Category Archives: Bucks Weekend

Why +/- can’t be trusted for basketball analysis

When Ersan Ilyasova entered Sunday night’s game in Detroit, the Bucks were down 2-0 and Luc Mbah a Moute was headed for the locker room for some stitch work.  (See play-by-play log at NBA.com).

When Ilyasova left the game ten minutes later after picking up his second foul, the Bucks were down 29-21.   That’s a -6 in the world of box score +/- calculation. Pretty simply, right?

The Bucks were down 12 (70-58) when Ilyasova entered the game for Moute in the 3rd quarter and began a 13-6 run to end the quarter, whittling the Pistons lead down to eight (86-78) with 8:28 to go in the game.  That’s a +4 for Ilyasova in that stretch.

Negative 6 and +4 = -2 for Ersan (he had 17 pts at this point).  Yet when I looked at the boxscore online, the Yahoo-NBA boxscore from the Associated Press had Ilyasova at a whopping MINUS 21!

Even if you were just following along with the play-by-play online, you’d know that the +/- numbers for this game were off.   When Ilyasova’s was “corrected” with just under eight minutes left in the game, the box had Ersan at minus 3.  Better, but still wrong.

Then — somehow — as the Bucks fell down by 10 points, Ersan’s +/- actually improved to -1.

A few minutes later, the Bucks cut the lead to 3 (92-89) with Ersan still on the floor and his +/- had miraculously plunged again to -10.  What’s going on here?

All statisticians agree that Ilyasova had 21 points at that point.

The official NBA box, by the way, was even further off.  With the score tied at 94, they had Ilyasova at minus 17.   The correct number was +6.

We may be getting some idea how Ekpe Udoh was among the league leaders in adjusted +/- for Golden State last season.   (There was even some speculation that the trade of Andrew Bogut for Monte Ellis and Ekpe Udoh was inspired by young Udoh’s seemingly awesome +/- and his potential to do even greater things as he matured.  In fact, Bucks GM John Hammond even said words to this effect. Brewhoop addressed the phenomena in October 2012, almost three years ago as of this revision. The explanation for Udoh’s freakishly good +/- turned out to be that in Golden State he played a significant portion of his minutes with Steph Curry, and that those minutes added up to a small sample size.  Here, I’m obviously annoyed that the +/- numbers aren’t even correct some of the time). 

The final tape of our Bucks-Detroit game, despite a good game from Ersan, read Detroit 96, Bucks 94 as  Monta Ellis missing a jumper and a runner in the final 32 seconds.

Ilyasova finished with 24 points, 17 of those coming as he led the Bucks back from a 12-point 3rd quarter deficit.   The official box score at last read Ilyasvoa +3.   The correct +/- number for Ersan in this game +4.

And Ekpe Udoh?  He played 11:39, did not take a shot or grab a rebound, was largely invisible yet was credited with two steals I’m not sure he actually had.   His +/- for those invisible minutes read +7.  This +7 is the number that some will use to show how important Udoh was to the Bucks in this game, citing invisible and unmeasured basketball activities like setting good screens and not getting in the way of others.

It’s nice to have teammates.

Dwyane Wade is freezing and Ray Allen is shooting

Twitter highlights from the Miami Heat’s visit to Milwaukee for tonights game:

This from Dwyane Wade:

Back in Milwaukee. I can’t believe it’s been 10yrs since my days playing here. WoW..it’s still freezing tho. http://instagr.am/p/T1nNrglCFO/ 

 

And it appears that Heat gunner James Jones is now joining Ray Allen’s pregame shooting rituals.  This cannot be good for the Bucks tonight, or the rest of the NBA.   A tweet from Bucks p.r. …

Ray Allen and James Jones warm up before#MILvMIA @ BMO Harris Bradley Centerhttp://instagr.am/p/T1tbwnDdcf/

 

“Not finished product” and “still trying to figure it out” – The existentialist polarities of Bucks coach Scott Skiles

Sometimes Bucks fans just have to scratch their collective heads about the existentialism of Scott Skiles.  Here are the latest “still searching” musings from the man in charge of making Bucks playing time decisions:

”We’re 15-12. I don’t think we’re a finished product yet. We’re still trying to figure out some things.”  — Skiles this past Thursday in the AP story “Bucks in thick of Central race for now.”

27 games into the season and the coach is still trying to figure out some things, still trying to find his team — or find himself within the context of this Bucks team:  The Brandon Jennings-Monta Ellis show with an overstock of power forwards and centers.

In many ways comments like these are self-serving on Skiles part.  The players didn’t start the D-League-level forward tandem of Tobias Harris and rookie John Henson, three Bucks losses until the Bucks bench reversed a laugher in Chicago to bury the Bulls.   Scott Skiles filled out those Frankenstein lineups that sometimes included Ekbe Udoh, sometimes Sam Dalembert, and finally Marques Daniels in place of the very limited Harris.   Sure, the coach was searching, but for what?

