Confident Bucks improving with wins, not just experience


Confident Bucks improving with wins, not just experience

When the Eastern Conference playoff matchups were finalized two weeks ago, a quick glance at the bracket showed an appetizing potential second round matchup between LeBron James's Cleveland Cavaliers and the Bulls looming. A pair of contenders and bitter rivals that had met in the postseason three times in the last five seasons appeared to be on a collision course for a fourth meeting.

But the Milwaukee Bucks are getting stronger. And they're committed to putting those talks on hold.

They took another step Monday night, clamping down defensively yet again and receiving contributions from a number of players in a 94-88 Game 5 victory over the Bulls, their second straight win facing elimination in their best-of-seven series.

"Everyone’s talking about the future, everyone’s talking about (the Bulls') series with Cleveland," Jared Dudley said. "We’re still here."

[SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

Jason Kidd has made it a point during the series to reiterate the point that his youthful Bucks, whose top four leading scorers in the regular season all are 23 or younger, were playing to win, but also were looking to gain valuable experience and improvement to build for the future.

And in five games they've done just that; their defense against a Bulls team ranked 10th in offensive efficiency has been nothing short of spectacular, budding star Khris Middleton has averaged 17.8 points per game, 20-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo has gone toe-to-toe with All-Star Jimmy Butler and Michael Carter-Williams is coming along nicely after a slow start, scoring 22 points in Monday's Game 5 win.

But more important than the progression and investments for the future, the Bucks are winning. Their inexperienced core got their playoff debuts out of the way in Chicago - both Bulls victories - before returning to Milwaukee, playing in front of a raucous home crowd where they took the Bulls to double overtime in Game 3 and first tasted success in a Game 4 in which they played to their strengths flawlessly.

That victory gave them new life, which they parlayed into Monday's game. The Bucks forced 13 more Bulls turnovers which translated to 19 points, held Chicago to 35 percent shooting (including 10-for-41 shooting from Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler) and found better looks at the basket, scoring 46 points in the paint.

They heeded Jason Kidd's words of starting quickly, scoring the game's first nine points and then withstanding the Bulls' 21-4 run afterwards, taking a three-point lead into halftime. When Carter-Williams, who had spearheaded the offensive attack in the first half, headed to the locker room with what looked to be a nasty sprained right ankle in the third quarter, they clamped down defensively, holding the Bulls to 29 percent shooting in the quarter. And when the Bulls made their inevitable run in the fourth quarter, cutting a nine-point deficit to three, Milwaukee withstood and scored six of the next seven points to push the game out of reach.

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It's that sense of urgency that has the Bucks playing with utter confidence. Power forward John Henson, who scored eight points and grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds, likened Milwaukee's situation to that of the NCAA Tournament, a humorous analogy considering many of their core contributors are just a few years removed from college themselves.

"It was good to be out there playing for your life, playing for your season. We don’t have anything to do this summer, so we’re trying to stay here as long as we can," he said. "It’s getting to the point where anything can happen."

Two games in which the pace has played in Milwaukee's favor, combined with that newfound sense of urgency and confidence has quickly made this series feel like more of a toss-up. The Bulls still hold the upper hand, leading 3-2 with a potential Game 7 at home, but Milwaukee is jumping on the opportunity to improve. In the first three games of the series it appeared that improvement would come in the form of experience, but as the wins pile up their attitude has changed. So for now the Cavaliers will have to wait.

"We just go out there and play our type of basketball. We've gotten better," Kidd said. "These guys have a lot to lose. We have an opportunity to get better each time we go to work."

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

Would Wendell Carter Jr. be picked higher if the NBA Draft was today?

According to Bleacher Report, Wendell Carter Jr. would be taken fourth overall by the Memphis Grizzlies if the NBA were to redraft this year’s class based off of Summer League performances.

It may sound like a crazy concept (and it is), but Carter Jr. averaged the second most points, 14.6, through five July games in Las Vegas. He also averaged 9.4 rebounds and shot 55 percent from the field while averaging 28.8 minutes in his glamorous first-stint with Chicago. Those numbers are even more striking if you consider Carter Jr.’s 42.9 percent shooting from behind the three-point line.

Carter Jr., the real seventh overall pick of this year’s NBA Draft, looked like the all-around player the Bulls were hoping to get this offseason. He made his blocking abilities as a center known from the moment he stepped on the court in Summer League.

In their re-draft, Bleacher Report had Chicago using the No. 7 pick on the New York Knicks’ Mitchell Robinson, who was actually taken 36th overall in last month’s Draft.

Robinson, a center, averaged 13 points and 24.8 minutes per game over five Summer League contests. He was the best rebounder on his team with an average of 10.2 in the five games that the Knicks played.

The 20-year-old took the second most shots on the Knicks and had the highest field goal percentage at 67 percent, but Robinson did not have any three-point attempts.  What made his recent production seem even more surprising was the fact that the 7'1'' big man did not play a single minute of college basketball.

But would Robinson fit in the Bulls’ system?

Chicago has taken on an offense-first mentality, so Robinson would not be as great of a fit in the Bulls lineup as Carter Jr., but he would still be an impact player. He can be compared to the Bulls’ current center Robin Lopez, who averaged a similar amount of points per game (11.8 points in 26.4 minutes) last season as Robinson’s Summer League average (13 points in 24.8 minutes). And like Lopez, Robinson will likely be most effective around the basket and in the pick-and-roll.

Robinson would also have to learn the defensive concepts that a veteran like Lopez has mastered over his 10-year career.

Next season, the Bulls will have an exciting scoring trio of Jabari Parker, Lauri Markkanen and Carter Jr. in the frontcourt. And the fact that Carter Jr. is getting so much love in the national spotlight is yet another reason for Bulls fans to be excited about this upcoming season.

Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets


Jabari Parker channels his inner Uncle Drew: This game is about getting buckets

The Bulls gave Jabari Parker a two-year, $40 million deal for good reason.

One, the Bulls had the salary cap space to get the deal done and had just about filled out their roster. The money wasn't going to be used elsewhere. Also, the second year of the deal is a team option which gives the Bulls some security should Parker not be able to stay healthy or play up to the standards such a salary commands.

Parker was given that money for multiple reasons. One of those reasons was not for his defense.

But, according to Parker, no one gets paid for their defense.

Speaking on 670 The Score on Wednesday, Parker was asked about whether he felt he had the ability and effort to defend in the NBA, something he hasn't done particularly well in four seasons.

"I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense," Parker said. "There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

"If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them."

Parker's right in one sense, that players are usually paid for their offensive output. There are also more tangible, easily read statistics on the offensive end than there are defensively. Heck, the Bulls gave $80 million to Zach LaVine and he was the team's worst defender last season.

But then again, defense matters. A whole lot, especially at a time when offenses are better than ever (thus making defenders more valuable). The final four teams in last year's playoffs were ranked 1st, 6th, 9th and LeBron James (29th) in defensive efficiency.

A day after Parker's comments the Celtics gave Marcus Smart a four-year, $52 million contract. He's a career 37 percent shooter and has made 29 percenet of his 3-pointers in four seasons.

So while Parker, a below-average defender, might not be entirely accurate, at least he's owning who he is. And if he scores like he did in Year 3, averaging 20 points before re-tearing his ACL, no one will care how he defends.