Bucks coach Scott Skiles said after Friday’s blowout loss in Dallas that it was “impossible” to evaluate the 2012 Bucks. They’ve been too hurt, too MIA and too jumbled in disarray in this rush-start, lock-out shortened season; it just can’t be done, not yet after 11 games, not in Skiles’ mind.
At The Bob Boozer Jinx, we’re undeterred by such obstacles, and have already noted that Skiles and Bucks GM John Hammond failed for the second year in a row to put a team on the court ready to start the season. With that in mind as the Bucks get set to play the Philadelphia 76ers on Martin Luther King Day, here’s your 2012 Milwaukee Bucks evaluation, coach, in order of most playing time to least.
Brandon Jennings: He’s shooting better and has played smarter, attacking to the basket more than settling for that unreliable jumpshot of his, as the Bucks are playing at a faster pace than last season. BJ3 is among the NBA leaders in minutes played per game, was at one point near the top in free throws per game (he needs to do more of this) and was shooting 44.3% going into Philly, 35.7% from Downtown. Those are winning numbers for a point guard these days, especially one that keeps his turnover rate as low as Jennings does (10%). Had a tough game in Philly and couldn’t give the Bucks an edge in the 3rd quarter when they needed it, but make no mistake — Brandon Jennings has improved. Defense? That’s improved, too, as BJ3 leads the Bucks in steals. He wins the Bob Boozer Jinx “2012 Most Ready to Play” award.
Stephen Jackson: He shoots, he scores. He shoots, he misses. A lot. A 42% career shooter who can’t make a third of his threes is not a good shooter, but that doesn’t deter Captain Jack. The intangibles? Showed up out-of-shape and with a sore back but looks close to 100% now, and he seems to be the kind of nasty competitor the Bucks need some nights — and there will be those. Unfortunately, he shoots so badly in some games — like today’s 3-for-12 against Philly — that the Bucks will often find themselves climbing out of a deficit as Jack rants. The Bucks can’t win with Jennings and Jackson shooting a combined 6-for-23. There will be those nights, and days, like these.
Carlos Delfino: Here’s another guy who wasn’t ready to go, as he missed two games and was useless for three others due to a sprained shooting wrist. Del is the Bucks best 3-baller (38%), and a capable defender who is again leading the Bucks in steals. He’s solid all-around and would do well to take it to the hoop more often, and doesn’t help out on the glass as much as he could. When he’s on, the Bucks can be dangerous.
Shaun Livingston: One of the reasons the Bucks can look at their schedule, look at their record, and feel like they should be 7-and-5 instead of 4-and-8 even after reading the injury report. Livingston has helped the Bucks build a few blowout leads, only to see them frittered away aided by offensive droughts, bad rebounding and Skiles’ flawed sense of matchups and rotations. A player who does everything there is to do on the basketball court well — turnaround jumpers from the post! — and has fit in seamlessly on the Bucks jumbled roster. He may have found his second NBA life in Milwaukee.
Ersan Ilyasova: If you followed Ersan this summer with the Turkish national team and with Anadolu Efes in the Euroleague, you knew that Ersan had seemingly lost his jumpshot but wasn’t really bothering to look for it, content to play D, rebound and mix it up inside. He’s very much a player in transition from “Dirk-lite” scorer to cage-rattling NBA power forward. Does it look good in the box score or other metrics? Hell no, with the exception of the rebound column. Currently making Thaddeus Young‘s MLK day miserable in Philly, and is on the court with Bogut, Delfino, Jennings and Jackson – the Bucks strongest defensive unit today. That unit “got up on ‘em and got physical,” said Bucks assistant Jim Boylan, noting that this was when the game changed. They pulled a 13-point deficit down to six in the 2nd quarter. Bucks trailed by four at the half.
Important note: Skiles has managed to evaluate Ilyasova, deciding he’s an “off the bench forward” on “a really good, deep club,” and that this seems to be his NBA future. Ersan would beg to differ, and this will very likely be his last season playing for the Bucks (not a really good, deep club) and certainly his last playing for Skiles.
Jon Leuer: Ilyasova’s heir apparent and fan fave, currently starting at power forward. Unlike Ilyasova, Leuer actively looks to shoot, and has been the Bucks most efficient scorer this season. The downside is that the Bucks defense and rebounding takes a hit when Leuer is on the court, evidenced by the first 4 minutes of the 2nd half in Philly, as the Bucks struggled to keep the Sixers off the glass. Enter Ilyasova at the 7:50 mark, as Skiles continues to play power forward roulette. The interior defense and rebounding picks up in the 3rd, but little else. The Bucks tried to pull back into the game in the 4th without Leuer or Ilyasova.
