Thursday, December 7, 2023

Preseason debut of Damian Lillard-Giannis Antetokounmpo duo reminds us to be patient with Bucks’ progression

Remember when you were a kid, and you had a snack before heading to the pool or the beach? As soon as you arrived, all you wanted to do was jump right into the water — but some adult, maybe a parent, commanded that you wait “at least 30 minutes” after eating before the fun could begin?

That’s what it’s like with the Milwaukee Bucks right now.

We all want to immediately witness the fully realized version of the vaunted pairing of Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but unfortunately it doesn’t usually work like that in the NBA. Lillard is great. Giannis is great. But the question is how long will it take for them to be great together.

We look at the pick-and-roll numbers for both Lillard and Antetokounmpo and just assume that putting them together will yield elite results. But their first preseason game together, a nationally televised 108-97 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, reminded us that much patience — more than we’d like — will be required as Milwaukee gets used to its new, dynamic point guard.

Antetokounmpo was his normal, dominant self before taking a rest for the entire second half, posting 16 points, eight rebounds and two blocks on 7-for-10 shooting in just over 15 minutes. Lillard wasn’t as sharp, but displayed his breathtaking combination of infinite 3-point range and finishing ability, putting up 14 points and three assists while going 6-for-6 from the free throw line in 22 minutes.

Together, though, Lillard and Antetokounmpo weren’t exactly Stockton and Malone — not yet, anyway. The Lakers’ defense predictably loaded up on the two superstars, forcing someone else to have to beat them.

In some instances, Antetokounmpo simply took it upon himself to do something superhuman out of a busted play.

Overall, the synergy simply wasn’t there — and that’s perfectly fine. Watch here as the spacing gets all mucked up when the Bucks invert the pick-and-roll with Lillard screening for Giannis.

Let’s not get anything twisted here — this is a GREAT problem for first-year Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin to have, as he attempts to maximize the talents of two of the greatest basketball players on Earth. Even when things didn’t go smoothly on Sunday, the attention that Lillard and Antetokounmpo commanded led to open looks from shooters like Jae Crowder, Brook Lopez and Malik Beasley. Also keep in mind that Milwaukee’s other All-Star, Khris Middleton, didn’t play in the game.

Despite the dreams of Milwaukee’s offensive excellence dancing in our heads, it’s important to remember that any great tandem, or great team, requires chemistry — and chemistry takes patience. That was reiterated in Sunday’s debut of the NBA’s newest superstar duo.

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