The Bucks’ left feet: Brandon Jennings out — can Keyon Dooling deliver?

First it was Corey Maggette‘s left ankle.  Then it was plantar fasciitis in Drew Gooden‘s left foot.  Now it’s a left foot that really matters.  Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, who’s never missed a regular season or playoff game in his young career, will miss 4 to 6 weeks with a bone fracture in his left foot.

The timing couldn’t be worse.  The Bucks had struggled with chemistry and new personnel, injuries and All-Pro center Andrew Bogut‘s overall health since the start of the season.  After a miserable 5-and-10 start, they had begun to pull the car out of the ditch, powered by Bogut’s return Dec. 4 from a two-week bout with back spasms.  Prior to Bogut’s return, the Bucks had lost five out six games.  Since then, they’ve won four of seven against one of the toughest schedules in the league.

Jennings’ backups are Keyon Dooling, who — until recently — was turnover prone, struggling with his jump shot and generally hurting the team (seven negative game scores don’t lie); and diminutive Earl Boykins, electrifying, good-shooting but too, too short to guard anybody in the NBA.

It’s been said before and there’s no more opportune time than now to say it again:  Bucks GM John Hammond‘s decisions to let quality point guards Ramon Sessions (2009 to the T-Wolves), Luke Ridnour (2010 to the T-Wolves) and, yes, even the unsung Royal Ivey (201o to the Thunder) slip away in free agency stick out now as a glaring miscalculations.  (If the trend holds true, Ivey will be back, one way or another).  No, those decisions didn’t seem so important as long as Jennings was the Bucks iron man — but Hammond, all along, was tempting the NBA fates and winning with Jennings, until now.

Can the Bucks expect help from their guards and forwards?  It’s not as simple as it was in Nellie’s day, when not having an effective point guard meant that the Bucks could keep Junior Bridgeman, Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief and Brian Winters on the court as much as possible, and give Paul Pressey something to do off the bench.  “The point forward” was an invention of obvious necessity and made the 1983 Bucks more potent offensively than they already were.  The current Bucks are a different story, and Scott Skiles’ options are limited.

If there’s a Pressey on this team, he’s 6-8 Luc Richard Mbah a Moute — perhaps even better than Pressey was, defensively, and that’s saying a lot (Pressey was a multiple time All-NBA defender).  Skiles has dispatched Mbah a Moute to defend point guards in the past guard — Chris Paul, to name one.  Luc has the smarts and a decent enough handle to play the point, and he’s played in more games for Skiles than any current Buck.  But much of his offensive game remains in development.

Other forward-assisting candidates are out with injuries:  Carlos Delfino, who played some point last season, is out with a concussion; Maggette is still struggling with his own left foot, along with other issues, such as remembering that it’s sometimes a good idea to pass the ball to one’s teammates when three defenders collapse on a drive to the hoop.  Nothing new with Maggette there, and he’s not a good option.

3rd-year forward-guard Chris Douglas-Roberts may be the most likely candidate to run some point for Skiles.  A disciple of the Calipari dribble-drive, CD-R puts a lot of pressure on defenses by taking it to the hoop and can easily create movement and space off the dribble — enough to run an offense.  He’s been the Bucks most effective shooter in the Bucks last ten games (after missing the first 15 with an eye injury).  At forward, CD-R is an eager defender, often guarding players much bigger and longer than he is, but he’s better suited for guard duty.  He’s simply not strong enough on the glass to go up against many small forward in the NBA — 2.8 rebounds in 24 mins are a guard’s haul.  And with John Salmons ensconced as the Bucks shooting guard and Mbah a Moute the likely small forward for now, it only makes sense to elect CD-R as a utility point guard, if for no other reason than to extend his playing time.

For the most part, however, it’s incumbent on Keyon Dooling to step up.  In New Jersey, Dooling had become something of a 3-point bomber off the bench, only to find himself throwing anvils at the rim in Milwaukee.  It cost the Bucks a couple of games early on in the season, but in the last seven (perhaps not coincidentally, the seven games since Bogut returned from his lower back problems) Dooling has been sharp.  He’s shooting better and he’s not turning the ball over  — just 2 turnovers in the last seven games, remarkable in almost 20 mins per game.

Dooling’s defense has been fairly solid, if not very good, which became noticeable in the five-game stretch that Bogut missed.   Skiles challenged his players in those games, and Dooling was one Buck who responded.  He’s quick enough to stay in front of most point guards and his long wingspan is havoc-causing in opponent passing lanes.  But he’ll be replacing Jennings, one of the best point guard defenders in the NBA — there’s really no replacing Jennings’ dogged D or his determination.

Dooling will need help — lots of it — from all corners.  At times, he’s been a better distributor than Jennings, who’s still learning when to pick his “me-first” spots.  But if Salmons, for example, stays in his scoring funk, good ball distribution only ends with the ball finding the rim.  If Bogut can’t get his true shooting percentage up into the mid-50’s range or higher, the Bucks will continue to play most games in a five-point hole.  If coach Skiles can’t get the Drew Gooden-Ersan Ilyasova situation at power forward figured out once and for all, the Bucks will continue to wonder who they are.