The Bucks lost seven out of nine during that forgettable stretch, and there wasn’t a Bucks analyst alive who could figure out what Skiles was doing, other than scape-goating Ersan Ilyasova in full view of Bucks fandom while waiting for the return of Luc Mbah a Moute, the great defender who, more than any other player, has made sense of things for Skiles since he took the Bucks job in 2008.   Moute’s also the only player left from Skiles’ first team.

This last fact, in other ways, shows Skiles’ comments to be veiled criticism (perhaps) of the Bucks front office — which hasn’t agreed with Skiles’ conception of Moute as a starting power forward, and has larded the Bucks with the likes of Drew Gooden, Jon Brockman and Ekbe Udoh at the position, even as Ilyasova has played his way, time and again, into a prominent rotation spot as the Bucks power forward.

And this is precisely where the Bucks and Skiles have found themselves again:  starting Moute at power forward while Ilyasova plays the majority of the PF minutes off the bench and finishes games, with Moute shifting over to small forward and platooning in and out for defensive purposes.

With 2013 days away, the Bucks are the same as they ever were circa 2009-10:

Mike Dunleavy is Carlos Delfino;

Beno Udrih is Luke Ridnour;

Sanders-Udoh-Przybilla-Dalembert are a weird, four-headed version of Andrew Bogut that plays with only two heads and has watched the Bucks plunge to 26th in the NBA in defensive rebounding (coinciding with the benching of Dalembert);

Marquis Daniels is Keith Bogans, Jerry Stackhouse and Charlie Bell, and sometimes Delfino;

Monta Ellis the wild card;

And Jennings and Moute — and often Ilyasova — managing at times, when they can, to make sense of it all for Skiles and the fans, regardless of what the front office does with the players around them.

When it does, it’s not always clear Skiles knows why it works, beyond knowing that Bucks wins are usually predicated on defense and that they match up well with the Boston Celtics (a 3-wins out of four surprise for the Bucks).

When it doesn’t work, the product isn’t finished (still) and more mad tinkering may be in store from Skiles, the front office or both.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day:  There’s always something that jumps out about these Bucks when one looks at the sort-able season summary stats at basketball-reference, the ritual with which the Bob Boozer Jinx editorial board starts its day.  With the Miami Heat in Milwaukee to play our deer tonight, the board decided it was time to check the Strength of Schedule rankings.

Lo and behold, our 15-12 Bucks have played the 28th easiest schedule in the league.  With the Celtics, Pacers and Bulls (Bucks are 6-2 against their rivals) more average than good so far this season, that’s how it goes.   Playing the Heat tonight will change this stat, but the Bucks head for Detroit on Sunday, back down it’ll go, leaving the Bucks with a hard road ahead in 2013.  Ridiculous.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day II:   As mentioned above, the Bucks are currently the 5th worst in the NBA at rebounding their opponents’ misses.  Ridiculous.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day III:  The career defensive rebounding percentage of little-used Bucks center Sam Dalembert is 25.4% — 10th best in NBA history.  The Bucks with Dalembert starting at center began the season leading the league in defensive rebounding.  Do we think there’s a connection between Bucks rebounding and Dalembert’s playing time?  Absolutely.  Ridiculous.

Ridiculous Stat of the Day IV:  The Golden State Warriors are 20-wins, 10 losses and are tied for 4th in the West with Memphis.   How good will the Warriors be when Andrew Bogut is healthy enough to anchor the defense?   Ridiculous.

Milwaukee Bucks Weekend: Still not taking lesser opponents seriously, despite having become one

The Bucks came into this season with a certain swagger, a pinache that comes with a brash, electric young point guard who had won in his rookie year, with the return of an All-NBA center, with new additions to an improving, young core, and with high expectations.  They expected to power teams out of the gym.

It hasn’t happened very often, partly because the swagger still hadn’t been earned, the All-NBA center was playing with a dead right arm, and there was a game or two, or three or more, despite the mounting losses, in which the Bucks seemed to be taking their “lesser opponents” lightly.

In the heat of a race for the last, ignoble playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Bucks on Wednesday night did it again in a dreadful, uninspired and unanticipated 97-90 loss at home to the Sacramento Kings.

After the game, the electrifying, brash, poor-shooting young point guard, Brandon Jennings, looked at the upcoming weekend against the Knicks in New York on Friday and the Bulls in Milwaukee on Saturday, and assured that there would be no energy shortage.

“I think when we play teams that are higher than us, we show up better.  Playing against a team like Sacramento is kind of difficult because they have nothing to lose. Those are games you’ve got to come in there mentally tough.   When you know you’re playing against the Knicks and Chicago Bulls, you kind of get up for those games.”  LINK HERE to Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story.

