Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
The Milwaukee Bucks surprised everybody last season. For a team that won 34 games in 2008-2009 and then subsequently lost three of their top four scorers (Richard Jefferson, Charlie Villanueava and Ramon Sessions), making the playoffs was a pipe dream. Add in the fact that Michael Redd went down for the season after just 18 games last season and the Bucks’ hopes certainly didn’t get any higher.
But thanks to rookie point guard Brandon Jennings, the acquisition of John Salmons and development of Andrew Bogut, who was thought of as a bust prior to last season, the Bucks not only made the post-season but they won 46 games, giving them the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference. And the Bucks weren’t through there, though. They came very close to defeating the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs, forcing them to seven games, and they likely would have won if it wasn’t for the devastating fall that left Bogut with broken bones in his right wrist, a fractured right hand and index finger and a dislocated right elbow, an injury that he has still not completely recovered from.
Once they drafted Jennings over a more NBA-ready college player, you could tell that the Bucks were headed in the right direction. But to get to the post-season that soon was quite the accomplishment. Scott Skiles had his team focused on defense for the entire year, which is an accomplishment that he hasn’t gotten enough credit for. When a veteran team like the Celtics locks down on defense, experience is a big reason why, but when a teenager is your starting point guard and nobody else has ever played D at a high level, the fact that Bucks finished second in the NBA in defensive rating last season is a testamant to the job Skiles did.
And the Bucks didn’t lose any ground this off-season. They didn’t make any LeBron or Amare-like additions but they went with smaller but necessary acquistions that make them one of the more complete teams in the entire league. Their biggest move was trading veterans Charlie Bell and Dan Gadzuric to the Golden State Warriors for forward Corey Maggette.
Maggette is one of the top conditioned athletes in the NBA and his athletic ability shined in Golden State’s all-offense approach. Normally, you’ll see a player go from a system he isn’t suited for to one that fits him perfectly but Corey is actually going to an offense that detracts from him physical skills. Maggette was a monster in the open court for the Warriors but those transition and quick shot opportunities are few and far between in Scott Skiles’ slow it down, defense first squad.
However, Corey is still going to bring a lot to the table for the Bucks. In the half-court set, Maggette is great at attacking the basket and finishing at the rim over contested hands. The real value behind his ability to get to the cup and his decent mid-to-long range jumpshot is that he can do these things without a screen of off-the-ball movement. Corey is one of the game’s premier isolation players. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Maggette was placed in isolation 346 times as a Warrior last season and he scored on 53.2% of those plays.
Maggette’s most important contribution will likely be his ability to get to the free throw line. The Bucks seriosuly lacked somebody that could get to the bucket and draw contact which is one of the reasons their offense struggled for stretches. If you can’t get to the line and your shots aren’t falling, offense is hard to come by. Corey can fix that. He can attack from the wing, finish at the rim and force the opposition into conceeding two free throws to prevent and electrifying dunk.
It will be intereting to see how Maggette will fit in line-up wise. In Golden State, he was able to get 18 shots per game up while another guard or forward got another 18 because there were so many possessions to go around. In Milwaukee, the games are much slower and shot opportunities are few and far between. Brandon Jennings needs his looks, Andrew Bogut’s touches are vital and John Salmons is an effective wing scorer that took 15 shots per game during his time with the Bucks last season.
Speaking of Salmons, the Bucks also extended his contract this off-season, giving him five more years. Salmons played 30 games for Milwaukee last season and during that stint he averaged 20 points per game while shooting 47% from the floor and 38% from three-point range. Salmons is a capable scorer and a hard-working defender and was the #1 scoring option for the Bucks during the post-season last year. Scott Skiles has to make a choice as to make regarding Maggette and Salmons. Starting them both would give him a potent starting line-up, but there is also the possibility that having both of them out there at the same time will be redundant and will decrease their ability to be effective.
Further complicating the wing position conundrum is Chris Douglas-Roberts, whom the Bucks acquired this off-season for a second round pick.
Depending on how Skiles wants to play this, he can start Douglas-Roberts at guard with Salmons or go with the pairing of Salmons and Maggette. Either way, after having no depth at the position last season, I’m sure a little bit of a logjam at shooting guard and small forward is something he can live with, especially because these guys can score the ball at a good clip.
And if you think that was the end of the Bucks’ off-season, think again. The Bucks also signed free agent power forward Drew Gooden, traded for power forward Jon Brockman and drafted forwards Darington Hobson and Larry Sanders and center Tiny Gallon.
Gooden and Brockman are both solid rebounders that will help on the boards when its their time to check-in, Darington Hobson was an all-around talent at the University of New Mexico last season and can score the ball well, and Tiny Gallon will develop here as time goes on.
The diamond in the rough here is Larry Sanders. The Bucks didn’t have a true power forward on the roster last season, at least not one that could beat out Luc Richard Mbah a Moute from getting the spot as an undersized small forward. Sanders has a good shot as developing into the starting power forward as one of the main components of Milwaukee’s core.
Sanders is a long and athletic power forward that can finish at the rim with his tremendous length and leaping ability. His rebounding is tremendous mostly because of his explosive first jump which also makes him a pretty good shotblocker. Offensively, he’s got a couple of years to go before he is polished but he has the basics down and can score with either hand around the basket. Gooden is the starter this season but Sanders will be a big-time contributor off the pine.
Guys like Ersan Ilyasova, LRMaM, and Carlos Delfino already formed a solid group of reserves last season and with these additions to an already stout duo of Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, the Milwaukee Bucks have assembled one of the deepest teams in the league. The top two spots in the East are reserved for the two teams down in Florida this season but when you look at the Bucks, they realistically have a shot to finish as high as third in the conference. They’ve got depth, star power, swagger and one of the best defensive squads in the NBA, and if we learned anything from the 2010 NBA Finals, it was that defense is still the most important part of the championship puzzle.
