Giannis-hand

The Toronto Raptors continue to roll. Now in possession of the NBA Championship Belt, an 18-17 record, the Atlantic Division lead and fourth place in the Eastern Conference (an embarrassment of riches if there ever was one), the Dinos host the lowly Milwaukee Bucks at 7 p.m. on TSN.

The Bucks are an interesting contrast to the Raptors because they’re in the position at least some fans would prefer Toronto to be. At 7-29, Milwaukee has the inside edge on the No. 1 pick in the loaded 2014 draft, already a full two and a half games “ahead” of every other team in the tank standings. They also have super-fun Greek rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, who you may remember Masai Ujiri was reportedly trying to acquire a draft pick to select this past summer.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee wasn’t supposed to be tanking originally, and if the franchises had the choice three weeks ago, they probably would have agreed to a record swap. As it is, the goals and focus have reversed, and the Raptors are heavy favorites.

To help us set the stage, I enlisted the help of Swog Monster Eric Buenning of Brew Hoop.

Larry Sanders is back, but he’s not looking too good out there. I have a three-part question on Sanders: A) Why is he a puppy-hating monster? B) Where is his offensive game at right now, and how soon can you see him developing into someone you can run actual plays for regularly? C) What’s up with him and Gary Neal, is that symptomatic of Sanders being an issue behind the scenes?

A) No comment, haha. It was over a year ago when this actually happened, so I was surprised to see it brought up during the bar fight deal (plot twist: I wasn’t). Still, that violation and treatment of animals is really indefensible. There’s nothing more I can say about that, really.

B) Where Larry is best on offense is as the roll man out of the pick-and-roll. He hasn’t been able to find that chemistry with starting point guard Brandon Knight yet, but has with a more..’conventional’ (backup) point guard Luke Ridnour. That being said, Sanders hasn’t been rolling as quickly as he once did. Whether that’s a result of him knowing that his chances of getting the ball are lower or that he just is thinking about other things remains to be seen, but he’s certainly not improving in any offensive areas, really. I don’t see the Bucks being able to run anything for Sanders until he can stop telegraphing his post moves. When he gets the ball and looks to attack, it’s quite clear: he’s probably going to take an aggressive dribble, spin around a little bit, and hoist up some awkward hook-looking shot. Sanders also can’t pop out and knock down a jumper like an Al Horford can, so he’s really at the mercy of the distributing guard.

C) I really don’t think that scuffle was a big deal. It only became one because the media saw it, in my opinion. I’m sure arguments like this happen more than we believe they do.

That being said, Sanders doesn’t have the luxury of the benefit of the doubt anymore after the bar fight, so it is fair to wonder if Sanders stepped out of line a bit. Personally, I don’t see anything concerning in this report, but god it would be nice to hear some positive news surrounding Larry.

True or False: The Bucks, as currently constructed, are the worst team in the NBA.

I don’t think they have the least talented roster in the league, but the fact that they haven’t really put anything consistent together and we’re at game 36 in the season is troubling. So yeah, I’d say they are the worst right now. Why not, right?!?! Sigh..

Is there anyone more fun than Giannis Antetokounmpo? Have you ever seen his hands up close? You guys seem like you’d make good friends. In seriousness, how excited is the fanbase for him to develop, and how does that compare to the initial draft-day excitement?

NO, THERE IS NOBODY MORE FUN AND PERFECT AND ADORABLE THAN GIANNIS. I have not only seen his hands up close, I have shook (shaken?) his hand. I have never felt less capable of being a real man than in that moment. It was like I didn’t even have a real hand. WAIT, DO YOU THINK WE’D REALLY BE GOOD FRIENDS?!?!

I think the excitement around draft time was in part due to the mystery surrounding this kid, but mostly because the Bucks were not only drafting the best player available, but one that was specifically a move for the future (something we don’t get to say a lot with the Bucks). Now, the excitement surrounding Giannis’ development is probably the only thing Bucks fans are unanimously positive about. We’re all behind this guy.

If you need a sign of how much we adore him right now, take a look at the reaction to whenever Giannis posts one of his blog entries. It gets…gushy.