The Bucks are 28-42 and three games behind the Pacers, two on the loss side.  Yet, as crazy as it sounds, they really don’t take many of their opponents as seriously as they should.

Melo say “RELAX”

The Knicks don’t have to win, and maybe that’s part of the reason why they’ve struggled since the last time they played the Bucks in New York — Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups‘ Feb. 23 debut, a hard fought 114-108 victory for the new Knicks.

Fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth in the East — what’s the difference to the Knicks?  They’ve proven no match for the Bulls, Celtics, Heat or Magic, locks for the top four spots.  Carmelo apparently realizes this, and wants his teammates to “relax and have fun” during this time of transition.

Making the new chemistry even more challenging for the Knicks — their brutal 18-game March schedule is taking its toll.  “Fatigue,” not “fun” was the word of the day after the Knicks lost to Orlando in NY Wednesday.

The Bucks have to win, but still don’t feel an urgency to play well against teams like the Sacramento Kings.   It adds an interesting dichotomy to tonight’s Bucks-Knicks game in New York, the fourth and final meeting between the two teams this season.

The Bucks won two of the first three games.

In the Feb. 23 game, Knicks fans were treated to a gutsy, Chauncey Billups classic, as the veteran point guard did all the little things that Jennings didn’t, ran a clinic on how to close quarters, hit his usual quota of clutch shots and controlled the game.  Carmelo shot … and shot … and shot … 25 times, making just 10 as the Bucks, led by John Salmons (27 pts) on a rare good shooting night this season, nearly spoiled ‘Melo’s big debut … until Billups (and hot-shooting Toney Douglas) saved the day.

Since that game, the Bucks have been the better team, winning 6 of 13 while the Knicks record is 6-10 and they are losers of four straight.  Included in those ten losses are two to the Pacers March 13 and 15 that gave Indiana life in their quest for the playoffs.

It seems that Carmelo’s struggles to mesh with his new teammates and the ball-wheeling Mike D’Antoni system in New York are inexorably linked to the Bucks playoffs hopes.  It should also be noted that Carmelo’s last game as a Nugget was played in Milwaukee, a nationally televised slugfest Feb. 16 that ended with the Nuggets on top, 94-87.

The Bucks beat the Knicks in Milwaukee Sunday, 110-95, with Carlos Delfino shooting the lights out (30 pts, 8-11 on threes) and Salmons turning in his second straight efficient scoring night (22 pts).

Indeed, the Bucks are part of New York’s woes of late, just as the Knicks troubles have hurt the Bucks playoff chances.

And, yes, the Bucks need to win tonight’s rematch in New York much more than the Knicks do.

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Michael Redd is not expected to play in New York.  He at first said he wanted to play “Friday or Saturday” but before the Kings game coach Scott Skiles said the soonest Redd would be active was Saturday.

“That’s (Saturday) what we’re shooting for now. We’ll see. It’s the same type of situation. When they determine he’s ready to go, we’ll activate him and we’ll see.”

Of course, Skiles said the same thing about big forward Drew Gooden, who was activated before the Kings game but was left sitting on the bench.

The return of Michael Redd: Steve Aschburner feature at NBA.com

Bucks erstwhile shooting guard Michael Redd is “on the brink” of a comeback after 14 months of rehab from major knee surgery.  But is Redd, ever the source of fan debate about personal scoring vs. team basketball, relevant to the 2011 Milwaukee Bucks?

NBA.com feature columnist Steve Aschburner wades through the psychological dilemmas for the team and for Redd, who is expected to return sometime this week (Friday, the Bucks say).  Along the way, Aschburner makes some welcome and refreshing notes about Redd’s former play that are not often aired in Wisconsin media.

Redd has been a volume shooter, averaging 18.3 field goal attempts in his five full seasons scoring more than 20 points per game for Milwaukee. His career numbers in both true-shooting percentage (.560) and effective field-goal percentage (.505) rank down the list from the game’s most efficient marksmen. So as desperate as the Bucks need buckets, Redd — even the old version of Redd — might not be [able to] slip so easily into a team that has had to play without him.  LINK to Aschburner article.

Actually, those insights have been aired often here, and occasionally at Brewhoop and other Bucks fan blogs.  But such analysis of Redd’s game has been absent from the daily, mainstream coverage of the Bucks.

There is that $91 million contract still on the books for a few months, and, well, it’s difficult enough for the Bucks to sell tickets in the small Milwaukee market without a pile of negative press about the player and absurdly horrendous contract the team shackled itself to five summers ago.

