Twenty years ago, we used to joke that Charles Smith was Mr. October. Smith was actually a pretty good NBA power forward, but the 1993 Bulls-Knicks Playoff series saddled him with a reputation as a choker. The next fall he came out guns-blazing in the Preseason, but his regular season performance was back at the same old Charles Smith level. The following Preseason saw more scintillating Charles Smith basketball, and, thus, the joke was born. (Authored first by then-SportsCenter anchor Craig Kilborn, if I recall correctly.)
The moral of the story is to remember that October basketball can produce some Charles Smiths, for better or for worse. No matter how good or bad players and teams look, it really doesn't matter until the calendar turns to November (or, October 28, now that the NBA has stretched the season to ungodly lengths.
Last night the Bucks beat the Cavs, and in the process they might have found a solid young Big -- or maybe another Charles Smith. Johnny O'Bryant came off the bench and -- along with fellow reserves Jerryd, Juice Mayo, Henson & Ricky Rashad Vaughn -- led the Bucks to a very good fourth quarter and a victory over the Cavs' reserves & benchwarmers in the Cleveland.
O'Bryant was a guy that I really liked coming out of Louisiana State. He was the focus of LSU's offense, and he led LSU to one win and one competitive loss against Kentucky during his final college season. I was hoping that the Bucks would trade into the latter part of the first round to get him. (The Bucks were the worst team in the NBA and I knew that drafting O'Bryant in the first four picks would be a reach.) O'Bryant ended up dropping to the second round and the Bucks picked him with a Lakers pick they acquired from the T-Wolves in a Luke Ridnour salary dump.
Last season, O'Bryant ranged between a non-factor and a liability. He was slow and inattentive on D (the latter a common condition for young players, but the former a real worry) and the post game that fueled his success at LSU (typical college hoops power moves and fadeaways) appeared to be one of those things in basketball that disappears once people start playing for real money. Also disappeared was his rebounding. O'Bryant wasn't exactly the second coming of Kurt Thomas at LSU, but he was a dependable presence in the paint. With the Bucks in 2015, O'Bryant's rebounding was more in-line with Bill Walton's favorite former pin cushion, Maurice Taylor.
Against the Cavs, O'Bryant looked like a new man. He rebounded with intensity and his offense was far more disciplined. He basically stayed in the paint and attacked the hoop with floaters. He has the touch and feel to make floaters a part of his offense, like Memphis Grizzly/#BucksForest favorite Zach Randolph.
The Bucks' Big man rotation looks crowded entering the season. Though Big Ers and Zaza were jettisoned, Jabari, Greek, Monroe and Henson appear to be entrenched up front. That's not even to mention Damien Inglis, who may or may not be a rotation player. (I know that I praised him yesterday, but his poor play yesterday made me wonder if my initial impression of him being a bum wasn't spot on.)
The good news for O'Bryant is that he will get an opportunity to play Big man minutes early in the season. Coach Kidd appears to be stuck on the idea of having Giannis play some Wing (and maybe even some Point guard), which could free up some minutes for O'Bryant. Jabari will also probably be limited or sit out entirely as he recovers from injury.
I would like to see some serious minutes with a Henson/O'Bryant frontcourt when the regular season begins. Those are two tall glasses of water and they can both score inside. I'm not sure that they would be able to handle a front line of bruisers like the ones in LA (with the Clippers), Memphis or OKC (good thing the Bucks are in the East, huh?), but I think that they could end up being effective.
Whatever happens, I'm happy to see O'Bryant playing with confidence. Hopefully that good October play translates in other months.