The Bucks are below average on the offensive glass but the league’s worst team on their own boards. Sanders obviously helps with that, but with the Raptors being a slightly above-average offensive rebounding team, would you circle this as a key to the game for Toronto?

Amir Johnson is my guy I’m most worried about. It’s not so much that he would be an offensive juggernaut and dismantle the Bucks on his own, but it’s the extra offensive rebound he’s capable of getting if this game gets near crunch time that is a concern. Tyson Chandler does something very similar to the Bucks. He’ll get his fair share of points, but when the Bucks need a stop to crawl back into the game, Chandler does his stupid little tap out and the Knicks get an extra possession that results in a Carmelo three or some crap like that. That’s where Amir can be most crucial, in my opinion.

After a poor start thanks to injuries and inconsistency, Brandon Knight has started to look like a capable lead guard, though still something short of a facilitator. I know he has another year left on his rookie deal, but in your view, is he the Bucks’ point guard of the future?

I still have my doubts that he is the point guard of the future, but he’s certainly worth seeing through his contract and maybe beyond that. Larry Drew has a decent track record of grooming point guards to at least respectable levels, so it would be worth seeing what he can do with a full offseason of working with Knight.

At the very worst, Knight can become a really good asset as a starring or backup combo guard. He has a lot of impressive physical traits and can put up points on one end and get at it defensively as well. He’s quite talented, but whether you trust him to help execute the offense down the stretch is a whole other issue, the one that needs a much more clear answer by the end of next season.

In short: No I do not think he’s the point guard of the future, but I don’t think he’s done with the Bucks at the end of this contract.

Say the Bucks secure the No. 1 pick. Who you taking, gun to your head right now?

Right now I’m leaning towards a wing scorer and creator over anything else, so Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, or Dante Exum (Jabante Parggum?) would have me doing cartwheels. I don’t know why a gun has to be to my head (isn’t rooting for this team enough?), but that is where I’d lean right now. However, if the Bucks fall into the 3-5 range or land a decent wing player somewhere along the line, taking Joel Embiid would be almost as exciting. With Larry Sanders not exactly making Bucks fans feel super great (he got tossed for a flagrant 2 foul as I am responding to this), it may be time to consider replacing him. Who better than what some are considering a once in a decade type of center prospect, right??

But for the sake of answering your pretty little question, and the Bucks are at that #1 spot, I’m taking Jabari Parker right now.

Let’s have a look at how some fancy formulae and the millionaire fat-cats in Vegas see things. I warned you this has blowout written all over it.

Vegas says: Raptors -11.5 with 57 percent of early action on Toronto, over/under of 184.5 with 65 percent tabbing the over.
Hollingers say: Raptors -18
I’m on my own, never say: anything right

If you’re curious, the reason the over/under is so low is because both of these teams play at a bottom-10 pace, but I still think 184.5 is a bit too low. An 11.5-point spread is pretty significant but, really, but I’m more confident both teams keep going the direction they have been than have an unexpected slugfest. Plus, the strap is on the line, no near-falls here.

In terms of who to watch out for, Knight is a concern for how quickly he can fill it up but he also remains undisciplined and has tunnel vision, factors that play to Kyle Lowry’s advantage on the defensive end. O.J. Mayo could be described in a similar manner, though his off-the-ball game needs to be respected a bit more. Antetokounmpo is fun and already looks further along than I expected, but he’s certainly not someone you gameplan for. John Henson is questionable, Larry Sanders can’t score and Khris Middleton is just Khris Middleton with more field goal attempts of late.

Like I said, there’s not a ton of talent here, a few guys who can get hot but nothing more. Defensively, the Bucks length from the three on down can pose problems but they’ll likely struggle to contain DeMar DeRozan if the guards can’t effectively funnel him towards Sanders (and if Sanders keeps a cool enough head to play 30 minutes), and Lowry should have a strong game again.

As I’ve been saying, now’s not the time to take anyone lightly or rest on recent success. Feet to throats. Raptors by 15 and then on to Boston on Wednesday.