At issue is that old “scorer vs. team offensive efficiency” that was dealt with in “Basketball by the Numbers” and other sources, wherein there is a “too selfish” line that gets crossed by NBA scorers.  Joe Johnson’s regularly over that line, and Kobe Bryant certainly crosses it from time to time, with great purpose and intent.  Lebron?  How about the Cavs problems in the 2009 and 2010 playoffs.  This season, not so bad as the Cavs postseason meltdowns, but the Heat have had their share of ball movement problems, especially when trying to close out games.

Michael Redd was over that line almost every night for five years, and the Bucks were never able to put a winning product on the court with their volume shooting guard as the number 1 scoring option.

Meanwhile, the dominance of Redd generally impaired the development needs of the team and caused conflicts with coaches (Larry Krystkowiak, Scott Skiles), until the last three years under coach Skiles, with Redd missing 180 of 231 Bucks games.

It’s strictly regarded policy here at The Bob Boozer Jinx that Redd can only serve to retard whatever the Bucks hope to accomplish this season or next.  He may prove me wrong, but his history suggests that he can’t and won’t.

But enough out of me.  Please take some time, if you have some, to give Aschburner’s feature a read.  Here’s another excerpt.

The NBA has a shadow squad of once-electric players forever altered by injuries, guys such as McDyess in San Antonio, Tracy McGrady in Detroit and Gilbert Arenas in Orlando. Redd got to watch Arenas up close Wednesday as he shuffled through a five-point, 2-of-6 shooting night for the Magic. They aren’t who they once were, their teams aren’t organized around them and it can be a humbling, difficult experience.

That’s good stuff.

Recalling bitter rivalries long past: A Sixers, Celtics, Bucks round-robin with playoff implications

Springtime is on the way in Milwaukee.  The snows are melting a dirty trickle in the rain.  The chartered buses are revved up for the state high school sectionals.  March Madness is in the air.  And the Bucks playoff seeding rests (in part) on how well they fare in games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics.

Celtics-Sixers, Sixers-Bucks, Bucks-Celtics — a weekend round-robin that began tonight in Philly — harkens (albeit vaguely) back to the NBA’s Golden Age when Larry Bird‘s Celtics, Sidney Moncrief‘s Bucks and Dr. J‘s Sixers waged battle season after season for home court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

To be a fan of coach Don Nelson’s Bucks was to worry about your team’s health every spring and fret over the strength of the opposition, the names Bird, Erving, Bobby Jones, McHale, Moses muttered under the breath in curses.  Bucks fans cringed at the inevitable playoff disappointment against arguably the two best teams ever assembled in the NBA.  But the Bucks in those days had Moncrief and Marques Johnson and Bob Lanier, and later Moncrief and Terry Cummings and Paul Pressey.  There was always hope.

The stakes aren’t so high for our Bucks these days.  They are a disappointing 25-38, a far cry from the Bucks teams that chased 60-win seasons during Moncrief’s prime.  Yet the 2011 Bucks find themselves gaining ground in the mad stumble for the 8th and final playoff spot in the East, one game out as they face the Sixers Saturday at the BC and go to Boston Sunday to meet the Celtics.

The Celtics are hanging on to the top seed in the East with Derrick Rose’s Bulls hot on their heels.  The Sixers are in 7th place, out of the Bucks reach and looking to move up a rung or two on the East playoff ladder.

This Philly-Boston weekend is critical for Bucks as they work to establish some late consistency and salvage the season.

“The big test for us is Philly (on Saturday),” Bucks center Andrew Bogut noted after the Bucks ran away from the last place Cleveland Cavs on Wednesday for a rare easy victory.  “We never play well against Philly, and they’re having a great year. I think Philly is our test.”

Eighth will have to do for Bogut and the Bucks this season.

And, no, the names Bogut, Garnett and Brand don’t resonate like those of Erving, Bird and Moncrief, who will be on hand Saturday providing color commentary for the Bucks’ FSN broadcast.

But spring is almost here in Wisconsin, and this will have to do.

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Eighth was good enough for the Chicago Bulls in 1986, Michael Jordan‘s second NBA season, the year he missed 64 games with a broken left foot.  It will be good enough for Brandon Jennings in his sophomore NBA season, a year in which he, too, broke his left foot.

Jordan’s 1986 Bulls, also featuring rookie Charles Oakley and Orlando Woolridge in his second season, are worth mentioning here because whoever grabs the 8th seed in the East this season will surely make the playoffs with one of the worst records in recent memory.

The worst NBA playoff record, post-ABA merger, belonged to the 1986 Bulls, who won just 30 games playing in arguably the toughest conference that the NBA had ever put on the nation’s courts — the Eastern Conference of the mid-1980’s.

How good was the 11-team East in 1986?  The young Bulls went 3-15 against the Celtics, Sixers and Bucks.  There were Dominique Wilkins‘ Hawks and Isaiah Thomas‘ Pistons to contend with, too, and the Bulls were just 3-9 against them.

