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Bucks at Timberwolves Preview

The Wolves host the Bucks in an Upper Midwest battle tonight.

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Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Bucks at Wolves
7:00 pm CST
FS North

Is it the Battle of the Wisconsin River?

Or is it the battle for the soul of this blog?

OK. In truth it's a January game between two upper midwestern mediocrities tonight at Target Center, as the Bucks are in town for the only time this season.

Things have fallen apart for the Bucks after they rode a fantastic defensive performance to a 41-41 record and the playoffs last season under first year head coach Jason Kidd. This year, the defense has collapsed to an abysmal 28th in the league, and the offense isn't much better at 24th.

The Bucks made some dubious personnel moves at the trade deadline last season and over the summer that have resulted in what appears to be a much less exciting team going forward. The trade of Brandon Knight, who appeared to be coming into his own as a point guard after struggling in Detroit early in his career for Michael Carter-Williams in a three team deal at last season's deadline robbed them of much of their offensive dynamism, and added a player who dominates the ball but struggles to score. It was a move made in part because the Bucks did not want to pay Knight a big salary in free agency, as indeed Phoenix did over the summer, but it left them with an ill-fitting roster.

The trades of Ersan Ilyasova (to the Pistons) and especially Zaza Pachulia (to the Mavericks) over the summer also hurt, as Pachulia was and is an underrated starting quality center who excels defensively, and losing Ilyasova left them short a shooter, and they find themselves near the bottom in three point attempts, which further clogs things up for their major acquisition, Greg Monroe.

Monroe is doing what he always does--scoring at moderately good volume with decent efficiency, collecting some rebounds, and showing some passing chops for a big man. He isn't a dominant player, struggles defensively, and while he's fully capable of being a quality offensive performer, he is not going to be the central fulcrum of a quality NBA offense.

In fact, the Bucks have a strange usage distribution in that of the 11 players who have averaged more than 10 minutes a game, only one, Johnny O'Bryant, has a usage% under 18%, while Monroe carries the highest usage at only 23%. In theory spreading things out can be a good thing as it means there are more guys the defense has to pay attention to, but in this case it hasn't worked, as too many of them are poor shooters and the Bucks are a high turnover team.

Defensively is where things have really fallen apart, as the front court minutes that were going to Pachulia and Larry Sanders before his retirement are now going to the offensively oriented Monroe and increasingly second year sieve Jabari Parker. Their big problem comes with rebounding, where they are 30th in the league on the defensive glass, and fouling, where they give up the highest FT/FGA ratio in the league.

The Wolves will need to take advantage of that and get to the line tonight, as it is generally one of their bigger strengths, and hopefully Karl-Anthony Towns, Gorgui Dieng and others can find some joy on the offensive glass as well.

Meanwhile, the recent bright spot for the Bucks has been the play of Khris Middleton. On the year, he's shooting an incredible 46% from three, and over the last few games he's been on fire, scoring 30+ in each of his last two, and 20+ in five of his last six. He's also been assisting at an excellent rate for a 6'8" wing player.

His match up with Andrew Wiggins will be something to keep an eye on. I remember watching them go at it in preseason here in Madison and Middleton definitely got the better of it that night; how Wiggins approaches Middleton tonight will be fun.

I've gone this long without mentioning Giannis Antetokounmpo, who remains their most intriguing player. A 6'11" small forward who runs the floor like a deer and just turned 21, he's showing some improvement, particularly in his shooting inside the arc, but has also stagnated in some areas and appears much the same player he was last season. His defense in particular seems to have gone backward, at least compared to last season, which isn't surprising given the team's defensive collapse.

He's still a spectacular player to watch who can fill a box score with anyone on a good night, so expect to see him roaming the court, leaving Tayshaun Prince and playing safety defense for the Bucks, and trying to get out in transition off turnovers and misses.

It should be a fun one tonight, and despite what you might have been told, this remains a Timberwolves blog, not a Bucks blog. For that, head over to Brew Hoop. They're not as cool as us, but they're alright.

Oh, also, check out FanDuel for daily fantasy basketball. It's fun, even though I'm in an awful slump.