Tag Archives: Brandon Jennings

38 or Less: The worst regular season won-lost records by NBA playoff teams of the last 38 years

To mark the Milwaukee Bucks 38-win playoff season, here are the “38-wins-or-less” playoff teams from the 1975 to 2013 seasons, with an important caveat:  I’ve excluded 11 teams that won between 35 and 38 games and made the 1984-1988 playoffs, listing only the two playoff qualifiers from those five seasons who lost so much they deserve mention.  Those five “exempt” seasons were the first years of the 16-team playoff format when, suddenly, only 7 of 23 NBA teams missed the post-season.   Somebody had to lose during the regular season, and some of those losers found themselves in the playoffs.

Some of them were pretty good too, given the strength of the East and scheduling heavily weighted toward conference play — an eighth Eastern Conference seed in 1986 with 35 wins was comparable to a 44-win team a few years later after expansion, not so much to the teams listed below.  (Such dilution realities certainly put a damper on the Bulls 72-win season in 1996.)

The 1975-1983 seasons were more “apples to apples” in terms of today’s playoff format. In 1975 and 1976, ten of 18 teams made the playoffs.  After the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, 12 of 22 made it.  In 1980 the Mavs were added to the league and the conferences properly aligned; the 12 team format remained until the 1983-84 season.

League expansion began in 1988 with the addition of Miami and Charlotte, tolling the beginning of the end of the NBA’s “Golden Age.”  By 1990 there were 27 teams, 16 making the playoffs, and four expansion teams around to beat up on and puff most of the worst playoff records above our 38-44 cut-off.

Note that of the 13 teams on this list, no team other than the 1976 Pistons (led by Bob Lanier) won its first round series.

1. 1986 Chicago Bulls (30-52). Michael Jordan broke his foot in the third game of his second NBA season and missed the next 64. He would come back to have a 63-point game against Larry Bird and the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, not enough to prevent a Celtics sweep. The 1986 Celtics won 67 games, the third championship for the Bird-McHale-Parrish front court and are widely considered one of the top three or four teams in NBA history.

This Bulls team had talent other than Jordan, though great it was not. Half the players ended up in rehab of one form or another, facts reported by writers Sam Smith (The Jordan Rules) and David Halberstam (Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made) among others. Much of this centered around guard Quentin Dailey. Forwards Orlando Woolridge and Sidney Green were also in this group of early Jordan teammates, along with big Dave Corzine at center and Hall of Fame scorer George Gervin in his final season (16.2 ppg).  Charles Oakley and John Paxson are the most notable here due to Oakley’s later success with the Knicks and Paxson’s ability to cling to Jordan’s star for three titles.  In 1986 Oakley was a rookie and Paxson had yet to solidify his future as Jordan’s pal. Stan Albeck was head coach.

The Bulls had the misfortune of playing in an Eastern Conference ruled by three of the top four teams in basketball since 1980 — the Celtics, the Sixers and the Bucks — with the Pistons and Hawks rising up bit by bit each year in hopes of challenging the top.  The “Bad Boys” Pistons in 1986 were still a couple of years away from their baddest phase.

The NBA schedule in those years was more heavily weighted toward conference play than it is now, which made the 1986 Bulls schedule a prolonged nightmare.  They played the Beasts of the East six times each, winning just six of the 30 games.  The Bulls weren’t the only team in the East hammered by the schedule.  A tough, talented, Buck Williams-led New Jersey Nets team could muster only 39 wins and were swept by the Bucks in the first round. Rookie Patrick Ewing’s Knicks lost 59 games.

Throw out the five Beasts of the East and two losses against the “Showtime” Lakers, and the 1986 Bulls won 24 and lost 26 against the rest of the league, not too shabby for a hodgepodge group of guys playing most of the season without Michael Jordan.

2. 1988 San Antonio Spurs (31-51).  The last season of the 23-team league as the expansion to Miami and Charlotte would occur in the summer of ’88.  Magic’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics remained at the top, with the “Bad Boys” Pistons shoving Boston off the pinnacle to reach their first NBA final.  Some of the power balance had shifted East to West with the decline of Philly and the Bucks, along with the rise of the Dallas Mavs, creating the parity between conferences than hadn’t existed since 1980.