The Western Conference champions, the Twin Towers Houston Rockets starring 7-footers Hakeem Olajawon and Ralph Sampson, would fall in six games to the Celtics in the 1986 NBA Finals.  The Rockets, with the luxury of playing in the West, finished 51-31 (#2 in the West behind the Lakers) but won just 3 of their 10 games against the Beasts of the East.  The Rockets would very likely have finished 6th in the East, and no better than 5th.

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Playoff atmosphere in Philly. The Sixers kicked off the Boston-Philly-Milwaukee round-robin by holding off the Celtics, 89-86, snapping a seven-game home losing streak to the Celtics.  Center Spencer Hawes, forward Elton Brand and swingman Andre Iguodala led a balanced Sixer attack that ended with five players in double figures.   The Celtics were led by Jeff Green (18 pts) and Nenad Krstic (16 and 15 boards)?

No, these are not the Celtics and Sixers of the great Bird and Dr. J rivalry, but the Wachovia Center crowd roared playoff intensity nonetheless as Iguodala waltzed through the lane for the game-clinching layup.

Ray Allen had perhaps his worst game this season, scoring only 5 points on 2-11 shooting. The Celtics have lost two in a row.

The Sixers are playing their best ball since Allen Iverson’s heyday for coach Doug Collins, and moved to within a half game of the Knicks for 6th place and three games back of the Hawks in 5th.

The Hawks looked downright sick losing by 18 to the Carlos Boozer-less Bulls in Chicago.  “All-Star” Al Horford contributed 6 points and 7 rebounds in the loss.  Did I mention that the Bulls power forward, Carlos Boozer, didn’t play?

I watched Hawks-Bulls a second time, late night.  The Hawks simply turned dumb and selfish when faced with the in-your-face Bulls defense, just as they do when playing the Bucks.  They don’t like being challenged, and, even though Kirk Hinrich just joined the team, they looked completely lost when he wasn’t on the court.

They switched and had bigs guarding Derrick Rose in the 3rd quarter, same way the Mike Woodson Hawks of last season played Brandon Jennings.  That was a miserable failure.  Luol Deng got hot, and the Hawks had no one to guard him.  Josh Smith and Joe Johnson made horrible decisions on offense, repeatedly, Al Horford disappeared, and Jamaal Crawford and Kirk Hinrich seemed like the only guys interested in playing the game.

Zaza Pachulia was, as usual, a useless hack who isn’t too effective when a stronger player (Kurt Thomas) is matched up against him.

It was games 3, 4, and 5 last May all over again, with the Bulls dominating like the Bucks never could have without Bogut.   Bucks play the Hawks in Atlanta Tuesday, and that game looks very winnable.

Time for greatness: Brandon Jennings

When things are going good, when the running layups are rolling in, when your teammates are hitting the bunnies, the game looks easy for a point guard.  Right now is not one of those times for Brandon Jennings, whose Bucks are 5-10 and in the Central Division cellar, not a place anybody expected the Bucks to visit this season.

But the good times are like ESPN highlights — they don’t define good teams.  And they don’t define great point guards.

The Bucks, last in the NBA in shooting and scoring, need their second year point guard to be great.  “Good” — which Jennings was with 25 pts and six assists in the Bucks 103-89 loss in Detroit Friday — won’t cut it, not when the Bucks are playing without their anchor, Andrew Bogut, sidelined with back spasms.  Not when the coach has complained that some of the new players don’t seem to know the plays.

In addition to everything else Bogut does, the Bucks center is vocal about holding his teammates accountable, both on offense sets and defense.  This now falls to Jennings, who hasn’t found reliable offensive options all season long.  He’s missing John Salmons, who’s been sluggish in recovering from a strained knee.  He misses veteran point guard Luke Ridnour (gone to Minnesota) who brought energy, movement and good shooting off the Bucks bench last season.  And yes, he misses Charlie Bell (traded to Golden State), who didn’t do much himself on offense but hit the spot-up 3 when called upon, yet Charlie knew where he was supposed to be and where each play was supposed to go.

Those veteran guards, Ridnour and Bell, who had spent a long 2008-09 season learning the Skiles style, were indispensable to Jennings in his rookie season.  They had also adopted their coach’s never-say-die mentality, an intangible that, perhaps for the first time this season, disappeared when the shots didn’t fall against the hot-handed Pistons.  The Bucks, the team that never quits, eventually “disengaged” in the 3rd quarter.

“We’ve got to stay positive; that’s the main thing. Everybody can’t just go on their own. We’ve got to stay engaged and stay with what we do best. It starts on the defensive end, and the offense will come.  We got wherever we wanted to tonight. We’ve just got to finish it.” — Jennings in last night’s post game comments.

