA Championship with the Houston Rockets) and he comes off as a jovial, good natured guy.  He clearly has no intention whatsoever of improving as a broadcaster, however.  And the dynamic of the ambitious former journeyman looking to make a name for himself and the satiated local legend often leads to the type of unintentional comedy rarely seen from modern sports broadcasting.

Sadly, last season may have been the peak for unintentional Rockets broadcast comedy.  The season was a massive disappointment, the coach was fired early, the interim coach was in over his head and the team had obvious, major chemistry issues.  It was as beautiful for lovers of unintentional NBA broadcast comedy as this season's Warriors team will be for lovers of blowout victories.  This season the Rockets aught to be good, and if that happens the team's NBA League Pass ranking will plummet.

6. Nobody

Who else is worth watching?  They all do the same crap: lots of PnR and three chuckin'.  None of them have interesting stars.  Westbrook's a ball hog.  Kawhi is great on D, which is only fun during the Playoffs, Kristaps plays outside too much. Chris Paul is an annoying ass and Blake lost his smile. Dirk?  Old.  Lillard?  I'm sick of PnR.  Boogie?  I like him but the Kings are probably bad again.  DeRozan & Lowry?  I like DeRozan because he's a Trojan, I guess.

It's a bad League this season.  We know who the Champion's going to be, most of the other teams aren't all that interesting, and the Young Prime generation of stars (John Wall, Anthony Davis, Kyrie, Drummond) all are personality-free AAU types.  They can do their own thing, but none of them play a good team game.

So, enjoy the Bucks and their underdog Playoff run (hopefully), enjoy the Warriors ruthless march to the Championship (unfortunately) and enjoy watching re-runs of The Larry Sanders Show on HBOGo.  It'll be a whole heck of a lot better than this NBA season.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Everything's Going According to Plan

NBA exhibition games are hardly a reliable barometer of success, but some information can be gleaned from them.

This blog occasionally harkens back to the 2009 Bucks' first exhibition game as an example of what can and can't be culled from October.

The Bucks were dominated in that game by the T-Wolves, with Al Jefferson and Kevin Love appearing to be an indomitable force in the paint.  What's more, the Bucks' 2009-10 regular season schedule began with three games against 2009 Playoff teams, followed by a game in Minnesota.  Given that the Bucks were predicted to be one of the worst teams in the League, the odds of the Bucks getting off to a good start appeared grim.

Long time Bucks fans know how that story played out: Kevin Love broke his hand "doing knuckle push-ups" (many people, incredibly, still believe that Love's broken hand wasn't the result of a fist fight) before the season began, the Bucks made the Playoffs as the underdog "Fear the Deer" crew and the T-Wolves finished with the worst record in the League.  So much for preseason results.

Except the T-Wolves' decimation of the 2009-10 Bucks' front line in October did end up being prescient.  The Bucks went a combined 1-7 against the three 2009-10 teams with bullying front lines (Orlando, Boston and the Lakers).  Then in the Playoffs, Atlanta out-rebounded them badly in games 6 and 7 to advance past the first round.

The Bucks' 93-91 victory over the Chicago Bulls last night means little, as does the starter-on-starter dominance exhibited by the Bulls in the opening minutes.  (The Bulls jumped out to a 14-3 lead before Coach Kidd began substituting.)  Regular season games will feature lineups and adjustments that were not present last night.

Some things, on the other hand, do mean something.  Giannis's inability to run a smooth half-court offense was obvious, as was the team's improvement when Carter-Williams initiated things.  Jabari's limited offensive game was as glaring as Monroe's Marc Gasol-style earthbound defensive anchoring.  Plumlee's inability to be anything more than an end-of-the-bench "warm body" Big man was clear, as was Teletovic's ability to hit jump shots.  And Rashad Vaughn continued to look like a guy who is not long for this League, while at the same time Dellavedova's game felt like the type that will keep him employed into his 30's.  These are all things that follow recent history, and there is little reason to believe that any of them will change dramatically in 2016-17.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

I Like(d) My Saturdays

The Bucks schedule was released today, and if nothing else it reinforced the notion that the Herb Kohl era is over.

The Herb Kohl era was reviled by online Bucks fans, but season ticket holders (including the editor of this blog) had it pretty good. The perks were the best in big time sports with huge arena concession credits and an eager customer service corps setting the franchise apart. The on court product was often less than stellar, but that had the happy side effect of keeping ticket prices down.

Lasry & company seem to have other idea. The arena concession perk was cancelled after last season (in fairness, Bucks merchandise coupons were offered in its place) and season tickets have been bumped up 20% or more despite a conspicuous lack of on-court success. (Unless "triple-double in a losing effort" is the new measure of success.)

The Herb Kohl era was notable for a few things, schedule wise, most notably an affection for Saturday home games. Thirteen were scheduled in Kohl's final year of ownership, with previous seasons always notching double digits.

#BucksForest loves Saturday home games. A Saturday morning flight to MKE, followed by an evening Bucks game and Sunday brunch with family made for a great weekend. Throw in the occasional Monday home game and it became even better. The moment that produced this blog's favorite sports photograph of all time happened during the back half of one of those Saturday/Monday doubles.