In the East, the Bucks played their first year under new coach Del Harris and fell to 42-40. The Pistons and Hawks and Sidney Moncrief’s ailing knees had finally caught up with our Bucks.  Ewing’s Knicks were getting better, and won 38 games.  Jordan’s Bulls had their first 50-win season.

In the West the Stockton-Malone Jazz fell short of the fifty milestone with 47 wins.  Magic and the Lakers won 62 and their fifth championship.

While most of the lower rung playoff teams of this period can’t be labelled “bad” by today’s standards, the 1988 Spurs were bad in any day.  They were swept (3-0) in the first round by the Lakers.

The Spurs best player was defensive demon Alvin Robertson, who would be traded to Milwaukee in 1989 for All-Pro (3rd Team) forward Terry Cummings.  Robertson’s teammate on the Spurs, Frank Brickowski, would join him in Milwaukee in 1990, traded for Paul Pressey.  Why all the trades with the Spurs?  By 1990 the Spurs had center David Robinson and were trying to get to the top with help from Bucks playoff veterans, while the Bucks and owner Herb Kohl, encouraged by the pending retirement of Sidney Moncrief, opted to go a cheaper route and would slide into their long rebuild in the 1990s.

3. 1995 Boston Celtics (35-47).  The Celtics were sort of rebuilding (or beginning to) after the Larry Bird era. Kevin McHale had retired in 1993. All-Star shooting guard Reggie Lewis collapsed and died of heart failure that summer (1993), and the Celtics in 1995 were still staggering under allegations that he might have been saved, had the team (and those close to Lewis) not been so eager to dismiss evidence that Lewis was at risk, to the point of avoiding tests for cocaine use (Money Players, “Puff Policy,” 1997, by Armen Keteyian and other journalists).  In an effort to fill the void left by Lewis’ death, the Celtics signed 35-year-old Dominique Wilkins, not flying as high as he did with the Hawks in the 1980s but scoring 17.8 ppg to lead the team.  Coached by Chris Ford. Dumped out of the playoffs (3-1) by Shaq’s Orlando Magic, who would go on to be swept in the Finals by Hakeem Olajawon’s Rockets.

4. 2004 Boston Celtics (36-46).    All that losing in the mid-1990s brought draft picks and an effort to build a contender around the would-be duo of Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce, who instead became symbols of post-Jordan NBA mediocrity.  The 2003-04 season found the Celtics tearing down again and trading Walker, one of the least scrupulous shot hogs in the game.  That left Pierce, listed as a shooting guard then, and boy did he ever.  Pierce shot nearly 19 times a game – and missed 11  – shooting less than 30% from three-point-land and averaging 23 ppg. The Celtics fired coach Jim O’Brien after 46 games and assistant John Carroll mopped up.

These were rather dark days for the NBA. The pace was at an all-time low.  Average and below average shooters bricked away at will and somehow made all-star teams. Ball movement was often non-existent, a trend that continued for years.  Assists would reach an all-time low in 2006.  Kobe and Shaq bickered in LA and guys like Walker, Pierce, Allen Houston and the Bucks’ Michael Redd gunned poorly selected shots out of isolation offenses, winning big contracts if not playoff success.  Orlando Magic star Tracy McGrady was the best of this lot, yet all of it was ugly basketball.

The 2004 Celtics were a bad team in an Eastern Conference that had deteriorated rapidly in the early-aughts.  The 4th seeded Miami Heat won just 42 regular season games.  But hey – former Buck Vin Baker was on this Celtics team for a few weeks in 2003. Kendrick Perkins was a rookie.  The Celtics were swept in Round 1 by 38-year-old Reggie Miller’s second-to-last Pacers team, about seven months before the “Malice at the Palace” in Detroit.  Dark days indeed.

5. 1997 Los Angeles Clippers (36-46).  Loy Vaught (who? – I can’t even find a picture of him) led this team in scoring at 14.9 ppg.  Forwards Bo Outlaw and Eric Piatkowski led a halfway decent bench crew.  Coached by Bill Fitch, somehow still in the league.  The Western Conference was none too balanced in those days, as the Clippers were one of three teams from the west to make the playoffs with a losing record.  The T-Wolves (40-42) in Kevin Garnett’s second year and the post-Charles Barkley Suns (also 40-42) were the others.  The Clippers were swept out of the first round by the Stockton-Malone Jazz, fated to go on to lose their first of two NBA Finals to Jordan and the Bulls.