There’s trouble in the words, “everyone can’t just go on their own,”  and Jennings seems to have realized it.  In the absence of Bogut, he’s the guy who has to make sure the Bucks don’t splinter, don’t “go on their own.”  An average NBA point guard might go with the flow and hope his teammates step up “on their own.”  A great NBA point guard takes control of the game, attacks the opposition and demands that his teammates play to his energy level, win or lose, whether the shots fall or not.

It’s a lot to ask of a 21-year-old who’s played in just 97 regular season NBA games.  But then Jennings never set out to be average, nor has he been willing to settle for “good.”  For the Bucks sake, he can’t.  They are a team struggling to find an identity even as their young point guard learns and defines his own NBA identity.  Ready or not 16 games into the season, the Bucks are a team that needs Brandon Jennings to be great.

The sure-to-be-annoying “Shoot the ball, Drew Gooden” blog, with Baby Bulls references

The Big News out of Bucks central today is that Scott Skiles has told his starting power forward to shoot the ball, and shoot it quick when he’s got a shot.  Obviously, somebody heard me through the toob last Saturday when, in the final minute against the Warriors, Drew Gooden grabbed an offensive rebound right at the rim and, instead of dropping in the layup, Gooden passed it out, leading to a 15-footer by John Salmons. I’m all for Fish shooting the ball, preferably shooting it more than any other Buck, but when your team is protecting a lead in the final minute and the big forward has the ball right at the hoop — take the easy 2 and dunk it, please.

Apparently, no one heard me earlier in the first two weeks of the season when the Bucks offense was bogging down nearly every time Gooden touched the ball, and that’s what this is all about, of course, not one relatively quick decision that led to a basket by Salmons in a win against Golden State.

Assuming that Gooden isn’t getting Skiles’ signals crossed, Gooden’s comments on the matter are revealing:

“He didn’t tell me nothing about rebounding, about playing no defense. He said I want you to shoot the ball and everything else will take care of itself.”

No, the Bucks don’t need Drew to play D or rebound — they were one of the best rebounding teams in the league last season without him and nobody ever accused Drew Gooden of playing defense (especially not his former coach Mike Brown, and certainly not the Hornets’ David West, et. al.).  No, Drew Gooden has to score and score efficiently to be useful — and the Bucks, who make most offensive possessions look like work, are badly in need of routine scoring.  The Bucks are currently 29th in the league in offensive efficiency (pts per 100 possessions).

Gooden, in particular, needs to make decisions quickly when the ball’s in his hands.

This last point is really, truly what Skiles was getting at when he told Gooden to “just shoot the ball.”  That’s not what Gooden was doing in the first ten games.  When the ball has gone inside to Drew, he’s held it, looked around, held it some more, taken a dribble jab step that doesn’t fool his defender, picked up the dribble, turned, faced, pumped then shot a brick with a hand in his face.  Meanwhile the opponent D has been standing still long enough to gain good position to keep the Bucks off the offensive glass.  It’s like watching highlights of the Vin Baker black hole on the Mike Dunleavy Bucks, without anything resembling the All-Star numbers Baker delivered.  Perhaps not coincidentally, Dunleavy coached Gooden when Gooden was a Clipper.

The Skiles offense relies on ball movement.  Andrew Bogut — All-Star-All-Pro material that he is, and one of the best passing big men in the game — is the first post-up threat that Skiles has really ever had, and the first big man Skiles has been willing to let the motion slow down for.  Bogut also draws double teams from all directions, which can’t be said of Gooden.  Drew’s gotta speed it up and realize that it’s far preferable for him to put up a quick brick from 15 while the defense is moving than it is to bog the offense down putting the ball on the floor, trying to make moves he doesn’t have.

Despite his strong game against the Lakers (22 pts) and a decent outing vs. the Warriors, Gooden’s still shooting just 42.3% and has scored 118 pts on 123 “true” shots (free throws factored in).  If you read the above linked “shoot more, Drew” story in the Journal Sentinel (or didn’t read it), note that Gooden’s good games against the Hawks and Knicks are mentioned.  C’mon, Gooden shot 2-7 vs. the Hawks and 5-15 against the Knicks.

A one-armed Andrew Bogut has been much more consistent offensively, though without much better overall results — 127 pts on 128 adjusted shots.  AB can’t feel his right hand sometimes, obviously — he’s missed a number of right-handed bunnies and over half his FTs — and the Bucks have little choice but to keep pounding it in to their center.  In Gooden’s case, however, Skiles and his pace guru, Jim Boylan, won’t sacrifice pace for a 40%-shooting Gooden.  “Just shoot it, Drew, and do it quick.”

