Bucks (1-2) @ Timberwolves (1-4), 7:00pm Fox-Wis.
New York Knicks (1-5) @ Bucks, 7:30pm, no local TV
Welcome to the inaugural 2009-10 Bob Boozer Jinx Bucks Weekend (say that three times fast). For the uninitiated, Bucks Weekends are two or three day blogs that usually end Sunday night and sometimes even makes sense Monday morning. Bucks Weekend looks ahead and back at Bucks games while also checking 'round the NBA when the action is heaviest — on the weekends.
We're once again seeing our Bucks without the $91 million man and their defensive intensity and energy is pit-bullish. Make that Scott Skiles Baby Bulls-ish.
The current Bulls on Tuesday in Chicago didn't know what hit them in the first half. But the two main Skiles players still on the Bulls — Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng — eventually reminded their teammates whose team they were playing and got their act together in time to pull out an 83-81 win. These Bulls know their former coach well, and they know how to win basketball games. Deng finished with 24 pts and 20 boards. More on that in a bit.
The upshot of the Bucks maniacal defense, which included Charlie Bell disrupting three consecutive plays in the first half and the Bucks hounding the Bulls into some embarrassing brick-shooting, is that the Bucks rank 3rd in the NBA in defense. The measure used is the defensive rating, a simple calculation of points per 100 possessions that eliminates pace as a factor in how many points teams allow. Going into Friday night's game in Minneapolis against the T-Wolves, only the Celtics and Larry Brown's Charlotte Bobcats have a higher defensive rating.
Bucks fans have seen this before. Last season, when Michael Redd missed 14 games in November due to an ankle sprain, the Bucks climbed into the top 10 in defensive rating during the toughest part of their schedule. They were scrappy and challenged every shot and didn't at all resemble the Bucks teams of the previous five years. Life without Redd means that Bucks fans get another chance to see again what a fully committed defensive Bucks team looks like. We're catching a glimpse into the Bucks future and I like what I see.
Redd fans will point out that the Bucks are next to last in offensive rating and have had trouble making shots. True enough. Looking at the stats, everybody's gotta shoot better with the exception of Brandon Jennings and Dan Gadzuric (believe it, Gadzooks!!). Neither one will keep up their current pace (Jennings is shooting 50% from 3-point land) but Charlie Bell, Andrew Bogut and Hakim Warrick can certainly hit a higher percentage of their shots.
Shot selection: The Bucks shot selection has been mostly good to this point. With this team at this juncture in the season, shot selection is more important than whether or not the shots fall. Just as last season, finding players who can play Skiles' pressure defense and quick tempo passing game is priority. Redd can do neither of those things, and has not shot well or been healthy in the Skiles era.
The Michael Redd "3-point specialist" myth: Redd's career 3-point mark is 38.6%, good enough for 26th among active players. Pretty good but very misleading. After two-plus years in the league (playing with Sam Cassell, Ray Allen and Gary Payton) Redd had drained a remarkable 44% of his 3-pointers (270/614). In the six seasons since, he's been mediocre, shooting just 36.9% (711/1925) — and lower than that in 4 of those six seasons. Mo Williams was and is a better shooter, hands down, something that caused friction on the court when Redd and Mo played together.
But Mo is long gone and Luke Ridnour and Carlos Delfino (another bad shooting night for Delfino in Minnesota) have not been better shooters than Redd in their NBA careers. No reason to expect them to shoot 40% now. A healthy Charlie Bell is capable and is off to a 40% start so far. Life without Redd means more PT for Charlie and more bad-ass defense on the court.
Redd was off to a 30% (3-10) start this season. Let's not forget game 1 and game 2, when the Bucks were outclassed in Philly and losing their home opener against Detroit. They pulled the home opener out with Redd on the bench.
Ersan Ilyasova having problems: After watching Deng abuse Warrick and Ersan inside for 20 rebounds Tuesday in Chicago, I'm beginning to wonder AGAIN whether Ersan can play power forward in the NBA. In addition, Ersan went scoreless against the Bulls and Warrick shot 5-15. If looking for reason why the Bucks lost the game, look no further than the forwards 3-18 performance.
Ersan is the one player with the shooting ability to pick up the slack from 3-point land but he's having a rough time getting untracked.
No Love for the Timberwolves: The Bucks just might win some games if their two new forwards can show that they can play more than spot minutes. At half in Minneapolis, where Kevin Love is out with a busted hand, Warrick and Ersan have 3 points and 3 rebounds. The Bucks are being outrebounded at half and are in danger of losing their third straight to one of the leagues worst teams.
Bogut in the middle: He's dominating Al Jefferson and the T-Wolves. Through three quarters, Bogues has 15 pts, 9 rebs. The Bucks held the T-Wolves to 12 pts in the 3rd. The Wolves are shooting 37% for the game against the Bucks pressure D.