Andrew Bogut might have said it best when asked what it’ll take for the Bucks to make-do while Jennings recuperates:

“It’s a matter of getting guys to play hard in their minutes, knowing they’re going to play and try to earn minutes for when Brandon is back and healthy.  Maybe we’ll find a couple of shining lights.”

Maybe Dooling is “a shining light.”  Maybe it’s CD-R who will pick up the scoring slack.  Maybe Salmons finds his groove and breaks out of his season-long slump.  More minutes for Mbah a Moute has usually meant that the Bucks are more competitive — they’ll soon find out if that still holds true.  Players “knowing they’re going to play” was a key phrase in Bogut’s comments.  He may have been referring to the sparse 12 minutes Mbah a Moute got against Utah.  He may have been referring to the 17 minutes Ilyasova played.  He may have been referring to Boykins, who’s hardly played all season.  Whatever Bogut was implying, the injuries have left Skiles with little choice but to play the nine or 10 guys available to him now.  Given Skiles’ sometimes maddening quick hooks– regardless of the matchups on the floor — and unexpected DNPs, less may turn out to be more for the Bucks.

And again, much as it was last season when Michael Redd’s knee gave out, this is another chance for the Bucks — and the rest of the NBA — to rediscover how good the Bucks leader, Andrew Bogut, really is.

8 thoughts on “The Bucks’ left feet: Brandon Jennings out — can Keyon Dooling deliver?

  1. J.D. Mo. Post author

    I’d rather have Clint Richardson than Redd. He was tough. Sid would harass Andrew Toney into a bad game, giving the Bucks what seemed like an advantage, but then Richardson would come in, hit a few big shots and “poof” — advantage gone.

  2. Kevin

    I read that, too. Man, when he went out I thought he was day to day. Enter Michael Redd.
    Another year they had homecourt was ’85. Those Sixers were a machine. I remember Clint Richardson, a backup guard, had 10 rebounds in one of those games.

  3. J.D. Mo. Post author

    Delfino may be out for the entire season, I just learned.

    “Finally have home court …” I doubt Marques or Sidney or Junior knew what to do with home court advantage — they’d never had it before.

  4. Kevin

    Sid was limping through that Boston series, so Brian really was missed. It’s funny though, that New Jersey beat Philly with the visiting team winning all five games. So then we finally have home court and drop game one to the Nets. But they rebounded and won in six.

  5. J.D. Mo. Post author

    Delfino and CD-R are roughly the same height, but Del is definitely stronger, tougher and a better rebounder. The Bucks inability in the last three games to keep the Jazz, Blazers and Lakers off the offensive glass is partly on CD-R, especially on some of the bricks coming off, caroming out of our frontcourt’s reach. The Bucks have missed Del a lot more than most would have ever predicted.

    1984 – We missed Brian badly by the time we played the Celtics for the East championship, when the Bucks ran a lot of point forward sets for Junior and Marques and Pressey. Maybe the Celtics were too good, maybe Lanier was too old, maybe we were just lucky that the Nets had upset Philly in the first round. But it always seemed to me that Brian’s career was too short, and the Bucks might have got another two years or so out of him.

  6. Kevin

    Delfino is no bigger than CDR and more perimeter oriented. And CDR kicked butt when he started at forward for NJ. I would have Carlos backing up Salmons, who until the last 2 games needed some backing up.
    If Gooden can’t guard someone, then Sanders needs to enter. Or Skinner.
    I liked Romar. But Dunleavy saved the season and played a major role in the first round in the Atlanta series, which was the first year of best of 5 and no first round byes.

  7. J.D. Mo. Post author

    I thought so too but it hasn’t — Gooden went home from the West trip with more plantar fasciitis issues. Skiles didn’t exactly yank Ilyasova as he did in early in the 3rd quarter in Utah, which led to Millsap going ape-shit on Gooden, but the problem seems to remain.
    CD-R should be backing up Salmons, not starting at the 3 – he’s not big enough and doesn’t rebound well at all.
    Remember Lorenzo Romar? He was on the ’84 East Finals team. Dunleavy seemed to be hurt most of the time.

    But I was primarily thinking of the point forward origins – 1983 – Pressey’s rookie year, when Ford bombed and Nellie just decided he didn’t need a point guard. Nellie “had Marques Johnson bringing the ball up!” McHale recalls with wonder and awe.

  8. Kevin

    Pressey moved to forward after the Marques/Cummings trade, as Craig Hodges was more of a shooting guard, Paul became the point forward. Mike Dunleavy bailed us out for a while after Phil Ford and Nate Archibald bombed. Just shows how valuable Buckner was.
    Dooling won’t shoot as much as Jennings, which should mean more touches for Bogut and a better team shooting percentage.
    I thought CDR and Ersan starting at forward would settle some issues, with Gooden’s scoring streaks being better when coming from behind rather than at the start of the game. But Gooden had more points than both of them combined against Portland. If they’re not scoring, then we’re going to come up short until Maggette and Delfino can contribute. Everyone can’t score 15-20 but these are severe lapses. Too much of a mixed bag.

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