There were a lot of questions facing the Milwaukee Bucks as they prepared to open training camp. Now, on the eve of the 2016-17 season opener, there are even more.
Last season was a forgettable one for the Bucks, who were fresh off the heels of a surprise surge into the playoffs but plummeted back into the realm of lottery participants with a 33-39 record.
Milwaukee struggled in all aspects of the game, but it was the Bucks' defensive effort that was most concerning. Among the best in the NBA in 2015-16, the Bucks finished 17th in both points per game (103.2) and defensive shooting percentage (45.4 percent).
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A lot of that drop-off had to do with Milwaukee's reliance on younger players; veterans Jared Dudley and Zaza Pachulia were shipped elsewhere last season, leaving the Bucks' collection of young -- but long -- talent to learn on the fly.
"It's being able to use our length, deflections, rebounding the ball," coach Jason Kidd said. "I thought in preseason we had some halves or quarters where we didn't (play strong defense); but, as a whole, the different combinations we had were positive ones."
The team also struggled to score -- especially from beyond the 3-point arc, where the Bucks were among the league's worst in attempts, makes and percentage.
So when shooting guard Khris Middleton went down on the eve of training camp with an ACL injury, there was reason for concern. But the Bucks are confident that the offseason additions of Matthew Dellavadova, Mirza Teletovich, Jason Terry and Tony Snell will complement Milwaukee forwards Jabari Parker and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who will handle the bulk of the Bucks' ballhandling duties.
"It's the balance, being able to finish in the paint, and we create a lot of threes," Kidd said. "We have to be able to make them. Tony (Snell), Mirza, Delly. Now, Giannis and Jabari are shooting more. You have Jason Terry and Malcolm."
They'll have their work cut out for them right off the bat, as the Charlotte Hornets come to town looking to build off a breakout 48-victory campaign that culminated in a hard-fought, seven-game playoff series with the Miami Heat.
Charlotte returns much of the same group from last season but will have to deal with some depth issues early on.
A bone bruise in his right knee kept Cody Zeller out of action for a majority of Charlotte's preseason; as a result, he will see limited minutes to start the season.
Power forward Marvin Williams is expected to start Wednesday despite suffering a non-displaced fracture of his left middle finger. But his primary backup, 7-footer Frank Kaminsky, has battled a sprained foot and is listed as questionable.
"Marvin is fine, so he'll start," coach Steve Clifford told the Charlotte Observer. "In these first two games, they downsize a lot anyway, so (Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) could play some there. Also, Spencer (Hawes) can play some (at power forward)."
Charlotte won the 2015-16 season series, 3-1. Kemba Walker averaged 19.3 points and 4.8 assists in those four games to lead the Hornets while Parker paced the Bucks with 15.8 points and 6.8 rebounds.
After facing the Bucks, the Hornets travel to Miami on Friday for a rematch with the Heat before opening the home portion of their schedule Saturday night against the Boston Celtics.
Milwaukee will return to action Saturday, at home against Brooklyn, before heading to Detroit on Sunday for the first road contest of the season.