Coming off a big overtime win in Boston and facing the 5-23 Cavaliers at the
Bradley Center BMO Harris BMO Harris Bradley Center, a 15-11 record heading into the three-day X-mas break looked pretty good for the Bucks. But not after the starters shot less than 38% and repeatedly dumped the Bucks into a 10-then-20 point hole that the bench couldn’t dig out of.
If the opening tip five against Cleveland are to be coach Scott Skiles’ starters the rest of the way, get used to nights like Saturday. As a group they are one of the worst — if not the worst — shooting group currently starting in the NBA.
Skiles’ current starting lineup — Brandon Jennings and Monte Ellis, with forwards Marquis Daniels and Luc Mbah a Moute, and center Larry Sanders — would be dead last in the NBA in shooting, were the 7 wins-20 losses Charlotte Bobcats not shooting worse. (See NBA season summary).
The Bucks starters combined are shooting an effective 45.3% on the season (587.5 out of 1297), adjusting up for three-pointers made. (The Bucks by the way are 28th in the league from downtown, hitting just 31.9%.)
The rest of the team is misfiring too, though not so much since Ersan Ilyasova has resurrected to find his jumper. They’re at 47.4% effectively, slightly better than the team % of the Memphis Grizzlies. Ilyasova’s percentage has climbed out of the 25% range and is heading toward 50%.
The dud Saturday against Cleveland was actually accomplished with cold-shooting Monta Ellis on a good night, going 15 of 27 and shooting an effective 59.3% – only the second time this season Ellis has hit that mark.
Ellis shoots more than anybody in the league with the exception of Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook, while posting career-lows in field goal and 3-point-%. Monta’s never been good from 3-point-land, but the 20.9% he’s shooting this season is horrific. And those latest stats include two good shooting games by Ellis against the Celtics and Cavs.
There is no “shooting guard” in the NBA playing more than 30 mins per game who shoots worse than Monta (See HoopData sorted stats by position).
Point guard shooting percentages being what they are (generally lower), only the Knicks J.R. Smith joins Ellis as a “shooting guard” in the bottom ten. And remember, Ellis is firing away at a rate topped only Kobe and Russell Westbrook.
But this isn’t all about Monta Ellis or Jennings. Compounding matters is that Skiles starts Ellis with forwards Luc Mbah a Moute and Marquis Daniels, two defensive minded players not known for sticking shots. Moute and Daniels are both below 48% career eFG%, under the league average of 48.8% this year.
Skiles has done this, he says, because he wants to start games with stronger D — defying the expectations of Bucks fans that Ilyasova and Moute would finally get a chance to start together and bring some chemistry to Skiles’ ever-changing rotations — and it’s not as though Ilyasova’s a slouch on defense.
One could argue — I suppose — that with good-shooting Beno Udrih still out with a right ankle injury, Skiles is looking for some balance off the bench, where Mike Dunleavy could use Ersan’s scoring help.
But if this is an attempt at balance by Skiles, it’s being lost brick by brick with a starting lineup that isn’t supposed to shoot well because they never have. The tip-off five needs a shooter, and Ilyasova’s shot is coming back around to where it was last season.
So the obvious answer is to move Ilyasova back into the starting lineup and see if the Bucks can ween themselves off their dependency on Ellis, who shoots too much for the team’s good — but will keep on shooting unless there is a reliable alternative on the court. Right now, there’s just no such alternative in the Bucks starting 5, and the Bucks might as well make some effort to get a payoff out of the $7.9 million a year investment they made in Ersan.
A Bucks-Celtics note: Skiles has played Ilyasova starters’ minutes (29.4 per game) in the four games against the Celtics, three of them victories. Good matchups for Ersan? Or a trend? We shall see.
Thieves: Brandon Jennings trails only Chris Paul and Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley in steals per game. The Bucks continue to be a Top 5 team in forcing turnovers while being 6th in the league at not turning the ball over. They’re getting two more possessions per game than their opponents.
Larry! Larry!: Larry Sanders is leading the NBA in blocked shots per game (3.1) and is No. 1 in defensive rating, a measure of points allowed per 100 possessions that a player is on the floor. Larry’s 93.4 points allowed per 100 is one point better than Tim Duncan’s and 1.3 better than Pacers center Roy Hibbert.
Ray in Miami: There’s still mucho love for Ray Allen in Milwaukee, but they surely like him more in Miami these days. Ray’s staking his claim to “The Best Shooter in Basketball” crown, leading all guards and forwards in Effective Shooting percentage (eFG%). Ray’s a 61 percent shooter, behind only Knicks center Tyson Chandler. Ray’s the only non- center in the top 5.
Lebron James, meanwhile, is a surprising 6th in the NBA with a 58.1% effective shooting, as the MVP is having a career shooting year inside and outside the 3-point arc. The extra room and better spacing James gets with Ray on the floor is certainly partly responsible for this — as are the added offensive smarts a team gets with Ray — but most of the credit goes to James himself. He’s playing more post-up than in the past, he’s hitting his threes and his shot selection is the best its ever been.
James is also having a career rebounding year, grabbing 8.5 boards per game.