O.J. Mayo had become a little controversial towards the end of his brief Mavs tenure. How is he fitting in with the Bucks so far?
Overall I think people are realistic about his limitations and realize that he's going to be a stretch as a #1 option in Milwaukee. Like the rest of the starters, he struggled in the first two games as the Bucks dug big holes early and needed their bench to get them back into it, but he's been much better in the last two (16 pts/8 ast vs. Toronto and 28 pts vs. Cleveland) and his early numbers (15/4/4) are right around where many would have expected. He's been aggressive off closeouts and coming off screens and even played some very good defense vs. Kyrie Irving late in the Bucks' win on Wednesday, but people are also going to have to live with his turnovers in traffic and penchant for contested jumpers. I'd expect him to lead the Bucks in scoring this season almost by default, though I don't expect him to make some huge leap beyond what he's done in prior years.
Small sample size and all, but "Monta Basketball" seems to have worked out pretty well in Dallas thus far. What's the difference - or is there one?
Monta had stretches of excellent play for the Bucks last year as well (especially the month of March), so it's not like he was awful or something. Only a handful of guys compare to him in terms of speed and explosiveness with the ball, and his vision and interior passing have always been underrated. He was at his best in Milwaukee while playing point guard last spring, so personally that's where I think he's most dangerous--with the ball in his hands.
Unfortunately his infinite supply of self-confidence can be a double-edged sword -- see his high volume of long twos and threes, in spite of little to no success from those areas. I doubt that he'll suddenly acquire some self-reflection at this stage of his career, but the good news is that his supporting cast in Dallas just seems to complement his skill set much better than what he had to work with in Milwaukee. He doesn't have to do as much with the Mavericks, so hopefully that means dialing back the bad and keeping most of the good.
The Bucks were the subject of some discussion before the season for their seeming dedication to mediocrity. How has that gone over with the fans and media there?
The Bucks' refusal to embrace a full rebuild has generally been met with eye rolling and worse in Milwaukee, particularly because they've been so unsuccessful in their quests to maximize wins in recent years. For many it has less to do with believing in tanking so much as not trusting Herb Kohl to be able to put together a winning roster--one 50-win season in 20 years tends to do that. However, even fans who aren't sold on tanking can understand why the strong 2014 draft class and the Bucks' major roster turnover this summer would have made this an obvious season to focus more on developing young players rather than winning 40 games at all costs.
The saving grace for the Bucks thus far has been their young rotation players, a number of whom have been valuable rotation pieces thus far. Nate Wolters has looked like a savvy veteran of late running the offense, John Henson has provided a much-needed source of inside scoring, Khris Middleton looks like he could be a quality two-way forward and Giannis Antetokounmpo has flashed big-time talent in limited rotation minutes. The Bucks will needs those guys and Larry Sanders to play well in order to threaten for a playoff spot this year, though until further notice I still think it will be very difficult for the Bucks to beat out the teams in the improved middle ranks of the East for another return to the postseason.
Point guard depth would seem to be an issue with some early injuries for the Bucks. How has the team compensated for that?
The absences of Brandon Knight and Luke Ridnour have thrust rookie second rounder Nate Wolters into major minutes early in the season, something no one expected even two weeks ago. But aside from a nervous first half in the opener at MSG, Wolters has been damn good. While he hasn't found consistency with his jumper yet, he's shown very good P&R instincts, works hard defensively and has 22 assists and just two turnovers over the last three games. Simply put: he's going to be an NBA player for a long time, though we'll need to see a bit more of him before we know exactly how good he can be. Gary Neal and O.J. Mayo have had to shoulder some of the remaining load as ball-handlers, but there's little doubt that the offense has been at its best with Wolters at the point. I'm not sure how Larry Drew will be able to keep Wolters out of the rotation even when his veterans do return, but it will definitely be a dilemma of the good kind.
What's the key for the Bucks to defeat the Mavericks?
Defensive rebounding has been the Bucks' Achilles' heel thus far, and they were generally beat up inside for long stretches by the Knicks, Celtics and Raptors. Larry Sanders' early season struggles (more so the on-court ones) have been a big part of that story, though they've been fortunate that Zaza Pachulia has played out of his mind so far. As of Friday it wasn't clear if Sanders would play against Dallas because of a right thumb injury, and generally the Bucks will need him to really step up if they're going to be respectable this season. Ditto for Ersan Ilyasova, who has been battling an ankle injury but still shown his familiar good perimeter touch when he's been healthy.
Offensively, the Bucks' lack of go-to scorers means they have to move the ball, push the tempo (hard to do consistently with only one point guard) and make perimeter shots. Mayo and Neal were terrific against the Cavs, but they're not going to shoot 10/12 from deep every night.
Thanks Frank! For more on the Bucks, hop on over to Brew Hoop. (See what I did there?)
UPDATE: Check out my answers to Frank's questions, now live over on Brew Hoop.