Now about Skiles and all that talk about “the green light” to shoot 3-pointers — don’t feel special Drew.  Skiles has said that to nearly everyone in a Bucks uniform since he got here in 2008.  What this means is that the coach is concerned about the Bucks pace and doesn’t mind the odds of a well-timed brick of a 3 being rebounded by his guys — as long as the opponent defense is scrambling.  It wasn’t an invitation for Gooden to join the stable of streaky 3-ball-shooting Bucks or become a 2011 version of Charlie V — with hair and a better feel for what’s tweetable and what’s the wrong way to deal with Kevin Garnett (see Bogut:  just whack KG back; it’s truly the best thing for all parties.)

And now for some sure-to-be-annoying notes on Skiles’ Baby Bulls teams and the concept of who should shoot three-pointers and who should not: Preferably, guys who can make 3-pointers should shoot them.  Skiles was at his coaching peak in identifying this type of player when he coached the Baby Bulls — though it’s difficult to say whether Bulls fans would concur, depending on what day of the week it is and whether they are still aggravated by Skiles, fed up with Kirk Hinrich or enmired in the endless debate over how tall Ben Gordon really is.    The Bulls 2006-07 stats definitely concur.

Four guys on the Baby Bulls 49-win team had the green light from 3-point-land:  Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni and Chris Duhon.  Duhon was the only streaky shooter among them that season (Hinrich would turn streaky later), and Duhon shot a very Buck-like 35.7 %.  The other guns shot a combined 40-plus %, leading the Bulls to an impressive 38.8 % shooting as a team — which would have led the league had Steve Nash’s Suns not shot an unheard of 39.9% from downtown as a team. Not fair, Nash.

The Bucks, unfortunately don’t have anybody but John Salmons likely to put up those kinds of shooting numbers, so “the green light” gets spread around on the Bucks — sometimes too much — a problem Skiles encourages.  With a Bogut under the hoop and a squad of hustle players, Skiles plays the second chance percentages.   What the Bucks need to count on this season are not the made threes but the easy, routine points in the paint from Bogut, Gooden, Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova on the scrap, and Maggette on the drive.  So far, they haven’t been making enough threes or getting enough of those — a reality reflected in Gooden and Bogut’s efficiency, and in the Bucks offensive 29th place off-rating.

Pace — and the sure-to-be-annoying 2007 Baby Bulls stats: If you scroll up to the head of the 2006-07 Bulls team page you’ll find some other Skiles-significant stats — the Baby Bulls led the league in defensive (points allowed per 100 possessions) rating in 2007, right where the Bucks want to be and have been this season.  But you’ll also notice the pace ranking — they were sixth in the NBA, playing at a pace of 93.6 possessions per game.  Contrast that with this season’s Bucks, 22nd in the league in pace at 2.1 possessions (91.5) fewer than Skiles’ best ball movement team.

True, the Bucks are not the Baby Bulls and have an All-Pro center who demands the ball in the post — this slows the pace down some.  But the Bulls didn’t have Brandon Jennings, who whips drives into the lane like Hinrich never could, and is less judicious than the Baby Bulls point guard  about shooting early in the shot clock. early in the offense than Hinrich at his best was … most of the time.  Those factors, evened out, it’s been plain to anybody watching that the Bucks have some players slowing them down.  Gooden has been one;  Corey Maggette was far too deliberate early on but has picked it up considerably in the last few games.  The new guys, understandably, have had to adjust to Skiles’ style.  John Salmons‘ recovery from a knee sprain has been another drag on the keel, so now’s certainly no time to panic, as much of a cliche as that is.   The Bucks will pick up the pace, and Salmons’ shot is coming around (he’s at 38.5 % from The Land of Ray and Reggie).

That said, the Bucks needs some wins before the schedule turns brutal in December.  Tonight in Philly against the depleted, 2-10 Sixers playing without Andre Iguodala, seems like a good way to start.  The Bucks would do well to continue it Saturday at home against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder before they face Detroit and Cleveland on the road next week.

Note to Scott Skiles: Last season’s forwards, please

The Bucks 2010-11 Bucks in their first two games look eerily similar to the 209-10 team that tried and failed last Nov.-Dec. to work Michael Redd into its rotation.  The Bucks with Redd stood around on offense; the ball didn’t move; they lacked chemistry and consistent defense; and they lost twice as often as they won (the Bucks were 6-12 when Redd played).

To be fair, that team — like this season’s Bucks — had injury issues.  After a 6-3 start Andrew Bogut went out for six games with a deep thigh bruise and Luc Mbah a Moute missed a couple of weeks with a bum ankle.  Mbah a Moute has been hobbled by a bad ankle in the Bucks first two games this season, and Bogut has been limited by foul trouble, his healing right arm and some conditioning issues.