And with all of the other pieces falling into place, this could be a cinderella like season for the Milwaukee Bucks.
The number of injuries he suffered on that nasty fall was unbelievable. Bogut’s work ethic is strong, though, and if the latest progress reports are to be believed, Bogut is making his way towards being healthy. The answer to this question is crucial and though I can’t give a reliable answer, I’d suppose Bogut is back to his shot-blocking, defensive minded self.
2. How much improvement will Brandon Jennings show?
Aside from the natural progression in decision making and the increase in comprehension of the game overall, Jennings has to improve his shooting percentage. His numbers from 10 feet to 23 feet last season were dreadful but he isn’t a bad shooter. He has shown in the past that he can shoot from the outside so as long as he improve his shot selection his numbers should go up.
3. Will Corey Maggette solve the free throw drought?
I say so. Maggette is such an athletic talent and he has been averaging between eight and 10 free throw attempts per game over the last few seasons. That’s close to half of what the Bucks averaged last season as a team. Milwaukee ranked 29th in the league in free throw attempts per game at 20.4 and by simply adding Maggette and not factoring in the growth of Jennings, the Bucks should improve their attempts as a team by at least five free throws a game.
4. What do we make of Michael Redd?
The common perception of Redd’s situation is that he won’t be ready to play this season as he recovers from another serious knee injury and that the Bucks will allow his large contract to expire or dangle it at the deadline to acquire one last piece. However, if he is ready at some point during the season, how would the Bucks use him if they did end up playing him? The Bucks still don’t have much if any consistent three-point shooters and Redd was among the league’s best at firing from long range when he was healthy. If he could come in off the bench and knock down a couple three’s a game, there is no reason the Bucks shouldn’t use him. And even if that complicates the rotation further, at least Milwaukee will have a great shooter to go to.
5. What is the missing link?
I mentioned earlier that I think the Bucks could finish as high as third in the East and I pegged them for fifth with my prediction. But what exactly do the Bucks need to be a title contender, to be in the same group as the Magic, Heat and Celtics? Right now it seems as if any team not in that group can’t win the title but it seems unfair to me to group the Bucks with the Raptors. They have a top five team in the East already so their foundation is already solid.
Perhaps the emergence of Michael Redd as a semblance of what he once was would do it. Maybe trading Chris-Douglas Roberts, Darington Hobson and Tiny Gallon for Antawn Jamison gets them a polished scoring option in the lowpost that they can rely on. Or maybe they’re already a title contender and they’ll prove it to us come June.
Jennings had an average season overall last year. After that 55 point game against the Golden State Warriors, there weren’t many brilliant scoring explosions and he was never able to establish his three-point stroke on a consistent basis. But for a rookie that didn’t go to college and who’s maturity was constantly questioned before the draft, he was good. He averaged 15.5 points, 5.7 assists, and 1.3 steals per game last season, which is a good line, but shot a pretty poor 37% from the field and from three-point land.
His strengths are his quickness and creativity on the offensive end and he put both to good use last season. Instead of chucking up shots as most rookies with a scoring instinct do, Jennings started refining his game once his shooting slump began and became a pass-first point guard. He was creating shots guys like Carlos Delfino and John Salmons on the wing and had a working chemistry with Andrew Bogut when it came to the pick and roll and simple post entry passes. Jennings’ ability to get to the rim and finish their awkwardly is something that he will be able to take advantage more often once he gets his jumper right and that will not only help him create looks for himself but also his teammates.
Defensively, Jennings shined last season, and both himself and Scott Skiles deserve a lot of credit for that. Rarely will you see a 20-year old kid commit to defense for a five minute stretch in college game but Brandon was in defense first mode the entire season for the Bucks and he was very effective. Aside from basic stats like steals per game, Synergy Sports Technology gives a few numbers that show the kind of positive impact Jennings had on that end of the floor. Jennings ranked 63rd in the league in isolation defense allowing just .74 points per possession and 35.7% shooting while also ranking 87th in the NBA in defending the pick and roll where he held his man to just .8 points per possession.
Jennings will have a season and some playoff experience under his belt and hopefully his shot will be fixed, too. If it is, look for Jennings to average close to a double-double with something like 17 points, eight assists and a steal and a half per game. And if he does that, he’ll have himself in the top 10 point guard conversation.
Photo Credit: Albert Pena/Icon SMI
Andrew Bogut was the second best defensive in the league last season and came pretty close to matching the production of Dwight Howard on that end of the floor because of his tremendous shot blocking ability and anticipation skills. Bogut made the transition from a bust to all-star candidate and is easily one of three best centers in the league. His offensive game is underrated a bit because of his contributions on the defensive end but he can effectively score around the basket and is one of the best pick and roll players in all of basketball.
Bogut isn’t a flashy player like Howard is but he is one of the best in the league and we can only hope that he comes back at the same strength he played at last season after that devastating injury he suffered towards the end of the year.
- Andrew Bogut will make the all-NBA second team and the all-NBA defensive second team. He will make the all-star team as well and will average 16 points, 11 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game.
- Brandon Jennings will have a 30-point performance during the rookie-sophomore game, outshining Stephen Curry and Tyreke Evans. Jennings will also two games of 35+ points during the regular season and two games in which he records six steals.
- Luc Richard Mbah a Moute will hold LeBron James to 19/5/4 during the Bucks’ match-up with the Miami Heat on December 6th.
- Corey Maggette and John Salmons will average 17 points per game a piece this season.
- Rookie Larry Sanders will make the all-NBA rookie second team and will emerge as the best power forward on the roster by season’s end.