6. 1976 Detroit Pistons (36-46).  This might be getting a bit far back — the league that existed prior to the merger with the ABA — but 1975 and 1976 get our deepest historical look because the 1971-74 playoff format allowed less than half the league to qualify (8 of 17 teams, so no real losers).  This changed in 1975, with the addition of the New Orleans Jazz and the short-lived 10 of 18 format. In the 1975 and 1976 seasons, a total of four teams with losing records made the playoffs.  Another quirk was the regular season schedule, heavily weighted toward division play instead of conference play.  Midwest Division teams the Bucks, Pistons, Bulls and Kansas City Kings played each other seven times in the season, 36 games against the nine teams in the Eastern conference and 25 games against the Pacific Division. This is as equalized as the NBA schedule has ever been.  To further emphasize the importance of division play, the top two teams in each division received a playoff bid, with a 5th seed going to the team in the conference with the next best record. So a team in the Pacific division with a better record than either of the Midwest Division leaders could miss the playoffs entirely.  This happened to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers in 1976. The playoff teams with the two worst records, regardless of division standings, would then face off in a wild card mini-series, best two out of three. A pretty good system if you think divisions should matter, a belief the current NBA schedule makers clearly do not hold.

Bob Lanier’s Pistons won 40 games in the 1975 season and 36 in 1976, making them the model of mid-70s NBA mediocrity. But “mediocrity” in the mid-1970s when you had a Hall of Fame center meant that you were pretty competitive when the center was healthy.  Lanier missed 18 games in 1976 and the Pistons lost 12 of those.

Detroit in 1975 had also traded star veteran guard Dave Bing (another Hall of Famer) to the Bullets for young point guard Kevin Porter (who would lead the NBA in assists for the Pistons a few years later) but Porter was lost to injury 19 games into the season and the Pistons struggled.  Coach Ray Scott was fired and replaced by Herb Brown, and Brown found 20-year-old point guard Eric Money on his bench to fill in for Porter.  Led by Lanier, power forward Curtis Rowe and Money, the Pistons won 10 of their last 13 games and nearly caught the Bucks (38-44) atop the Midwest Division. As the playoff teams with the worst records in the West, the Bucks and Pistons squared off in a first round mini-series.

The Bucks were in their first season after “The Trade” of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and were young, hungry and very nearly a match for Lanier and the Pistons.  Lanier and Rowe dominated the Bucks inside (a familiar story for the ever-power-forward-challenged Bucks) while the Bucks guards, led by All-Star Brian Winters, bombed away from the outside (remember, no three point line yet in the NBA) and came within a shot of winning the series. Detroit won it in Milwaukee in game three, to what would become typical Bucks heart-stopping and heart-breaking effect.

The 1976 Pistons really have no business being on this list, but the 1976 Bucks do (see No. 11 below) so I included both. The Pistons went on to lose (4-2) in the second round to Rick Barry’s Golden State Warriors, the defending champs.  Lanier averaged 26.1 ppg and 12.7 rebounds in nine playoff games, Hall of Fame numbers from a highly skilled center who was perhaps the strongest big man in the league for many years. Power forward Rowe added an average of 15 pts and 8 boards on the Pistons run.

7. 2011 Indiana Pacers (37-45).  Another Jim O’Brien team, this one led by Danny Granger in the role of Paul Pierce, and playing the same ugly style of 2004.  This time coach O’Brien lasted to game 44 amid a lot of grumbling from GM Larry Bird that he was refusing to play his younger players, Tyler Hansbrough and rookie Paul George among them. Replacement coach Frank Vogel did more than mop up O’Brien’s mess, as the Pacers went 20-18 the rest of the way, edging out the injury-riddled Bucks (35-47) for the final spot in the East.

The Pacers were simply not a very good team until the arrival of David West and George Hill for the 2012 season, with Vogel as the coach. Dismissed in five games by Derrick Rose and the Bulls in Round 1 of the 2011 playoffs. Only made the playoffs because of the injury epidemic in Milwaukee.

