What's up? It's been a while.
While I've been silent, the Bucks have been making plenty of noise.
So how about we talk about them?
A buzzer-beater three by Jennings in the home opener (a game I should have been blogging at for the Bucks “Fan Blogger” contest....can't let it go). A blown game in Charlotte that began a three game skid. A comeback OT loss in Miami. Most recently, a 27 point comeback win over the Bulls featuring the bench (Doron Lamb!).
It's been a season of ups and downs for the Bucks. At 7-5 they find themselves 1.5 in front of the Bulls for first place in the division. So where do they stand? How have we gotten here?
5 Good Signs
- The Bucks have shown some great resiliency, most notably in their comebacks against the Heat and the Bulls. The Heat jumped out to an early 18 point lead in the first half of that game. The Bucks closed the half strong; a three by Dalembert (first of career) made it 44-46. It was Brandon Jennings that kept them alive in that game. Against the Bulls, it was the bench that fought back for the Deer. With just over 3 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Skiles replaced his starters with Udrih, Lamb, Dunleavy, Ilyasova, and Udoh. The reserve group got back 27 points and eventually won that game 93-92.
- Brandon Jennings must feel something for Monta Ellis. Going into the season, there was worry that the two couldn't coexist together. All the “big brother-little brother, meeting together, living in the same apartment complex” stuff didn't do it for me. I wanted to see it on the court. Some saw Brandon Jennings shove on Bradley Beal as a cheap shot, but I saw it as proof. In the final 20 seconds of the Bucks win over the Wizards, Monta Ellis was fouled hard on a breakaway layup by Bradley Beal. Brandon Jennings raced into the frame and shoved Beal to the ground for his hard foul. Smart play? No. But I liked it. Even if it doesn't prove that they can coexist, it does tell me that Jennings has some feelings of camaraderie for Ellis. Also, Jennings affectionately calling Ellis “Tay” is cute.
- Samuel Dalembert has been everything we expected. The Bucks needed a presence down low. They resigned F Ersan Ilysova and drafted F John Henson. The biggest impact, though, was the upgrade at the center position. Samuel Dalembert has helped the Bucks improve their interior defense and rebounding. Last year, the Bucks had a 48.7 REBR, good for 26th in the NBA. They are 17th this year with a 49.4 REBR.
- I was worried that Skiles wouldn't be able to coach a fast pace game and would waste the quickness and talent of his backcourt. I was wrong, though. The Bucks are 2nd in the NBA in pace, using 97.3 possession per game.
- With their increased pace, the Bucks have been able to continue to take care of the ball. Jennings is a master at retaining the rock, and has continued his retention skills (this article is going downhill fast...) this season. The Bucks rank in the top 5 with a 12.5 turnover ratio. Jennings also leads the league in steals, which only helps the Bucks cause.
5 Bad Signs
- #EllisLastSecondThrees I invented that hashtag. Not very creative, I know. It speaks volumes, though. The Bucks seem content to settle for outside shots and contested jumpers at the ends of games. Ellis scored 31 points in the Bucks 102-98 loss to the Bobcats, but struggled to score efficiently at the end of the tight game. Similarly, with the Bucks final shot and a chance to win the game in Miami, Ellis pulled up for a contested three pointer that missed. The Bucks lost that game. Again, against the Bulls on Friday he settled for a three pointer in the final minute of a close game. He missed, and the Bucks dropped the game 96-83. The fourth consecutive game, in Chicago against the Bulls, Ellis had the last Bucks attempt of the 1st and 2nd quarters. Both were three pointers that missed. He's a 19% three point shooter. He needs to use his quickness to score in clutch time, not his subpar shooting ability.
- The Bucks don't shoot free throws. This became very evident in Friday's contest with the Bulls. The Bulls were 25-26 from the line while the Bucks were just 7-10. The Bucks attempt the second fewest free throws per game in the league (18.2).
- They might be too flamboyant. It seems to me (opinion coming) that the Bucks got high on themselves very quickly. A blow out of the Celtics in the opener and a game winning three had Milwaukee hyped. Jennings was playing phenomenal basketball, as was Sanders. Jennings and Ellis were working together brilliantly. But they bought it. To me (again, opinion here) the Bucks are worried about highlights and stats because they think they're a really good team. They are not a really good team. Don't get me wrong, they're good. They have the potential to make the playoffs and even to make a little noise. But they aren't a top tier team, not by any means. The only way this team makes a name for themselves is if they can do the little things night in and night out.
- The Deer are right about in the middle of the pack (pun) when it come to three point attempts. They attempt 19.1 threes a game. This was great at the start of the year when Jennings was shooting well and Dunleavy had something like a .999% from long range. But now that the shooting has cooled off, it has really cooled off. The Bucks have dropped among the worst in the league in the 3P%, shooting a measly .29%. With their size and their playing style, they need to shoot better from distance.
- Playing time. Playing time, playing time, playing. Deepest team in the league. Period. Ok, I'll start using complete sentences, but you get my point! The Bucks are deep. I am comfortable with almost (*cough* Przybilla) anyone in the game. But after John Henson's coming out party and Doron Lamb's recent success, where do you give time to keep everyone happy? How does Lamb fit in with Ellis and Jennings? When does LRMAM get minutes and what does that mean for Harris? How do you handle Ersan's struggles? When Drew Gooden returns, how does he fit in with all the forwards? These are tough questions that I don't think I can answer (see earlier post on rotations), but I am hopeful that Skiles can. That hope may be wishful thinking, as I always struggle to understand how he gives minutes and why his rotations are as they are...but I digress.
Don't give up on the Bucks. Already this season we've had our ups and downs. This team has too much talent to ever go away easily. There are going to be nights, or even just minutes, where they will wow the pants off of you. There will also be nights where you want to turn the channel and watch Honey Boo Boo instead. My plead for you is this: keep the game on and keep believing in this team.
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Stats from nba.com and espn.go.com