Milwaukee Bucks

What We Learned About Milwaukee Bucks During Season's First Half

Jordan RodewaldContributor IIJanuary 23, 2014

What We Learned About Milwaukee Bucks During Season's First Half

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Milwaukee Bucks won't look drastically different during the season's second half.

    In fact, it'll likely be much of the same.

    But that doesn't mean there aren't things to be excited about.

    Youngsters will continue getting valuable minutes and the team will keep forging chemistry as the year progresses. Both of these things will be crucial moving forward.

    Not to mention, occurrences from the first half help paint a clearer picture of where the franchise is headed.

    Rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo is developing more quickly than anticipated, Brandon Knight is proving he can be a franchise point guard, and John Henson is pushing to become the starting power forward.

    Despite what some might say, the future isn't so bleak, and brighter days are ahead.

    For now, though, it's time to recap what we have learned so far. 

     

    All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference (unless otherwise noted) and current through Jan. 21.

     

It's Not Time to Bail on Larry Sanders Yet

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    For all of the wrong reasons, Larry Sanders might have been the biggest storyline for the Bucks through the season's first half.

    After just three games, Sanders got into a bar brawl, per Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, hurt his thumb and subsequently missed more than a month of action. 

    Then, recently, he and shooting guard Gary Neal exchanged some words with one another, thrusting Sanders back into the negativity spotlight yet again. 

    As Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio notes, the Bucks would consider moving Sanders before the deadline:

    The Bucks are still very open to moving center Larry Sanders prior to the Feb. 20 trading deadline, sources said. They would have to take back some salary, but it appears draft picks are their priority.

    But it's not time to bail on the big man just yet.

    Despite some attitude issues and a raw offensive skill set, Sanders still possesses a wealth of potential.

    The 25-year-old center has appeared in just 15 games and is averaging 6.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 1.0 assists and 1.8 blocks in 25.3 minutes.

    These numbers are certainly a dip from 2012-13, but Sanders has yet to really get into a groove on either end of the floor yet.

    He is showing signs of doing that, though, as he's posting averages of 10.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks over his last three games.

    Even with his four-year, $44 million contract extension over the summer, exercising patience with Sanders is imperative. 

Brandon Knight Has the Potential to Be the Team's Franchise Point Guard

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    After being hobbled by a hamstring injury early on, and subsequently playing poorly, Brandon Knight has come on incredibly strong since the end of November.

    Since Nov. 29, Knight is averaging 18.5 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.2 steals on 43.4 percent shooting from the field and 34.9 percent from three-point range.

    From an efficiency standpoint, he's still somewhat inconsistent—especially from three—but the fact that he has been producing at this level is very encouraging.

    It's clear, though, that he has the ability to score at a high level.

    Through 32 games, Knight has scored in double figures 24 times and has scored in the range of 20 to 39 points on 10 separate occasions.

    Additionally, he's slowly progressing as a distributor, as the 4.4 assists per game he is averaging to this point are a career high. Considering that, at 42.0 percent, the Bucks are the league's worst shooting team, that's a pretty solid total.

    Obviously Knight will need to show he can consistently produce at this level—or higher—but he's beginning to demonstrate why he was the second point guard drafted in 2011.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Really Is a Freak of Nature

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    Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    There might not be an NBA player more aptly nicknamed than 19-year-old Giannis Antetokounmpo.

    The Greek Freak, for lack of better description, truly is an athletic freak.

    Need proof? There's numerous examples.

    First, there's this Instagram photo from NBA Canada reporter Payal Doshi depicting the abnormally large hands Antetokounmpo has.

    If that's not convincing, he has a 7'4" wingspan and, according to Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times, is still growing:

    Not only is Antetokounmpo’s game growing, so is his body. When the Bucks drafted him in June, he was 6-9. Now, just more than five months later, he has added more than an inch to his lanky frame.

    Still not sold?  

    This video posted by Vine user, Bucksschmucks, shows Antetokounmpo making a ridiculous block on Kevin Durant after recovering from running into a screen.

    But it's not just his athleticism that has been impressive.

    Antetokounmpo has seen significant minutes and, with his solid play, has broken into the starting lineup.

    He's averaging 7.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 1.7 assists on 45.1 percent shooting from the field in just 23.2 minutes of play.

    Given what he accomplished through the season's first half, the thought of what he can do the rest of the way is very exciting. 

John Henson Is the Future at Power Forward

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    Ned Dishman/Getty Images

    With Ersan Ilyasova struggling to stay healthy and produce, John Henson has stepped in and proven he can be the team's starting power forward both now and into the future.

    Appearing in 32 games—and starting 14 of them—Henson is averaging 12.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 2.2 blocks while shooting 52.7 percent from the floor.

    And considering he's really the only legitimate inside scoring option the Bucks have, his value is even greater.

    As Henson's shot chart, courtesy of NBA.com, shows, he does most of his scoring within eight feet of the rim and converts a solid 59.1 percent of attempts within that area.

    With a crafty hook and smooth—yet sometimes awkward—post moves, he's the one player the Bucks can count on to get them points in the paint on a regular basis.

    In this video from YouTube, you can see how he somehow always manages to maneuver his way into a spot that will afford him some room to shoot. Some players would rush things in similar situations, but Henson practices patience and usually gets a clean look.

    If he can continue building his upper-body strength to withstand some of the physical abuse that occurs down low, he'll become an even more dominant force. 

The Bucks Are Headed for the No. 1 Overall Pick

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    Gary Dineen/Getty Images

    It's not exactly breaking news, but at this rate, the Bucks are clearly headed for the first overall pick in June's draft—assuming the ping-pong balls fall their way.

    For some, the fact that the team is this bad might not be a surprise.

    But it's hard not to wonder what owner Herb Kohl is thinking right now.

    Prior to the season, as illustrated in an article by Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kohl made it clear tanking was not an option for 2013-14.

    In fact, he believed this team could compete:

    But Kohl said he thinks the reshaped Bucks roster can compete better than many league observers expect.

    "We'll see what happens, but we're not playing for the lottery," Kohl said.

    The Bucks finished in the eighth-seeded spot in the Eastern Conference last season and quickly were swept in the opening round of the playoffs by the Miami Heat, the eventual NBA champion.

    That prompted an off-season of change and a massive roster turnover. Eleven of the 15 players introduced at Monday's luncheon were newcomers, although several have played for the Bucks in the past.

    The notion was admirable and some—including myself—believed that in an extremely weak Eastern Conference, this team could, in fact, compete for a playoff spot.

    Clearly that option is off the table.

    With names like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid and more being discussed as potential draft choices come summer, having a terrible year isn't the worst of things.

    Each of the aforementioned players could be franchise cornerstones and help turn things in the right direction.

    For now, though, continuing to get young players minutes and attempting to remain competitive is the best thing the Bucks can do.

    The rest will fall into place. 

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