The current Bucks owners do not love Saturday home games. Only eight of them have been scheduled for the 2017 season, with five happening within the first six Saturdays of the season.

The reason is concerts. The Bucks owners had no qualms about booking Saturdays in October and November because popular touring acts already have their schedules set for those months. 2017 concert schedules (along with UFC, WWE and other tours) are less certain. So, the Bucks owners -- who are entitled to 37.5% of arena revenues for non-Bucks events -- want to keep the Bradley Center available on the most popular concert night of the week.

Surely the Bucks owners would spin this another way. They might say that they are contributing to the culture of the city by leaving Saturdays for something besides basketball. Perhaps they'd point out that Friday night/Sunday afternoon doubles allow families to attend two games without compromising school nights.

Whatever. I liked my Saturdays.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Jabari Curse

Jabari Parker is in the news again.  A highlight video of his was making the Twitter rounds and he garnered some praise from Jimmy Butler.

That makes this as good a time as any to re-state a long held #BucksForest position: we are skeptical.

Jabari Parker has explosive athletic ability and NBA size and a willingness to work.  He was the second pick in the Draft for the reason.

Here's the problem: he's a ball-stopper and he always will be.

Playing basketball, like so many things in life, is a combination of one's Being and Becoming.  Being is who you are.  Becoming is what you're learning.  You are what you are, and then you learn (and, hopefully, improve) as much as you can on top of that.

I have full faith in Jabari's Becoming.  I think he wants to be great.  I think he will work like mad at it.

The problem is Jabari's Being.  On the basketball court he is within himself.

Some of the greatest basketball players of all time were within themselves.  Heck, the greatest was: Michael Jordan.

When Jordan won the MVP in 1988, there were many skeptics (including myself) who thought that Jordan was not a team player.  We thought the same thing in '89 and '90, even as Jordan advanced to the Conference Finals.

Even on June 6, 1991, the morning after Michael Jordan did "The Move" against the Lakers in Game 2, I said the same thing: this guy does spectacular things, but he's not a team player.

And here's the thing: I'm right.  Jordan wasn't a team player.  He might have been the most successful athlete of all time in a team sport, but his game was always a selfish one.

That's why, out of Jordan's twenty-four NBA Finals wins (still an amazing number), only four came when an opponent scored 100 points or more.  Jordan won ugly.  He scored one-on-one baskets, used every trick in the book on defense and reigned through an era where heat was more important than light.

So, Jabari can be successful.  Possessing the Being of a selfish player doesn't disqualify him from that.

But you know what, I don't care.  I didn't become a Bucks fan to watch a crew of talented, selfish players slug harder than the other guy.  I'm a Bucks fan because I love Milwaukee and I love NBA basketball.  And, to me, basketball is best when it's played by unselfish players.

The afterglow of the 2016 Warriors is too bright to conduct a forensic investigation.  But when we, as the basketball-loving public, do, we are going to find a few things.  We are going to find that Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are not elite athletes.  We will find that none of them would have added as much had they not been lucky enough to play with each other.  And we will see that adding a talented, selfish player to their stew would ruin the taste.

I want the Bucks to be the 2016 Warriors.  I wanted that when I started this blog in March, 2013.  At that time, both the Bucks and Warriors were contending for a bottom Playoff spot.  (In fact, one week after this blog started the Jennings/Ellis/Sanders Bucks ran the Curry/Klay/Draymond Warriors off the floor in Oakland.)  But the Warriors valued that low Playoff position and tried to add to it.  The Bucks -- perhaps kowtowing to pro-tanking calls by online Bucks fans -- were frustrated with their low Playoff position and tried to blow things up.

Today, the Warriors are the biggest thing since Jordan's Bulls and the Bucks are the home of Jabari and Giannis.  And that's no accident.  The Warriors could never have drafted Jabari.  They don't pick up the Carmelos and Rudy Gays of this world.  They are not interested in talented players who are cursed with the selfish gene.  And Jabari Parker, for all his good qualities, carries that curse.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Facts & Truth: Giannis at the Point

Some facts about the Bucks' point guard situation:

-Michael Carter-Williams played his last game on February 27 against the Pistons, in Milwaukee.

-The Bucks lost that game to fall to 24-35 on the season.

-The Bucks finished the season 33-49, which means that they went 9-14 over their last 23 games.

-9-14 extrapolates to 32-50 over the course of an 82 game season.

-While going 9-14, the Bucks beat three Playoff teams, all at home.

-One of those Playoff teams was Memphis, who were decimated by injuries.

-The Bucks gave up less than 100 points in 6 of those 23 games (26%).

-The Bucks gave up less than 90 points in 1 of those 23 games (4%), the aforementioned win against Memphis.

-Prior to Carter-Williams's injury, the Bucks gave up less than 100 points twenty times (34%), and under 90 nine times (15%) over the course of 59 games.

And some truths:

-Past performance is no guarantee of future results, small sample sizes often do not extrapolate and the Greek Freak enjoys playing with the ball in his hand, but...

-When focused, Giannis has been the Bucks' best Wing defender.

-When focused, Giannis has shown the potential to be the Bucks' best interior defender.

-From game number two, you could tell that the Bucks were no longer a Playoff team.

-Giannis doesn't focus on defense when he plays with the ball in his hands.