Led by Bogut's 17 pts, 10 rebs and 4 dimes, the Bucks win 87-72. That's right, 72. Life without Michael Redd means the Bucks opposition shoots 39.2% from the floor. Luke Ridnour was hot, shooting 6-9 and hitting two from downtown for 16 pts off the Bucks bench.
Not in Sessions: Day after the game, T-Wolves fan Gino said Ramon Sessions could be great for them if they use him right. "But they're not using him right," I said. "No, they're not," he said. Ramon played 15 minutes off the bench Friday and tallied 2 pts, 1 assist and 2 turnovers. Worse, he was unable to stem the tide of the Bucks dominating 30-12 3rd quarter, led by Luke Ridnour. Rookie PG Johnny Flynn, out of Syracuse, outplayed Jennings in the first half but couldn't get anything going for the T-Wolves in the 2nd.
Bulls banking wins: After clawing back to take the Bucks Tuesday, the Bulls went to Cleveland and stole a win. But here's the notable quote after Deng's 20-board performance against the Bucks last week, courtesy of Bulls big man Brad Miller:
â€œ[Deng] owes me a meal or something,â€ Miller joked. â€œI was blocking out rebounders so he could go get about five rebounds. Heâ€™s glad Iâ€™m an old guy who doesnâ€™t really need the stats.â€
After watching Deng and the Bulls put away the Bobcats Saturday night with a big 3rd quarter run, I'm penciling in Deng for the All-Star game. Deng got 14 points during the run that gave the Bulls the lead, as he and Hinrich seemed to find a zone of their own. Note that the Bulls also needed 27 pts from guard John Salmons and 21 from Joakim Noah to beat the Bobcats (93-90) at home. Watch Larry Brown's Cats — they've played well since the trade deadline last season, and continue to be tough, even without injured Raja Bell.
THE KNICKS: Pretty much the same group that survived the trading deadline last season, minus swingman Quentin Richardson's 10 points a game (he's on the Heat). In other words the Knicks stink, though they can surprise you. Still fresh in my mind are the 39 points that Larrry Hughes dropped on the Bucks last March at the BC, a game the Bucks needed badly to stay in the playoff race. Charlie Villanueva was benched in the first half of that one for lack of interest in defense and the Bucks eventually blew the game.
This time, with Bogut in the lineup winning the post battle against smaller David Lee, the Bucks got off to a 40-22 start and never looked back, winning 102-87. Another fine game for Jennings, who marveled at how many easy shots the Knicks gave them. Bogut led with 22 pts, 8 rebs, 4 assists — Lee had 18, 7 and 4 in five more minutes of PT. Jodie Meeks hit 5-7 3-pointers to keep the rout going. The Bucks led by 23 after the 3rd.
Making shots?: While it was a nice overall shooting game by the Bucks (thanks to Meeks and Bogut) Carlos Delfino and Charlie Bell were a combined 3-8 from three-point land (not bad) and 5-12 overall from the floor for 13 points. As the starters at shooting guard and small forward, more of those have to go in. Bell's going to get minutes as the kind of physical defender Skiles needs on the court to play his pressure defense, but Delfino? Over the weekend Delfino was 5-15 from the floor. I'm still waiting for evidence that Delfino is the good shooter GM John Hammond has claimed.
Also, Luke Ridnour was 0-4 from three-point land. Note to coach Skiles: Luke's not good enough to be shooting that much from out there. Good thing the Bucks were playing the Knicks.
The Knicks and Jennings: NY, needing a point guard, took a pass on Jennings in the draft and their fans booed. A disappointed Jennings, in an online video interview, told the Knicks to f#ck off and packed his bags for Milwaukee.
NY media, for one, is already in regret mode. The Knicks drafted Jordan Hill out of Arizona and coach Mike D'Antoni is hardly playing him (shades of the Bucks and Joe Alexander). Now the NY Post reports that Knicks scouts were higher on Hill than D'Antoni and his coaching staff were (after player workouts, no doubt).
Jennings says he "beat everybody else" up and down the court in his New York workout and is still surprised the Knicks didn't draft him. The Post article calls out Knicks GM Donnie Walsh for a comment last week about "not having a good feel for Jennings' game." It seems the KNicks coaching staff doesn't agree with that statement.
And people think Lebron James is really going to consider playing for these guys?
DEFENSE: The Bucks were atop the NBA in the all-important defensive rating after the weekend games. Number one, allowing just 91 points per 100 possessions. They still rank 28th in offensive rating, but that should improve as the season wears on and Jennings gets a better feel for the Skiles offense. And the Bucks' shooters simply need to shoot better — if they can.
It's more important for this rookie-led team that Skiles' defensive foundation is being set. And, yes, life without Michael Redd means that it's possible for the Bucks to be the #1 rated defensive team in the NBA.