8. 1979 New Jersey Nets (37-45).  From the land of the final season before the 3-point line was drawn on NBA courts comes the 1979 Nets, coached by Kevin Loughery and featuring the unstoppable mid-range post-up game of Bernard King.  King was young, in his second season, and top scoring honors went to guard John Williamson (22.2 ppg), a Net from the ABA days of Dr. J and one of the better long-range shooters of the time.

King and Williamson didn’t have much help beyond assorted journeymen like big man George Johnson (not to be confused with the George Johnson who played for the Bucks in 1978-79), the above mentioned Eric Money, acquired from Detroit, and aging zen power forward future Jordan-Shaq coach Phil Jackson in his 15th and almost-final playing season.  Jackson just didn’t want to quit (he finally would in 1980).  One has the impression that the guys on this 1979 Nets team partied down quite a bit (though not King, who was known for heavy drinking alone), and their record seems to reflects this.

Personalities noted, the Nets were a fast, fun team that locked down on defense (3rd in the league) and pushed the pace to 110 possessions a game, about 12 more than the Golden State Warriors of today. Unfortunately the Nets were the worst shooting team in the league and turned it over more than every team but Chicago. They would trade Money and guard Al Skinner to Philly in February for future shot-blocking Buck Harvey Catchings and former ABA star Ralph Simpson.

The Julius Erving-led Sixers swept the Nets out of the 1979 playoffs, 2-0, and the Nets began a full-scale rebuild. King’s knee problems began the following season, after he was traded in preseason to Utah along with rookie point guard Jim Boylan (yes, the same Jim Boylan who was Al McGuire’s favorite point guard, Scott Skiles’ favorite assistant, coach of the Bulls and Bucks and now an assistant with the Cavs) and John Gianelli for big man Rich Kelley. Gianelli had come over from the Bucks in a post-season trade for Catchings, along with a first round draft pick that would become Calvin Natt in 1979.

Confused?  Me too, especially about why Don Nelson traded that draft pick.  The Bucks had received the Pacers 1979 pick as compensation for the free agent signing of future Hall of Famer Alex English in 1978. The Pacers had a lousy season, so it turned out to be the No. 8 pick in the draft that gave the NBA Magic Johnson, Bill Cartwright, Sidney Moncrief, Vinnie Johnson, Bill Laimbeer, Mark Eaton, Natt and a few other notables).

Boylan would never play an NBA game.  Kelley would never develop into more than a journeyman center.  The Nets would slide to the bottom of the East, but with draft picks obtained by trading young Natt to Portland for Maurice Lucas (Lucas was the power forward Nellie and the Bucks should have targeted), they would draft Mike Gminksi (1980) and Bernard King’s brother Albert (1981).  Natt would become an All-Star in Denver of all places after being traded by Portland, along with Fat Lever and others, for Kiki Vandeweghe.  English would make the Hall of Fame in recognition of a long career scoring a mountain of points for run-and-gun coach Doug Moe in Denver. Bernard King would recover from knee trouble and alcoholism to star for the Golden State Warriors and New York Knicks and eventually join English in the Hall (2013).

Catchings would be the goat in the Bucks 7-game, one point, playoff loss to Philly in 1981 (3-16 shooting, 24 fouls and 7 turnovers in 109 mins, leading to jokes that he had never left his old team, the 76ers). Yet Harvey would continue play on 13 years in the NBA and block 1226 shots, which is quite a few of those.

9.  2008 Atlanta Hawks (37-45).  The first playoff appearance for the young Al Horford-Josh Smith Hawks (featuring Joe Johnson), and it was a good one, with the Hawks pushing the “Big Three” Celtics (the 2008 champs) to seven games in the first round. Horford was 21-years-old and Smith 22, and the Hawks were on the rise, something that can’t be said about nearly all of the teams on this list, 1986 Bulls excepted. The Hawks became one of ESPN’s “it” teams.

