Better Days Ahead For Bucks

Some quick, early-season hits on the Bucks and their 29 partners in the Association:

  • The Bucks now have the talent to seemingly be one of the biggest surprises of the season, although you certainly wouldn’t make that assessment after their miserable opening-season loss to the Hornets. Still, I still expect Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker to emerge as prime-time players this season and spearhead the Bucks’ ascension in the Eastern Conference standings. I have the Bucks penciled in for 44 wins.
  • If there’s an X-factor for the Bucks getting over the hump this season, it’s Matthew Dellavedova. While he may be perhaps the least athletic point guard in the league, he’s smart, hard-working and, most importantly, very good at protecting the basketball: With the Cavaliers last season, Dellavedova averaged 4.4 assists and just 1.5 turnovers and, in the season opener, had just two TOs in 30 minutes
  • While the reigning champion Cavaliers are clearly the cream of the Eastern Conference crop, my pick for the second-team is the Pacers. Pacers czar Larry Bird did an amazing job over the offseason, landing veteran point guard Jeff Teague and veteran forward Thaddeus Young. Both will start and both will nicely complement Paul George and Monta Ellis. When I recently asked Teague if the Pacers could surprise people this season, he immediately shot back and said, “We are going to surprise people. This is a really good group.’’
  • The Knicks overhauled their roster over the summer and made some intriguing acquisitions. But while they now have a formidable starting five, their bench remains highly suspect.
  • With Chris Bosh out of the equation, are the Heat going to press on and fight for one of the last playoff spots? Or will they position themselves – err, tank – for a primo pick in next June’s rich draft?
  • It’s ludicrous to think any team that added Kevin Durant to their lineup like the Warriors did could slip. But I’m among the few observers who think the Warriors haven’t improved much, if at all, even with addition of the immensely talented Durant. The Cavs exposed the Warriors’ interior defense in the Finals and the Spurs did so again in the regular-season opener Tuesday night. While Durant and Co. are a cinch to win a ton of regular-season games, they’ll need to find a certifiable rim-protector if they want to win the championship.
  • My eight Eastern Conference playoff teams: 1. Cleveland. 2. Indiana. 3. Toronto. 4. Boston. 5. Washington. 6. Charlotte. 7. Chicago. 8. Milwaukee.
  • My eight Western Conference playoff teams: 1. Golden State. 2. San Antonio. 3. L.A. Clippers. 4. Portland. 5. Oklahoma City. 6. Utah. 7. Minnesota. 8. Houston.
  • Jabari Parker was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft for a reason. With his knee surgery in the rear view mirror, along with an inexplicable nine-shot outing in the season opener, I fully expect Parker to blossom this season and be the league’s Most Improved Player.
  • A Dwyane Wade-Rajon Rondo backcourt would have been absolutely unbelievable – five years ago.
  • I could see the Sixers with their glut of big men moving one of them to the Suns for one of their glut of guards like Brandon Knight or Eric Bledsoe. Either would be a major upgrade to the Sixers’ backcourt and perfectly complement Ben Simmons when he returns.
  • Even though his contract was extended through the 2019-2000 season, the heat could still be on Bucks coach Jason Kidd. The Bucks owners aren’t shelling out $102 million in player salaries this season – easily the most in team history and the 12th highest in the league—for another unforgettable season.
  • Man on the spot: Harrison Barnes. The Dallas Mavericks surprised more than a few NBA observers by giving him a lucrative four-year, $94M deal after he averaged just 9 points while shooting a poor 38 percent from the field in 24 playoff games last season.
  • Here’s hoping New Orleans superstar Anthony Davis has once and for all got rid of the injury bug. Davis, who fashioned a stunning line in the opener – 50 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and seven steals — has missed 68 games in the last four seasons.
  • Here’s hoping rumored-to-be traded Rudy Gay winds up on a legitimately good team. Good guy, real good player.
  • Portland’s Damien Lillard got stiffed for the All-Star Game last season; don’t expect that to happen this season.
  • Rookie of the Year? New Orleans’ Buddy Hield, by default. This simply isn’t a very good rookie class.
  • The over-under for wins by the bad, bad Brooklyn Nets: 15.
  • Giannis Antetokounmpo put up some crazy numbers after the All-Star break last season: 18.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists. He opened this season with a bang as well: 31 points and nine rebounds. The Greek Freak worked out religiously this summer and, while he’s in tip-top physical condition, he believes he’s also bolstered another aspect of his game. “My confidence is a lot higher than last season from the hard work I did this summer,’’ Antetokounmpo said.
  • NBA Finalists: Cleveland and Golden State.
  • NBA champion: Cleveland.



Photo by Bill Tennessen

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