Thursday, January 2, 2014

Three Things I Was Wrong About in 2013

New Year's festivities for 2014 are in the books.  Hope everyone is healthy.  Hope everyone stayed safe.  Hope everyone achieves at least one goal (however big or small) in the new year.

I wrapped up my 2013 by attending one of my favorite annual events: The Bucks vs. Lakers game at Staples Center.  In the past this has sometimes been a frustrating experience, but Tuesday night's game was superb.  My Bucks season ticket rep made a couple of the team's allotment of friends and family tickets available to me.  I had to pay face value (which for Lakers games is borderline astronomical, but the seats were fabulous.

The Bucks looked like everything we'd hope they'd be before the season.  Larry was great in defending the paint.  Big Ers was hitting the boards and open jump shots.  The Greek Freak did a couple of freaky things.  The result was a wire-to-wire win.

There was one other thing that was happening during the New Year's Eve game that I didn't hope for before the season: Good Brandon dominated.  He hit jump shots, he penetrated, he rarely made a bad pass and he played great defense.  In the 48 hours after the Bucks acquired Brandon Knight, yours truly made about a half-dozen, "too bad he stinks" jokes on Twitter while linking to scouting reports.

I happened to watch a lot of live Detroit Pistons basketball during the 2013 season (at Denver, at Milwaukee, at the Clippers, and at New York) and at no point did I think that Knight had the potential to be a starter on a perennial contender.  I thought that he lacked natural scoring ability, court vision, passing touch and offensive awareness.  I knew that he was a great athlete and that he'd be able to play better defense than Bad Brandon (Jennings) played in 2013.  I thought Good Brandon was a bad fit with the Bucks because they'd purged a lot of offensive talent and they were acquiring a limited offensive player.

Well, as it turns out (1) Brandon Knight is great.  He probably never will be a great passer, but who cares?  He can finish at the rim.  He can hit an open jump shot.  He is a very good, maybe even great, defender.  I like the guy.

When you watch that Bucks starting lineup of Good Brandon, Luke, Larry, Big Ers and the Greek Freak, it feels like the starting lineup of a playoff team.  (2) Giannis Antetokounmpo is a solid contributor in his rookie season.  Luke may be able to hit enough open shots and hide himself enough on defense to be a starter in 2014.  Big Ers and Larry are tough to handle on the boards when both men play with energy.

The bench is also rounding into shape.  The Bucks were far more vulnerable when their starters were out, but Middleton, Neal and Raduljica all had nice moments against the Lakers.  Henson will be back soon.  Zaza and Delfino could contribute.  Most importantly, it seems like (3) Bucks' veterans are willing to be benchwarmers.  If an injury occurs, Wolters or Udoh or Raduljica is willing to play a role in the rotation.  The problem that the 2011 Bucks had where too many guys thought they deserved minutes every night will probably not be a problem for this team.

The Bucks are still in the playoff chase if they want to be.  That is one area where I continue to believe that the Bucks' fanbase at large is wrong: the Bucks would be better off long term if they made the playoffs this year instead of tanking in hopes of getting a higher draft position.