“It” was not to be.  Although some remarkable good health eventually resulted in a 53 win season in 2010, playoff success eluded the Hawks.  After beating the Celtics three times in the 2008, they couldn’t win a playoff game against anybody but the Andrew-Bogut-less 2010 Bucks, who were in the process of bum-rushing the Hawks out of the playoffs until game six when they forgot how to shoot.  The Hawks made it to the second round in 2011, were out in the first again in 2012, let Johnson go to Brooklyn rather than overpay him like the Nets did, and now 2013 is the end of the line for Smith (and Zaza Pachulia too) as the team looks to build a better roster around Horford.  Back in 2008, the future didn’t look anywhere near as dim as it would be for Atlanta.

10. 1980 Portland Trailblazers (38-44).   This was the season after the Blazers parted bitter ways with the center Bill Walton and his fractured feet and let him sign with the Clippers of San Diego, Walton’s hometown. The Clippers compensated the Blazers with players (Kermit Washington the most compelling) and two first round picks.  Walton sued the Trailblazers for medical malpractice. By the 1980 mid-season the Blazers had broken off other key pieces of their 1977 championship roster. Power forward Maurice Lucas, the star of the 1977 finals, was traded to New Jersey, along with two first round draft picks, for rookie forward  Calvin Natt, who became the Blazers leading scorer.  Natt was drafted with the first round pick the Bucks had sent to New Jersey along with John Gianelli in the Harvey Catchings trade.

Point guard Lionel Hollins (now coach of the Grizzlies Nets himself) was traded to Philadelphia, where he joined Maurice Cheeks in the Sixers backcourt and helped spark the Sixers run to the 1980 Finals (where they lost to the Lakers, featuring Magic Johnson’s sensational game six at center and everywhere else on the court for injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

The Blazers were left with an interesting mix of rookies and journeyman veterans, including a redemptive Washington (notorious for throwing the punch that almost killed the Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich in 1977) who played 80 games. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam would follow the team for the entire season and prologue, and publish The Breaks of the Game (1981), still considered the masterwork of pro basketball journalism, biography and history.

One of the more interesting characters was rookie forward Abdul Jeelani, a recent convert to Islam who grew up in Racine (as Gary Cole) and played college ball at UW-Parkside.  That’s right, Parkside in Kenosha, Wis., an NAIA school at the time. A long-armed 6’8″, Jeelani was precisely the type of productive, scoring bigger forward who would be a natural for an NBA roster today, earning a salary of $8 million a year or more.  But things were different in the mid-1970s. The available NBA jobs were fewer (rosters were cut to 11 players in 1977) and the money sweeter in Europe.  Jeelani had failed to make NBA rosters twice, gone on to play in Europe, and was back for a third try at age 25.  Despite the trimmed down roster, he made the team, and after a solid season in Portland with some high scoring flashes, Jeelani — much to the surprise of the Blazers, who wanted to keep him — was picked up by the Dallas Mavericks in the expansion draft.

After Dallas, expansion was halted for eight years as the NBA went to work with what it had in the new decade: 23 teams in a meaner, leaner league filled with often brilliant players, all searching for an audience in a slow economy. Attendance had fallen and TV ratings were very low; there were problems attracting advertisers, problems with national network (CBS) priorities and presentation; and a number of franchises found themselves struggling under the financial strain of the new order — free agency. But Bird and Magic had arrived, and the game itself was undergoing a creative renaissance sourced in teamwork and great passing, with a series of strong drafts growing the talent each season.  The 200-some players holding down NBA jobs coming out of the late 1970s would cut the diamond that Michael Jordan and the Dream Team marketed to the world.

Jeelani would be one of the 200 for only one season in Dallas, where he was one of only four players to remain on the team from training camp to the end of the season.  He scored the first bucket in Mavericks history, and got used to hearing chants of “Abdul” from the home fans. Gary Cole from Racine, Wis., had changed his religion and his name; encountered rejection; traveled the world; and returned to try again in the league that rejected him, making the cut during its lean recessionary times. And as a young follower of Islam, he became a fan favorite in Tom Landry and Roger Staubach’s good ol’ boy christian conservative Dallas.  That’s one heckuva story.  The only problem was Jeelani’s salary of $57,000, which was far easier to double in Europe than in the NBA. In Europe Jeelani was a star; in the NBA, he was a mid-level player who usually came off the bench, and economic times were still tough in 1981.   He would move on to play in Italy and Spain for the better part of the next decade.

