Welcome back to the Friday Five, a new weekly column where we jump around the NBA and cover five observations from here in America.
Here are five thoughts from the Australians in the NBA this week.
1. Can Thon Maker build off one game?
Monday night in Milwaukee was the classic Thon Maker experience. After experiencing sparse play to start the season, Maker hit the court for 23 minutes against Toronto and teased out those tantalising talents that make Bucks fans weak at the knees.
Subjectively speaking, Maker looked more comfortable on offence. He moved the basketball and made sounds decisions. Making the extra pass was something that especially stood out, as Maker frequently pushed the basketball around the perimeter to better-positioned teammates.
This is a humble development, sure, but intricacies like this have historically been lacking. Maker’s passing and assist numbers have been among the NBA’s worst during his brief career. Progress, as simplistic as it may sounds, is a promising sign.
Much of his tangible value against Toronto came from hitting shots – an accomplishment that he is yet to prove is reliable. There were also signs of how Mike Budenholzer’s new scheme could unlock Maker. Take this play for example, where he flies down the lane and imitates some of the best rim running centers in basketball.
I love seeing Eric Bledsoe leverage Maker’s verticality in this fashion. Now that the Bucks are equipped with an arsenal of floor spacers, there is less need for Maker’s outside shooting.
Budenholzer’s new scheme has spread the floor in ways the Jason Kidd-Joe-Prunty tandem couldn’t, and it creates more room inside for Maker to use his size. Verticality represents his point of difference over Christian Wood, John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova, the three men Maker is competing with for reserve minutes behind Brook Lopez. The only way Maker will receive minutes in high leverage situations this season, is as a five man.
His hands need to be stronger, and his defensive aptitude must consistently rise to the level seen against Boston in the postseason. Maker is well-capable and it’s now time to expect consistency in performance.
2. Aggressive Dante
Dante Exum has been a more aggressive player to start the NBA season. He is harnessing explosive athleticism and exploiting backpedaling opponents with a newfound focus on attacking.
Exum’s fast break points have doubled over last season, and there is still plenty of room for improvement. Finishing at the rim remains an issue - he is shooting a career-worst 50% on shots inside five feet this season. Improving his conversion rate is a development that could elevate Exum’s game, but getting there is the first step. Exum is able to get inside quicker than most and this elevates pressure on the defence.
The following play is from when Utah visited Dallas during the week. After a Mavericks free throw, Exum is relentless in pushing the ball up the court, and his energy creates a wide open three-pointer for Georges Niang.
This isn’t an isolated occurrence, either.
Exum is making simple basketball plays. He's exploiting momentary defensive lapses and the Jazz are reaping the benefits.
3. Disappearing Delly
Matthew Dellavedova is yet to receive his chance. He has played just 25 minutes in Milwaukee’s seven-game winning streak to start the season; that’s the second-lowest total on the Bucks roster. The introduction of new leadership and a healthy roster has eroded opportunities for the 2016 NBA champion.
The combination of Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon has started every game in the Bucks' backcourt. Budenholzer then staggers the pair to ensure one of his starting guards is present at all times. Either Brogdon and Bledsoe have been the duty point guard on 1,330 of the 1,338 offensive possessions Milwaukee has played this season, per Cleaning the Glass. Dellavedova’s days of initiating the Bucks offence appear over.
Rookie Donte DiVincenzo is the first guard coming off Budenholzer’s bench, and the Villanova product is showing himself to be a reliable addition. Pat Connaughton is flashing advancements to his reliable outside shooting, while Sterling Brown is now receiving minutes in direct competition to Dellavedova.
As we touched on before the season, the competition for backcourt minutes is stronger than it has been during Dellavedova’s first two years in Milwaukee.
“Once I get on, it’s just about playing the right way with the group on the floor and get some experience together,” Dellavedova explained to The Pick and Roll in Minnesota over the weekend.
With the Bucks off to an impeccable start, there is little reason to change what is clearly working. That likely means more time waiting, and more patience for the Australian.
4. Jonah Bolden is on the board
Bolden scored his first NBA basket during the Philadelphia 76ers victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night. In a fitting sign of the Australian ties in Philadelphia, Bolden’ maiden venture onto the scoreboard came via an assist from Ben Simmons. You can’t make this stuff up!
It’s impossible to draw any conclusions from Bolden’s first month as an NBA player. He has played only a handful of minutes, and these have all come in garbage time. We have yet to see what he can truly do at the NBA level. The Sixers announced on Wednesday that Bolden has been sent down to their G League franchise, the Delaware Blue Coats. This will provide Bolden with an oppurtunity to play consistent minutes when the Blue Coats open their season on Saturday.
One thing has stood out from watching Bolden’s pregame routine, and that’s his shooting drills. He has spent the majority of each daily warm-up going through a detailed shooting process.
Developing the three-ball will be an instrumental milestone in Bolden’s career. It’s a required skill in the current day NBA and, as we are seeing during the Sixers' shaky start, the franchise needs outside shooting across every position. Bolden’s shooting form looks improved; it is much more fluid now, compared to when Philadelphia drafted him last year. Converting these improvements into better results in practice could lead to more minutes in Brett Brown’s rotation.
5. What a week for Patty Mills!
It’s fair to say Mills is enjoying life at the moment. On the basketball court, he has just completed the two best games of his early season. In consecutive victories over the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks, Mills continued powering the Spurs bench. His ability to take shots off the dribble is proving deadly.
Mills has always been a dead-eye shooter. But if he can start hitting these pull-up jumpers with consistency, he will become an even greater threat for the Spurs.
Away from basketball, Mills had the chance to play in front of his idol, Cathy Freeman.
Keep living your best life, Patty!
That’s another week of basketball in the books, and another Friday Five complete. Did we miss anything? Let Ben know on Twitter if there is anything you would like to see next week.