The Milwaukee Bucks have now played two preseason games, and you know what that means: we officially have a “small sample size” to irresponsibly extrapolate forward to the upcoming 82+ games of the 2023-2024 NBA season.
Please note that all takes are mine and mine alone. Their idiocy reflects solely my mind.
So, without further ado, I present Riley Feldmann’s 10 Way-Too-Early Takes from the Bucks preseason so far.
1) Adrian Griffin’s defense will make—and possibly break—this team
We’d grown so used to the zone-drop scheme from Mike Budenholzer that those few possessions last year where the team heavily switched or ran zone felt like a breath of fresh air. Through two exhibition games, it seems like head coach Adrian Griffin has one guiding principle for his defense: aggression.
The defense thus far relies on a combination of aggressive point-of-attack man defense and doubles that eventually morph into a switch. Closing out shooters is a top priority—so much so that even Brook Lopez’s lumbering bulk has been sprinting to the perimeter to try and contest. Such an approach will suit guys with length/athleticism/defensive size such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jae Crowder, MarJon Beauchamp (theoretically), and Andre Jackson Jr. It has been effective with both starters and briefly with energized youth throwing all caution to the wind. The result? Some truly stifling stretches of play.
But there is always a trade-off. Even in preseason the scheme looks physically demanding. Guys can hold up to it through two games; how about Tuesdays in February? You can see the idea of how this could work in the playoffs, yet there will need to be flexibility and alterations to approach during the year to protect bodies and avoid opponents figuring out the code to breaking Milwaukee’s back regularly. We’ve seen defenses remain very effective the entirety of the first season they’re implemented. If that holds true here, and if Griffin can maintain buy-in, a daunting defense is within reach.
2) Jon Horst, take a bow
To have acquired Damian Lillard at all was a coup. To have done so while keeping youthful upside like MarJon and Andre Jackson Jr. to soak up minutes during the season is something else altogether. Weaknesses and disappointments from certain players are bound to crop up during the course of the season, but on paper there is more than enough available for Griffin to mix and match lineups to address any number of situations.
All gas, no brakes? We’ve got that. All brakes, no gas? Covered. Everything in between has some permutation waiting as well. To assemble what might be the strongest roster yet this deep into a title contention window is a massive feat.
3) The motion offense will raise the ceiling of the team
Mike Budenholzer’s blue boxes served a purpose with the roster he was given. By the end of his tenure, the offense was more a mishmash of guys making choices on the fly with a tendency towards stagnation. Through two games (and without 3/5ths of the starters), the offense seems just as physically active as the defense. I liked the looks Cam Payne was able to generate thanks in part to the openings created by off-ball movement from his teammates. If you throw a Dame/Giannis P&R in the mix and the creativity Lillard will bring, there is a potent brew afoot.
4) MarJon Beauchamp has progressed but remains too inconsistent
As in Summer League, so in preseason (so far). A great outing followed by some real struggles for the sophomore. With vets such as Middleton, Crowder, Connaughton, and Beasley in the way, MarJon will sink back into bench obscurity fast unless he and the coaching staff can find a way toward consistency. His highs will be higher than a season ago, and the lows will be all the more jarring because of that. His second season could be a mixed affair.
5) Andre Jackson Jr. will make an immediate impact
By no means am I starting the “start AJJ” train. Until he has a real outside shot (editor’s note: or ANY shot), he will always be somewhat limited as a contributor. But you can see that the execution is there. He reads the floor extremely well and extremely quickly, then reacts just as fast. The end result is a bevy of good looks in the paint that take advantage of slow defenses, and the potential to be something of a stopper defensively as he gets used to the speed and size of the NBA. His theoretical upside may be lower than MarJon’s pending progression on a jumper, but he has a clearer path to actual playing time right now.
6) Malik Beasley is a kind of gunner we haven’t seen before—and shouldn’t start
Through two preseason starts, Beasley is hoisting threes at a 14.2 3PA per 36-minute rate. Of course, per 36 is illusory, but this is a man who has averaged 8.0+ 3PA a game every season since 2019-2020. And it shows in his approach: shots going up no matter the defense, a tendency to hold the ball before deciding to hoist a shot after all, etc. In other words, he’s a shooter who would make Bryn Forbes blush.
But he’s an occasionally adequate defender at best, and I have my doubts about bringing a 20%+ usage rate guy into the starting lineup. He may get the initial nod as part of a wink-wink agreement that got him here. He will also be demoted to bench gunner in due time.
7) The search for backup big men should continue
I’ve never been a Robin Lopez believer. I don’t doubt his skillset, but always found the redundancy of having the literal twin of Milwaukee’s starting center as the backup questionable. If there is one area Horst should continue to look for an upgrade at, it is among the bigs. In an ideal world, your bench should offer a different look on the floor—we know what Robin and Bobby Portis bring from the bench. It is sufficient but doesn’t exactly unlock anything unique, especially on defense.
8) AJ Green is a short-armed beefcake
Green made his preseason debut last night against the Grizzlies and had like four impactful plays right away. An offensive rebound, a nice three, a great assist on a broken play, and making Desmond Bane earn the made three-pointer Green guarded. Not bad! Even with Giannis-like musculature, though, I’m still a far way from thinking Green is more than a one-way deep bench guy.
9) Khris Middleton may have his most fluid season as a Buck in a long time
Fluid is probably the wrong term. What I mean to say is that he may be the starter whose role will change the most over the course of the season. He hasn’t shown himself to be overly impressive defensively in a while, so he may struggle in a chaos scheme. On offense, he will retain his role of bail-out guy who can score from all three levels, although there is a chance he shines more if he’s kept in to lead bench units. This isn’t his first rodeo having to alter his approach, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some struggles to start the year as he knocks off post-surgery rust and slots into yet another new on-court landscape.
10) Lindell Wigginton out, TyTy Washington TBD
I respect the hell out of the path Wigginton has had to walk to stay on the periphery of the NBA, but at age 25 there isn’t nearly enough upside to justify his taking a two-way slot. TyTy Washington is also a question mark, yet he has a bit of size and speed (and youth) that makes a gamble worthwhile. I’d let Wigginton go by the end of preseason and keep the slot churning on young big men until someone with a semblance of a pulse shows up.