The 1979 Blazers bowed out in the first round (2-1) to the Dennis Johnson-Gus Williams-Paul Silas-Jack Sikma Seattle Supersonics, the eventual champs.

11. 1976 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44).  First season after the Kareem trade, the young Bucks were led by All-Star forward Bobby Dandridge, great-shooting Brian Winters and center Elmore Smith, the latter two acquired in “The Trade” along with Junior Bridgeman and power forward David Meyers.  The Bucks, coached by Larry Costello, won the 1976 Midwest Division without Kareem, largely owing this to the Pistons early season injury troubles (see above). Kareem’s Lakers actually failed to make the playoffs despite having a better record (40-42) than both the Pistons and the Bucks.  In the divisional playoff format of 1976, the Lakers had to catch Phoenix to win the fifth and final seed in the West but lost four of six to the Suns in the regular season and fell two games short.

Not a good year for Kareem or the Midwest Division, obviously, but the playoffs redeemed Lanier’s Pistons.  Against Detroit in the first round, the Bucks opted to bomb away from the outside and, thanks to some phenomenal shooting, managed to steal game one and then leave fans hyperventilating in Games 2 and 3 with three point losses in each. Winters, a 1976 and 1978 All-Star, shot 63%, averaging 27.3 points per game in the series — without the aid of the 3-pointer.  Dandridge netted 22 per game on 49% shooting and guard Gary Brokaw shot 62.2% for 21 ppg. Improbably, given those shooting percentages, it wasn’t quite enough.

This was Costello’s last full season as Bucks coach. Don Nelson, who was busy helping the Celtics win the 1976 title in his final season as a player, joined Costello’s staff for the 1976-77 season, and the head coaching job fell in Nellie’s lap early on.  The Bucks kept the core of Winters, Bridgeman and Meyers, let Dandridge go to the Bullets in free agency (received cash compensation), and launched full-on into the “Green and Growing” rebuilding plan. Nellie and GM Wayne Embry traded Brokaw and Elmore Smith to Cleveland for Rowland Garrett and two first round picks, one in 1977 (Ernie Grunfeld) and one in 1978 (George Johnson).  They drafted Quinn Buckner and Alex English in 1976, then Nellie traded monster rebounding center Swen Nater (their 1973 draft pick, who had been playing in the ABA until the merger) to the Buffalo Braves for the No. 3 first round pick that would be used to draft forward Marques Johnson in 1977.  When Marques arrived the Bucks started winning and the rest, as they say, is history. those were the days to be a young Bucks fan. The Bucks became a perennial contender after drafting Sidney Moncrief in 1979 and acquiring Lanier from Detroit in 1980.

12. 1992 Miami Heat (38-44).   First playoff trip for the expansion heat. Glen Rice wasn’t a 50-40-90 shooter this season (the Bird-Dirk-Durant standard) but he wasn’t too far off at 47-39-84. Rice led the fledgling Heat with 22.3 ppg, getting help from center Rony Seikaly and rookie gunner Steve Smith. The Heat would try use those three as a base to build a winner; they would not succeed.  The Heat started winning when Pat Riley took over in 1995 and completely overhauled the roster, including the core three.  The 1992 Heat were coached by Kevin Loughery, same Loughery who coached the Nets in the 1970s and Jordan’s Bulls in 1986 (see Nos. 1 and 8 on this list). Swept in the first round by Jordan and the Bulls on their way to title No. 2.

13. 2013 Milwaukee Bucks (38-44).  What will history say about this Bucks team?  Their coach, Scott Skiles, quit/was let go 32 games into the season after putting his house up for sale and declining to sign a contract extension.  The interim coach, Jim Boylan (the same Jim Boylan who was included in that 1979 Bernard King trade) played his team fast and loose and continued to develop good, young big men (Larry Sanders, John Henson).  But the Bucks’ trio of guards shot too poorly overall and played too little defense down the stretch to avoid a first round series against the defending champs, the Heat.  The Bucks lost 15 of their last 21 games, and few expect Boylan back as coach (Boylan was fired after the Heat dismissed the Bucks from the playoffs in a 4-0 sweep).

