http://www.jsonline.com/sports/bucks/jason-kidd-seeks-balance-between-offense-defense-b99603562z1-337784771.htmlSt. Francis — Great expectations can be a burden or a blessing.
The young Milwaukee Bucks will begin dealing with fulfilling all that promise Wednesday night as the New York Knicks visit the BMO Harris Bradley Center for the 2015-'16 season opener.
Coach Jason Kidd presided over an amazing transformation last season, helping the Bucks make a 26-game improvement over the previous season, when Milwaukee struggled to just 15 victories.
But how do the Bucks take the next big step, to reach the 50-victory mark and gain home-court advantage for a playoff series?
The answer lies in the delicate balance between offense and defense. Kidd wants the team to improve its offense without taking away from the determined defense the team played last season.
Greg Monroe, signed in free agency, gives the Bucks a legitimate low-post threat. Chris Copeland and Greivis Vasquez were acquired in the off-season, at least in part because of their ability to spread the floor and knock down three-pointers.
"Hopefully we did address it," Kidd said of the team's offensive deficiencies. "Hopefully we can make some more threes. We have more guys taking threes this year.
"You look at Giannis (Antetokounmpo) and Jabari (Parker) last year; we didn't let them shoot threes. Giannis' game grew. He got better without the three.
"Now letting him shoot the three, the idea is his game will get better. If he's making them, it means we're going to score more points."
The Bucks averaged 97.8 points last season, ranking 22nd in the 30-team league.
Kidd joked after Tuesday's practice that he would like the Bucks to score 110 a game.
"I think if we score 110 we've won every game," Kidd said with a grin. "One more point than our opponent.
"Our team is different than last year. We would love to have that same defensive mind-set when we take the floor. But if we're scoring 100 points a night, will our defense suffer a little bit?
"Common sense says, yes it will. But as coaches we've got to hold them accountable to play defense first. That's what we talked about last year and that's what we're talking about this year."
The Bucks' defensive numbers were impressive last season, including holding opponents to 48.7% field goal shooting (ranking fifth in the league) and 97.4 points per game (eighth). Milwaukee was first in steals and had one of the top shot-blockers in the league coming off the bench, 6-foot-11 John Henson.
"We've still got a ways to go with the new guys here," guard-forward Khris Middleton said of the team's defense. "It's going to take time but I think eventually we can get there.
"It's forming those good habits and getting rid of the bad habits we had last year and we picked up during the summer. We have pride. Our coaches are going to stay on us. We've just got to keep pushing, play as solid as we can."
The Bucks will be one of the longest teams in the league with the 6-11 Antetokounmpo, 6-8 Parker, 6-11 Monroe, 6-8 Middleton and 6-6 Michael Carter-Williams in the projected starting lineup. Vasquez, the backup point guard, is 6-6.
That length can cause havoc for opposing offenses if used in the right way.
"We're a defensive team and it starts with me up front," Carter-Williams said. "I take pride in that. I'm just going to go out there and do what I do best, pressure the ball and force turnovers. Hopefully the guys follow me, and I know they will."
Carter-Williams had to adjust to the Bucks' style of play when he arrived from Philadelphia at the trade deadline last season. It didn't always go smoothly, particularly on offense.
"It's coming along great," Carter-Williams said. "I came in during the middle of the year trying to learn things quickly. We were a little disorganized in the beginning, so it was great to have this preseason.
"I've been playing with these guys for half a year and the whole preseason, so I definitely feel more comfortable."
The 24-year-old point guard already sees differences in the offense.
"Everyone has more confidence in his shot," he said. "We got some new shooters. Myself, Giannis and Jabari have been working on knocking down the open shot. (Jerryd) Bayless is shooting the ball a lot better.
"We just all have confidence in each other. I think we're going to keep our aggressiveness (driving to the basket) but also keep the defense honest."
Middleton said being able to throw the ball to Monroe in the low post will drastically change the offense, allowing him to score or make plays for his teammates. That was not an option for the Bucks in past years.
The Bucks want to push the pace on offense and take advantage of their athleticism, but they don't want to get sloppy and commit too many turnovers. That leads to easy baskets for the other team.
"We want to play up and down, but as far as them (opponents) being in the 100s, we don't want that," Middleton said. "We want to be in the 100s of course. That means we're playing well, scoring fast and moving the ball.
"But on the defensive side we want to grind it out and make them shoot tough shots."