Saying the Milwaukee Bucks have gotten off to a roaring start in 2013-14 would be a blatant lie. However, through the early slate of games, there have been some positive signs and pleasant surprises along the way.
O.J. Mayo has found his offense, Nate Wolters has gained valuable experience due to an injury to Brandon Knight and the backup big men are playing great in the absence of Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova.
And while there certainly is plenty to critique, these small surprises will just be amplified when those players return.
Extra Mayo, Please
Mayo's ability to become Milwaukee's No. 1 scoring option was a topic of debate during the offseason, but so far he's quieted some of his critics.
Through the team's first five games, Mayo is averaging 18.6 points on 46.6 percent shooting from the field and a scalding 56.5 percent from behind the three-point line.
While the idea of him keeping this torrid pace up is a bit far-fetched, the fast start shows that his early season success in 2012-13 with the Dallas Mavericks wasn't a fluke. Not only that, but the scoring average he's posting is around what it was during his rookie season.
What's even more encouraging is the fact that a good bulk of his attempts are coming at the rim.
As the shot chart provided by NBA.com/Stats shows, Mayo is getting to the rim his fair share of times through the first five games. And while finishing at the rim with a higher percentage would be great, it's encouraging to see Mayo attacking as much as he is.
For the Bucks to be successful, that aggressive nature needs to continue.
Mayo's hot start has also crossed over to other statistical categories and the 25-year-old is averaging 4.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists through the first handful of games.
To many, the acquisition of Mayo was the biggest splash Milwaukee made during the summer and, thus far, he's doing a fine job of living up to expectations.
It seems he's finally getting comfortable being the go-to scorer for the team and, in some instances, realizing he has to be in order for the team to win games.
There's a long way to go, obviously, but Mayo's start is one of the bright spots.
Wolters Has a Bright Future
Wolters was arguably one of the best players in college basketball during his final two seasons at South Dakota State, but not many expected him to be making an impact in the NBA this quickly.
With backup point guard Luke Ridnour out due to back spasms and Knight injuring his hamstring early in the team's first game (per the Journal Sentinel), Wolters was immediately thrust into a significant role.
His goal? Lead an offense in desperate need of a point guard who can run things efficiently.
That's asking a lot from a rookie but, through the early portion of the season, he's done just that.
Over the first five games Wolters is averaging 8.8 points, 3.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists while connecting on 36.6 percent of his field-goal attempts.
While it's obvious he hasn't found his shooting touch quite yet, he's doing a great job of running the offense without turning the ball over.
In fact, those 6.2 assists per game are countered by just 1.0 turnover per game. For someone who hadn't played a minute in the league until recently, that's absolutely fantastic.
Wolters is proving he can distribute without making silly mistakes and that might be the most important trait of a quality point guard.
Backup Big Men Have Become Invaluable
With Sanders nursing a surgically repaired thumb—which allegedly came from his involvement in a nightclub fight (per USA Today)—and Ilyasova struggling through an ankle injury of his own, John Henson and Zaza Pachulia have been forced to step up.
Many—myself included—questioned the whopping three-year, $15.6 million contract Pachulia was given by the Bucks during the summer, but the veteran is attempting to live up to the deal as best he can.
Through five games, Pachulia is averaging 11.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists on 50.0 percent shooting from the field.
While it'll take a lot more than that to somehow justify the deal he was given, he has been a major bright spot both in his ability to rebound and the frequency at which he gets to the free-throw line. His 4.8 attempts per game lead the team and he's connecting on a remarkable 95.8 percent of them.
Meanwhile Henson, his frontcourt counterpart, has filled in nicely in Ilyasova's absence.
Given how well he finished out 2012-13 and the success he had at the Las Vegas Summer League, it was going to be tough for him to live up to those expectations.
But his 10.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game have provided the Bucks with scoring and defense off the bench. Not to mention, Henson is converting 61.5 percent of the shots he takes, proving to be very efficient in the process.
Sanders is scheduled to miss significant time, so both Pachulia and Henson should see an increase in minutes during his absence. Whether they can keep playing at this level is yet to be seen, but thus far they've surprised with their contributions.
Obviously the team hasn't gotten off to a blistering start. Given the injuries though, they haven't fallen completely off the map.
In order for them to remain on it, these early bright spots will need to keep their luster until the team gets healthy.
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