I have been reading Nate Silver’s book The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t, and it has made me look back at some of my predictions. Clearly, I did not use Bayesian analysis as Silver suggests when saying that the 76ers would be awful and should be embarrassed by their tanking season. I still don’t think Philadelphia will be very good, but Michael Carter-Williams has been much better than I ever imagined. I guess I need to consider drafting thin guys like MCW and Kevin Durant in the future. However, the worst of my predictions was that my Milwaukee Bucks would win as many games this year as they did last year when they had a pair of HivLezes in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. How was I to know that an untimely injury would knock the Bucks off their medium-sized pedestal? Perhaps I put too much stock in Carlos Delfino.
While Delfino’s absence was actually predictable – he had a foot injury before the Bucks signed him and will miss the majority of the season as the situation worsened – I could not have predicted that Larry Sanders would break his thumb in a bar fight. In the three games before he was injured (no doubt, defending his honor), he played very poorly and it looked like new coach Larry Drew preferred Zaza Pachulia manning the center rather than the highest paid Buck. Drew loved Pachulia in Atlanta and the fighting Turk does outweigh Sanders by 40 pounds, but it seems to me that Drew has forgotten about this picture. It shows how great Sanders is as a paint defender. Pachulia brings a lot of spirit, but that spirit is best used as a backup center.
These days the point is moot because both Sanders and Pachulia (fractured foot) are out. Brandon Knight has missed time and Caron Butler is out. Only three Bucks (O.J. Mayo, John Henson, and Khris Middleton) have played in all 24 games. Injuries have been a factor, and the loss of Sanders has been the most critical. This past summer, I imagined the Bucks would lean on Sanders and Henson to anchor a strong defense, while sharing the ball on offense. Without Sanders, the Bucks have lost their identity. It would be like the Mavericks without Dirk Nowitzki. Would they be able to win? What? Oh, they beat the the Bucks without Dirk on Saturday? Ugh. I also believed that Mayo and Knight would be decent enough to offset the ball-hogging ways of Ellis and Jennings. It looks like I was wrong.
Coming off a career-best season in which he hit 40.7% of his 3-pointers, Mayo is really struggling in a Milwaukee uniform. He is continuing to hit 3-pointers (38.7%), but his overall field goal percentage is a career-low 39.9%. Lamentably, he is leading the team with 13.9 points. Knight was never much of a shooter with the Pistons, but at least he didn’t seem to hurt his team through volume shooting. With the Bucks, he is also hitting a career-low 35.3% and just 30% of his threes. I don’t think these low shooting percentages are due to Sanders being out because he is not much of an offensive threat. My hope is that Mayo and Knight will bounce back and return to career norms throughout the season.
The awful start does have a small silver lining. No, I am not talking about the 2014 draft, which I still think is vastly overrated and I don’t think there is one transformational player out there (although Jabari Parker has looked awfully good). I mean that the some of the young Bucks are getting playing time. In December, Henson has averaged 15.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks in 32.9 minutes. He is too slight to cover opposing centers (which he is often currently tasked to do), but he looks like he could be a decent player with some offensive upside. I never thought much of Khris Middleton at Texas A&M, but he has been ok. The problem with Middleton is that he takes playing time away from Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronunciation guide is here – see, it isn’t that hard). The 19-year-old Greek has oodles of potential and is getting some playing time. Will he ever amount to anything? He is already better than Yi Jianlian, the last foreign long shot to be drafted by Milwaukee.
I hate to already give up on the Bucks after 24 games and I do think they will play better as their players get healthy. The Eastern Conference is so bad that even though they have only won five games and have the worst winning percentage in the NBA, they are only five games out of the playoffs as of Sunday afternoon. I think the Knicks and Nets will play better as well and there will be plenty of movement from the third spot to the basement in the East, but it seems unlikely that the Bucks will be able to win 40 games (or go 35-23 from here on out). Maybe next year.