In the first year of the rebuild, the Sixers opened the season against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat. This year's schedule allows them to pick on someone their own size for a couple games: First the Paul Georgeless Pacers, and now the Milwaukee Bucks.
On one hand, I resent both of those teams for putting out such tepid, effete basketball teams as to perpetuate the stereotype that there's nothing worth seeing in the Midwest. (We're all fat because the food and beer are great out here, by the way, so enjoy your haughty foodie bullshit, you East Coast elitists. You might live to be older than 55, but it'll feel like 155 years, you anhedonic snobs.)
On the other hand, I love the Bucks. They're awesome. I mean, they're not awesome--they blow. They were somehow worse than the Sixers last year, and it wasn't particularly close. And they improved upon their previous effort by bending over backwards to get Jason Kidd to coach their team for some reason. I mean, Larry Drew wasn't exactly Dean Smith, but Jason Kidd is the Evan Turner of head coaches.
The Bucks are like the Sixers' bumbling yokel cousins, in that they're rebuilding the franchise around a couple young stars after having peaked in 2001 and fallen into the dreaded Desert of the Middle, except while the Sixers appear to have deliberately created a long-term plan, the Bucks fell into theirs. They tried to make the playoffs and bumbled into finishing four games worse than a team that showed a unique indifference to winning in the short term.
Nevertheless, the Bucks have an interesting group of players right now, and that's the primary difference between them and the Sixers--the Bucks have their would-be stars of the future, while the Sixers, whether through injury (Noel, Embiid, and Carter-Williams) or vagaries of international diplomacy (Saric) are on a plan of deferred gratification with theirs.
So what of the Bucks, currently constituted? Well, they've got a hellacious rim protector in Larry Sanders--and if I've got one wish for this game, it's that Sanders and Nerlens Noel go on some sort of blocks-and-steals one-upmanship campaign at some point tonight--and a shoot-first point guard in Brandon Knight, who, 22-8-13 opening night notwithstanding, will probably not run the offense through him if and when they get good. In between, you've got an interesting young big and renowned children's puppeteer in John Henson, as well as the capacity to play what I consider to be the platonic ideal of basketball.
What I mean by that is that the NBA is slowly transitioning from a football-like positional mentality to a more soccer-like positional mentality. Rather than rigidly defined roles, we're seeing coaches just put their best five guys on the floor, not quite irrespective of position, but close to it. In this new, more positionally promiscuous order, you want players with the quickness and ball skills of a guard on offense, but the size of a power forward on defense, and hey, would you look at that, LeBron James and Kevin Durant are the two best players in the NBA right now.
My ideal basketball unit is five small forwards--maybe one of them's 6-foot-6 and one or two are more stretch 4s than legitimate 3s, but you could plug these players into an offensive or defensive set in any combination. Total Basketball, if you will.
I've loved Ersan Ilyasova, despite his terrifying face, for years because he could play in such a lineup, and since then, the Bucks have added Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose name I've learned to spell, and Jabari Parker. Stick Jared Dudley in there and you could see a lineup of five small forwards if you squinted hard enough. Of course, that lineup would get killed defensively right now, but such is life.
Anyway, the Bucks are probably the better team right now, just because Parker and Antetokounmpo are playing, Embiid, MCW, and Saric aren't, and the Bucks have a couple of their complementary pieces in place already. But after keeping Wednesday night's Pacers game competitive, there's no reason the Sixers couldn't do the same in Milwaukee.