Luhm: Jazz, Bucks riding in the same leaky boat — for now
By Steve Luhm
Tribune ColumnistFirst published Jan 04 2014 01:27PM
They are cold-weather, small-market brothers in a world where either characteristic can be a major obstacle on the road to success.
Milwaukee and Utah.
Two wonderful places — filled with good people — and home to NBA basketball franchises that find themselves floating in the same leaky boat.
The Bucks own the worst record in the abysmal Eastern Conference.
The Jazz own the worst record in the deep and talented Western Conference.
Both teams are as far away from championship contention as summertime in the north woods of Wisconsin or the high peaks of Utah.
"I see a lot of similarities," Milwaukee coach Larry Drew said prior to the Jazz’s 96-87 win over the Bucks on Friday.
"Looking at personnel, we both have youth. We both sprinkle in some veteran guys. We’re looking to give the younger guys time because the more they play the [better] they are going to become. So I see a lot of similarities as far as where both organizations are right now."
As the 2013-14 season approaches the halfway point, the Jazz are farther along the rebuilding trail than the Bucks.
Primarily, Utah took its first steps down this treacherous path almost three years ago, when it traded All-Star point guard Deron Williams shortly after Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan resigned.
Since those franchise-shaking events, the Jazz have watched Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter and Alec Burks emerge as legitimate NBA players.
Last summer, the Jazz took another huge step when they drafted Trey Burke, who has been better than anyone in the organization could have hoped.
"The thing I’m intrigued about in watching him play is his poise and his composure, particularly at that position," Drew said. "To come in as a rookie at that point guard spot, that’s not an easy thing to do. ... You have a lot of things working against you."
Specifically, Drew said, "Trying to get the respect of your teammates — particularly veteran guys who have been in the league — can be difficult. They say, ‘Here comes this rookie into our league. Can he control our team? Can he keep us organized?’ But I’m very intrigued by how composed he is."
Milwaukee has its building blocks, too.
Against Utah, the Bucks’ starters included 22-year-old point guard Brandon Knight and rookie small forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, who just turned 19.
Antetokounmpo, in particular, looks like a star of the future.
The Bucks used the No. 15 pick on the little-known Greek teenager in last summer’s draft and they’re giving him a crash course in Basketball 101.
Antetokounmpo, who has a body-type similar to Kevin Durant, played 34 minutes in the loss to the Jazz. He stuffed his stat line with 10 points, seven rebounds, five assists and a blocked shot.
He is already the Bucks’ most noticeable player. It won’t be long before he is their best player.
"Giannis has really grown," said Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin. "He’s quickly gotten better at understanding the NBA game. He’s getting a lot of time on the floor and he’s responded for them."
Like their teams, Drew and Corbin find themselves in similar situations.
Their primary job this season isn’t winning. It’s developing players like Burke and Antetokounmpo.
"It can be very hard on a coach," Drew said, smiling. "But that’s just one of those things we have to deal with. They’re playing their young guys. We’re playing our young guys. That’s just the nature of the beast right now."