There are worse teams on this “38 or less” playoffs list, to be sure (Jim O’Brien’s teams come to mind), and better teams too.  Three of them were coached by Kevin Loughery, so coaching quality is a factor.  Weirdly enough, Jim Boylan is a recurring character in this post, as is long forgotten point guard Eric Money. The common thread for these teams is that they were all in transition, most of them on the way down, not up or sideways.  Those sideways teams that stayed the course, such as the 1976 Pistons and the 1992 Heat would break up their teams within three years. It will happen this summer in Atlanta.  It may happen soon in Indiana, too, though not this season. History shows that mediocrity in the NBA plays itself out to sub-mediocrity, unless your Hall of Famer can stay healthy, and the Bucks don’t have one of those.  They don’t even have an Al Horford or a Glen Rice, not to say that Sanders can’t get better (this statement looks funny two years later).

The current situation says the Bucks won’t win in the long or short run with Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick’s disparate jump-shooting tendencies.  Whatever happens with the rest of the Bucks roster, the series against the Heat should be the last time we see the guard trio play for the Bucks.

“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.

Scott Skiles’ starting rotation shooting the Bucks in the foot

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.

Where’s the love? Jennings is Player of the Week but the Bucks remain unconvincing

Brandon Jennings is leading the NBA in assists and steals and Jennings was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the 2012-13 season tip-off week.

The 2-0 Bucks are leading the NBA in defensive rebounding (grabbing 82% of available boards), leading the league in pace (98.2 possessions per 48 minutes) and they’re  the league’s 3rd-best defensive rated team.

So where’s the love?  This from NBA.com’s power rankings heading into week 2, with the Bucks ranked 20th:

Though the Monta Ellis/Brandon Jennings pairing doesn’t look any better than it did last season, Jennings himself is off to a strong start. He scored 21 points in Friday’s win in Boston, hit the game-winner on Saturday against the Cavs, and dished out 13 assists each night. Mike Dunleavy carried a huge load (29 points, 12 boards and six assists) off the bench against Cleveland.

And this from Yahoo NBA, where the Bucks are ranked a surprising high 9th:

Milwaukee Bucks (2-0, previous ranking: 17th): Brandon Jennings playing with an edge after not getting a contract extension.

Realistically, it’s too early to tell, but there aren’t too many around the league impressed with Bucks GM John Hammond’s pairing of Jennings and Ellis, two undersized defensive matadors who are models of offensive inefficiency even as they command the ball.  Unless one (Jennings in week one) is playing like an All-Star.

And then there’s Jennings’ contract situation, which isn’t making too many in the Bucks camp or its fandom too comfortable.

Stay tuned …  The Bucks defense was impressive in Boston, challenging everything the Celtics tried to do with the ball …. yet somehow it still feels like preseason.

The Memphis Grizzlies and their mean, mean frontline of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mareese Speights are in town Wednesday.   A good test the day after the election.

Election Day: Speaking of which, President Obama’s nearly a lock for a second term, according to various sports stats gurus, and they’re under attack for saying so.

The cold hard facts have been suggesting that — barring a Romney miracle — the election was all but decided 10 days-to-two weeks ago.   But nobody in politics likes obviousness.  There’s just no money in it.

Happy Election Day.

Mission “Impossible” – The Milwaukee Bucks evaluation that coach Scott Skiles says can’t be done

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.

When failing to put a team on the court kills your season

Before the Bucks headed West two weeks ago for a five game road trip, we looked at the league leader boards, some advanced stats and other basketball geek fodder, and found some good things to write about after a small sample.

Two weeks later, there’s little good to write about, as nearly every Buck but an improved Brandon Jennings has either been injured or inconsistent or worse.  The Bucks’ vaunted Top 5 defense has gone to pot and now rates 16th, allowing one point more than the league average of 102.6 points per 100 possessions The Bucks, a team notoriously good at protecting the defensive glass, now ranks near the bottom with a 70.8% defensive rebounding rate.

Bucks center Andrew Bogut has not played well or even rebounded up to his standards (15.5% rebound rate, AB?) and, well, now he’s not playing at all after suffering a concussion against the Pistons on Thursday.  Carlos Delfino and Stephen Jackson have played well in spots.  In some stretches, they’ve been horrendous.

Remember when this team was good?  Remember when Scott Skiles was good?   Some even considered him “brilliant but evil.”

