The Milwaukee Bucks have been in each of their first three games to open the season. It’s just taken them awhile to get there.
The Bucks have trailed by at least 13 points in each of their games this week … and roared back to lead two of them and tie up the other. But it’s translated into just one win in three tries.
Of course, injuries have been part of the story. Milwaukee lost starting point guard Brandon Knight to a hamstring injury 1:45 into the opener at New York on Wednesday night. He injured his right hamstring while he was trapped by a double team near midcourt. That injury came on the heels of a sore left hamstring that sat him down for the final two preseason games.
Backup Luke Ridnour, meanwhile, hasn’t been in uniform since the season started because of back spasms.
So where has that left the Bucks’ backcourt? Anyone who projected that second-round draft pick Nate Wolters would be leading Milwaukee in minutes through first three games is … well … they’re just plain lying.
But there Wolters is with 95 minutes in three games, four more than shooting guard O.J. Mayo. Wolters even made his first career start in Saturday night’s home opener against the Toronto Raptors after Mayo was benched to start the game after arriving late for the team’s shootaround.
He’s handled the responsibilities at the point admirably, handing out 20 assists to lead the team while committing just four turnovers. His shooting has been erratic—he’s just 11-for-30 and 2-for-9 from deep—but his defense hasn’t been bad and he’s been the second best rookie point guard out there so far (he’s no Michael Carter-Williams, but then again … who is?).
Meanwhile, the second time around in Milwaukee for veteran big man Zaza Pachulia is off to a flying start. They’re gaga for Zaza as he’s opened the season as the Bucks’ leading scorer, coming off the bench to average 13 points so far, and he also tops the team in rebounding with 7.7 per night while shooting 58.3 percent (14-for-24).
Aren’t small sample sizes great? Unless you’re newly extended franchise player Larry Sanders, who is off to a horrific start. He can’t stay on the floor because of foul trouble and he can’t throw a rock in the ocean were he to be standing in a boat. Sanders is 4-for-16 from the floor in 52 minutes, has just 11 rebounds and has scored eight points. In fairness, he does have six blocks.
As we learned in the preseason, though, the Bucks are going to struggle to score at times. The ball movement has been terrific a lot of the time—but Milwaukee is short on guys who can finish.
In three games, the Bucks are shooting 43.8 percent, 35.4 from deep and have gotten hammered on the glass by an average of 12 rebounds a game (48.7-36.7).
Here’s a quick glance at the week that was:
Wednesday: Knicks 90, Bucks 83 at New York
- The Good: Milwaukee battled back from 25 points down to take an 81-80 lead late in the fourth quarter. Ersan Ilyasova came off the bench to score 10 points in 20 minutes on 5-of-6 shooting after missing all but 10 minutes of the preseason with a sprained ankle. Zaza Pachulia had a double-double off the bench (13 points, 11 boards).
- The Bad: Larry Sanders posted a bagel in the scorebook, going 0-for-3 in just 12 minutes because of foul trouble. The Bucks scored just 31 first-half points and trailed by 25 at the break. Point guard Brandon Knight left after less than two minutes with a hamstring injury.
- The Ugly: After taking an 81-80 lead with 3:13 remaining, Milwaukee got outscored 10-2 the rest of the way. The Bucks committed 23 turnovers and got just 29 points from the starters.
Friday: Bucks 105, Celtics 98 at Boston
- The Good: Milwaukee battled back from 22 points down in the second half to steal a win in Boston’s home opener, spoiling a rare Bill Russell return to Beantown. Zaza Pachulia nearly messed around and got a second straight double-double, settling for 20 points and nine boards and made the go-ahead free throws with 44 seconds left. Rookie Nate Wolters played 29 minutes off the bench and finished with 14 points and six assists while turning the ball over just once and recorded a plus-23 on the night. Milwaukee turned the ball over only seven times all night.
- The Bad: The starters were awful again, with Gary Neal the only starter in double figures with 14 points. The first five combined for just 39 points on 12-of-40 shooting. Yuck.
- The Ugly: Of those seven turnovers, six were committed by the starting five. The Bucks were outboarded 52-41.
Saturday: Raptors 97, Bucks 90 at Milwaukee
- The Good: Nate Wolters made his first start and handed out 10 assists in a team-high 36 minutes. Ersan Ilyasova splashed his only two 3-point attempts and scored 14 points in 24 minutes. John Henson came off the bench for 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
- The Bad: The Bucks were just 10-for-18 from the foul line, including 1-for-6 in the fourth quarter. All five misses came when the game was still in the balance. Wolters missed one of two while Khris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo clanked two each after being fouled on layups.
- The Ugly: Toronto finished with 60 rebounds, including 18 on the offensive glass, to just 38 total for the Bucks. O.J. Mayo was late for shootaround and didn’t start. Larry Sanders played just 22 minutes and finished with four points and four rebounds. The Bucks used their third different starting lineup in three games—the rotation’s been a bit of a patchwork quilt so far.