What last year’s Bucks team had that the current Bucks do not was a backup center in Kurt Thomas; a backup point guard nicknamed Frodo who knew the offense as well as the coach and played with desperate energy; and they had the unselfish “D-Wade stopper” Charlie Bell, who made sure that the ball was going in the post to Bogut.  With the unsung hero Bell starting in Redd’s place, last year’s Bucks were 19-16 including a couple of clumsy, disjointed losses with Redd firing ill-timed bricks in a reserve role.

What last year’s Bucks team didn’t have was a logjam at forward; they had a simple rotation (when Redd wasn’t playing).  The eight-man rotation of Jennings, Bell, Luke Ridnour, Carlos Delfino, Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Bogut and Thomas was well-knit, smart, unselfish, and extremely hard-working. Nobody outrebounded that team by 23 boards (the T-Wolves had a 62-39 rebounding advantage). That team never gave up 19 offensive boards. What’s different about this season?

1) Not once last season did Skiles relegate Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute to scrub 26 minutes … COMBINED.  And;

2) Not once during the 2009-10 82-game schedule did the Bucks suit up without a legitimate backup at center for Bogut.

Those two factors are directly attributable to the rebounding failure in Minneapolis Friday night, and the failure to win “50-50” plays and get to loose balls in the paint.  And it’s no accident that when Skiles played Mbah a Moute, finally, late in the 3rd quarter, the Bucks pulled back into the game and erased most of a 17-point T-wolves lead.

On the court for that run were Brandon Jennings, pint-sized Earl Boykins, Corey Maggette, Mbah a Moute and Bogut.

Skiles can’t solve the backup center problem until GM John Hammond acquires a backup center.  But coach Skiles can remember last season, and some of the things that made the Bucks tough, scrappy and competitive for most of it.

More Mbah a Moute, now that he’s able to play, and some renewed trust in Ersan Ilyasova are two of those things.  Here’s hoping Skiles remembers them tonight in the home opener against Larry Brown’s Charlotte Bobcats — no strangers themselves to scrappy play and tough D.

A must win home opener: Both the Bucks and Bobcats are looking to avoid starting 0-3. With a difficult Portland-Boston back-to-back on the schedule next week for the Bucks, 0-and-3 could very quickly become 0-5.

Can the Bucks get a do-over?

John Salmons looked like he needed another week (or two) of pre-season.  Same for Corey Maggette, who seemed confused on defense (“Defense? What’s that coach?)  The spacing and ball movement on offense was reminiscent of some of the worst days of the Michael Redd-Terry Stotts period.

The Bucks, still a work in progress, ugly and obvious, after dropping Wednesday’s opener 95-91 in New Orleans, would do well to pick up a win in Minnesota tonight and reset the season at home against the Bobcats Saturday.

GM John Hammond’s newcomers — Drew Gooden, Maggette and Keyon Dooling — have some work to do, and they would be wise to get to it ASAP.  Coach Scott Skiles‘ patience won’t last much longer.  Defensive ace Luc Mbah a Moute and bruising forward Jon Brockman are set to return in Minnesota, and Ersan Ilyasova will not be relegated to 15 minutes of playing time often — and probably not for some time.

Maggette does warrant a pass due to his lack of a preseason, and Gooden was productive in his minutes (15 pts, 11 rebs).  But Gooden — who did have a full preseason — failed time and time again to get a hand in David Wells‘ face.  That’s the kind of defense that gets on Skile’s nerves and won’t be tolerated on a Skiles team.  Just ask Michael Redd.

The Bucks core — plus Salmons — was a winner.  It’s too early to say that GM Hammond did too much this off-season, too early to be aggravated that Hammond and the Bucks are marketing Maggette and Gooden to Bucks fans as part of a winning formula.  Yes, it’s early … but no — the Bucks team that played in New Orleans Wednesday was no winner.

Bright spots

Carlos Delfino (19 pts) – never looked better.  Good spacing, solid D, ball movement, great teamwork with Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings.  The Bucks core knows what it’s doing, nevermind the newcomers.

Andrew Bogut:  The free throw line is only 15 feet away and 50 percent from the floor isn’t quite good enough, big man.  The Bucks will need Bogut to be more efficient offensively. But in every other regard, it was great to see the Bucks center back on the court.  He was in control of the paint all night (15 boards), and Emeka Okafor (0 points) didn’t get free for a single shot the entire game.

Brandon Jennings: Watching Jennings play D — often successfully — against Chris Paul was more fun than watching him run the Bucks tired-looking offense. It’s too bad the Hornets are in the West and BJ gets only one more crack at CP3 (next Saturday). That the Bucks were even in the game was a credit to Jennings, who found Delfino’s hot hand time and time again in the 4th quarter.  If BJ’s sophomore season is a campaign to prove to the world that he’s the real deal, he’s off to a pretty good start.