Andrew Bogut: Not ready to play this season, missing four of the Bucks first eight games due to a “personal matter” back home in Australia. Staying on the court is AB’s main problem. Lesser problems: As more and more centers step out to the three-point line, pulling Bogut 20 feet or more from the hoop, Bogut will need to learn to adjust — and it is frustrating to watch Spencer Hawes draining threes. Bogut himself is stepping out a bit this season, encouraged to do so for the first time in his career, and he’s been able to knock down four or five set-jumpers. Bogut’s game remains close to the basket, of course, where he’s one of the best defenders in the NBA. He played strong against Hawes, racking up 20 points, 11 boards, four assists and three blocked shots to keep the Bucks within striking distance in the 4th quarter. His best game of the season, a hopeful sign for Bucks fans everywhere. Has Godot arrived?
Drew Gooden: Bogut can’t play 40 minutes a game, certainly, and probably won’t play enough this season to qualify for the NBA leader boards, which makes the 30-year-old Gooden, the Big Zero, a primary NBA backup center for the first time in his NBA career. Check that – this project was attempted and abandoned in San Antonio and Dallas. It will have to work in Milwaukee, or Drew becomes a $6 million-a-year big man with no job. Poor guy. May end up spending most of his time playing high stakes poker with GM John Hammond.
Larry Sanders: Drafted in the first round 2011, by 2012 he’s riding the bench behind Gooden, Leuer and Ilyasova – even Jon Brockman at times. A fantastic shot-blocker and defender in development, now a utility, garbage-time, odd man out. If Alton Lister was Nellie’s “Big Project,” Sanders is Skiles’ “Really Big Project” — one that the Bucks organization may not ever get around to.
Beno Udrih: Luke Ridnour is back and he’s taller and left-handed, shoots about the same, too, though not as experienced or sneaky on defense. “Allergic to defense,” the Kings bloggers said about Udrih when he was traded to the Bucks. This is true. Udrih plays about the worst perimeter defense I’ve seen since Michael Redd and Mo Williams. But he came to Milwaukee ready to play, and, were it not for getting creamed in a collision with Andre Miller in Denver and missing six games, the Bucks might have a road win or two. A 5-and-7 record would look pretty good right now compared to 4-and-8. (Udrih returned in Philly and played as the Bucks faded in the 4th.)
Mike Dunleavy, Jr.: Coming into this season, Dunleavy had missed 110 games from 2009-11, or nearly half of those three seasons. Now he’s missed eight more with a groin injury. Yet another guy who wasn’t ready to play this season. An injury-prone free agent acquisition by GM Hammond.
Tobias Harris: Strong, good hands, gets to the rim and has good scoring ability around the basket, just as advertized when the Bucks drafted him. The Bucks rookie had made the most of his 90 minutes to date, and scored 12 against Philly in 21 minutes. The Bucks don’t have a small forward backup with Dunleavy and Luc Mbah a Moute out with injuries. The way this season has gone so far, the Bucks may consider taking a development year for Leuer, Harris and Sanders. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Jon Brockman: The Brockness Monster is still that, and he’s a punishing rebounder. Problem is he can’t guard anybody and has no offensive game to speak of. GM Hammond knew this when he signed him in summer of 2010. It’s still not clear why he did it.
Darington Hobson: Good floor skills and likes to drive. 6’7″ but plays like he’s 6’5″. Belongs in the D-League with the Mad Ants of Fort Wayne, Indy.
Luc Mbah a Moute: Expect some player movement when Mbah a Moute returns to 100%. He’s signed and committed for four years ($19 million), and Luc will be here as long as Skiles is here. He was sorely missed against Philly. There are few things in the NBA better than watching Luc lock down on the likes of Andre Iguodala.
Trends from the armchair: The strongest defensive unit — Jennings, Jackson, Delfino, Ilyasova and Bogut — was used only a quarter of the game in Philly — not enough. Skiles abandoned it late in the 3rd quarter in a hale of Jackson and Jennings missed shots. Livingston might’ve looked good with this group in place of Jennings. Note that Leuer, Ilyasova, Gooden and Sanders did not play a single minute in the 4th as the Bucks dropped out of the game. That was curious, though it may have been a function of Skiles wanting to look at Harris with the game (sorta) on the line. It never felt like the Bucks were ever in it, not with the perimeter defense playing so poorly. …
…. And Skiles said this couldn’t be done.