New Tests for Giannis and Jabari

With O.J. Mayo starting at point guard, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker are facing new developmental challenges. Plus: previewing Saturday’s game against the Golden State Warriors, stats of the week, and more.

Player Development. It’s a term used by NBA teams for job titles, buzz-worded clichés and easy talking points, but, this year in Milwaukee, it is really the only term that matters. Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to predict, define, or track.

Obviously, when discussing player development, Bucks fans will immediately think of the two young players many are ready to entrust with the future of the franchise — Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker.

Much has been in the last week of O.J. Mayo replacing Michael Carter-Williams as point guard in the the Bucks’ starting lineup. The change has been viewed as one that will ultimately help the Bucks’ two young stars take over games and a greater responsibility for the Bucks’ offensive success.

quick bucks chart 12.10.15In the first game against the Knicks (Game 21), this shift was evident as both Parker and Antetokounmpo seemed to be more active and assertive on offense. In fact, both players set season highs for touches on the offensive end.

While Parker’s touches have been more plentiful in the three games Mayo has started at point guard, Antetokoumpo’s have shrunk in consecutive games, which helps make a greater point about player development. Though we often try to imagine player growth as a perfect linear progression, it is wildly erratic. Players don’t magically become new players upon getting a new role. There are ups and downs. There are periods of growth followed by a month of struggles.

There is no telling what will happen as these two young players continue to grow and get thrust in to new (and ever-changing) roles. Their coaches and teammates can help at times by putting them in positive situations, which the organization certainly will do, but ultimately it’s up to them to work through potential struggles and figure out how to solve problems on the floor.

“On the offensive end, it’s not just shooting the ball, but setting screens and getting a teammate open. Or finding an open teammate because they are playmakers,” said coach Jason Kidd of Antetokounmpo and Parker, after the Bucks lost to the Clippers on Wednesday. “But they’re young and they’re going to make mistakes and we have to help them through it.”

As the season has progressed, teams have started to change their defensive strategies and have made things tougher for Antetokounmpo and Parker. Many have wondered why the Bucks don’t run more plays for them, but it’s tough to involve them in any sort of offensive action when their defenders regularly sag ten feet off of both players. (See Parker and Antetokounmpo’s shooting stats in Stats of the Week below.)

For two players with such tremendous athleticism, the coming weeks will be a new test that they can’t pass by jumping over someone or sidestepping a defender. They are currently being forced to face their first mental test on their developmental path, and will need to take and make shots they’ve been struggling with or find other ways to affect games.

As always, there is no way of telling if the test will be completed in one game, one week, one month, or one year. While we can’t be sure of much when it comes to player development, we can be sure that in the NBA, there will always be another test for Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker.

Clip of the Week

What else could I put in this space? The return of THE PLAY. The Bucks used this play in crunch time of the first game last season and ran it over and over again in tight spots as the season went on. After the game, I asked Greg Monroe about how comfortable he was with the play since this was his first season with the Bucks, but he seemed pretty comfortable with it.

“That was a new play,” Monroe joked, with a smile on his face. “I think that one was new.”

What to Read

The NBA at the first quarter buzzer – This week, Zach Lowe took a look at some of the teams around the league that are struggling with their identity and started in Milwaukee. He covered the Bucks’ defensive problems and how they can attempt to put together a lineup with so few shooters.

The more the Bucks are about Giannis and Jabari, the happier everyone will be – Since Bucksketball’s Jeremy Schmidt wrote this piece, I have been arguing with him about the effectiveness of O.J. Mayo the Point Guard and it served as a jumping off point for this week’s Quick Bucks. Thought-provoking and fun piece.

What are the most important questions facing the Milwaukee Bucks right now? – The Brew Hoop Staff (myself included) tried to create the most important questions facing the Bucks right now. Rather than try to answer those questions, they tried to explain why the questions were so important to the future of the Bucks.

Week in Review

Friday – The Bucks could not overcome a lackluster second quarter and eventually fell to the Pistons 102-95. After being outplayed by former teammate Greg Monroe in the second half of their first meeting in November, Andre Drummond had a huge game with 17 points and 23 rebounds.

Saturday – In their first of three straight home games, the Bucks flipped the normal script for this season and put together a 21-4 run at the start of the third quarter to distance themselves from the Knicks on the way to a 106-91 victory.

Monday – For the first time in over a month, Milwaukee was able to put together back-to-back wins with a last-second 90-88 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers. The ending was spectacular with the Bucks erasing a four point deficit with less than two minutes left in the game.

Wednesday – J.J. Redick got hot and scored 31 points against the Bucks in a 109-95 defeat. Michael Carter Williams went for 20 points and 11 assists off the bench for the Bucks, but it was simply not enough as the Bucks starters couldn’t stop the Clippers’ starters.

Next Week’s Preview

Friday – The Raptors may still be reeling from a knee injury to their biggest free agent signing DeMarre Carroll, but they’ll just lean on Kyle Lowry a bit more, who has been fantastic thus far this season.

Saturday – Could they have survived in the 90s? Could they compete with the ’96 Bulls? Who cares. The Warriors are dominating the league and have yet to lose a game.  If they beat the Celtics on Friday night, they will be 24-0 as they head to heading into their game against the Bucks.

Tuesday – The Bucks will play in Los Angeles for two consecutive nights and they get the easier of their opponents on night one. The Lakers have struggled this season as Byron Scott has tried to figure out the right way to balance properly honoring Kobe Bryant in his farewell season and developing the organization’s young players.

Wednesday – In their second night in the Staples Center visiting locker room, the Bucks will get another chance to slow down the Clippers after falling to them in Milwaukee one week prior.

Stats of the Week

160 – Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken 160 of his 257 shots this season within five feet of the basket. That would be 62.26 percent of his shots. (Parker has taken 56.76 percent of his shots from that range.

24.49 – Jabari Parker has made just 24.49 percent of his shots (12-of-49) outside of eight feet from the basket. (Antetokounmpo has hit just 28.95 percent on the 76 shots he has taken from that same range.)

73.81 – defines an open shot as a shot in which the nearest defender is four or more feet away from you. 73.81 percent of Antetokounmpo’s shots outside of eight feet were open, while 63.79 percent of Parker’s shots outside of eight feet were open.

Quick Bucks is Milwaukee Magazine’s weekly roundup of all things Milwaukee Bucks written by Eric Nehm. You can also find his work at SBNation’s Brew Hoop or you can find him on Twitter @eric_nehm, where he would love to know when you think the Bucks will trail the Warriors by ten points for the first time on Saturday night.