That was long ago, in another time and place and galaxy, in that long-ago age of Chicago Bulls basketball that didn’t include Derrick Rose.

For the 4-and-7 Bucks,”when we were good” was less than two years ago.   There’s not a blogger in the Bucks-o-sphere who can capture the essence of all that’s gone wrong since then.   As constructed, the Milwaukee Bucks are either a mess waiting for an upsurge remniscent of 2010 …

Or they’re just a mess that, for the second year in a row, was not ready to begin the season.

A wise man recently said:  “Waiting for Bogut has become like Waiting for Godot.”

Note:  The Bucks have played the 22nd toughest, or 9th easiest schedule in the league.  This was not the part of the schedule where they could afford to go 4-and-7.

Gooden time: On the road in the west without Andrew Bogut, Bucks need their “Big Zero” like never before

Bucks GM John Hammond’s $6 million man will get another chance to prove his worth in Sacramento tonight, as center Andrew Bogut has not yet returned to the team.   Bogut left for “personal reasons” Tuesday in Utah.

UPDATE: As of today (Thursday pregame), Bogut was still gone and the Kings have fired coach Paul Westphal.

So it’s up to the much-maligned Drew Gooden, “the Big Zero,” the man who has seemed in a world of his own as a Buck, to establish a paint presence against Chucky Hayes and the Kings young frontcourt of J.J. Hickson, Jason Thompson and, yep – he’s back from another temper tantrum and fight with the now departed Westphal – DeMarcus Cousins.

These are matches made in heaven for Gooden.  There are no DeAndre Jordans or Blake Griffins on the Kings roster (those two nightmares await in L.A. Friday). The Kings are big and slow and like to throw their weight around, just like Drew.  Pigs in slop?  Something like that.  This will be a rugged game in the paint.

It’s not Gooden’s modus operandii, but he may want to help mind offensive opportunities for his fellow big men, Ersan Ilyasova and Jon Leuer.  Ilyasova started with Gooden in Utah and shot just 1 for 8 in the Bucks’ 71-point offensive meltdown.  Leuer shot 1 for 4.

The Bucks need scoring from their big forwards, no doubt about that, with ill-shooting Brandon Jennings and Stephen Jackson manning most of the perimeter minutes.  Ilyasova, in particular, is due for a good game, and he’ll start on ex-Cav Hickson, with whom he’s fairly well matched and acquainted.  It should be a battle.

But what I’m looking forward to the most is a Leuer vs. Cousins matchup off the bench.  The Bucks will need Leuer to score, and Cousins is too slow-footed to guard the Bucks rookie.  Cousins may be too big for Leuer, but Cousins is susceptible to offensive fouls, frustration, temper tantrums and other drama.

The last time the Bucks were in Sacramento, Cousins committed four offensive charges against Ilyasova and Bogut, fouled out, threw a fit at the refs, and the Bucks prevailed with a strong 4th quarter.

I can’t really think of any two young players who are such polar opposites as these two.  Leuer, the cool, clever, good shooting, in control and fully developed 4-year college player vs. the raw, immature, undeveloped, out-of-control but talented Cousins.    Leuer vs. Cousins:  Book it, this should be fun to watch.

Kings PF/C Jason Thompson is also a handful off the bench.  Bucks shot-blocker Larry Sanders will get his minutes, and plenty of opportunity to wreak havoc above the rim.  Larry is his name.

TEAM TRAINER TEDIUM:  Mike Dunleavy, Jr., is still out with a groin injury and not with the team.  Luc Mbah a Moute is not expected to play due to soreness in his knee.  Beno Udrih is day-to-day with the mashed shoulder he suffered in a collision with Andre Miller on Monday.  Rookie Tobias Harris has not practiced.  Darington Hobson has been recalled from the D-League and will probably play tonight.  Aren’t Bucks injury reports boring?  You bet.

JOHN SALMONS:   The Kings are all about their young guns, Marcus Thornton, Tyreke Evans and Jimmer Fredette, but the old fish is getting his minutes starting at small forward.  Salmons’ defense is just as solid as ever and will likely guard Jackson, who, by transitive property of the 3-team trade, was the guy he was traded for.  Jimmer and Beno, Tobias Harris and Shaun Livingston are the other pieces in this trade, which should make tonight’s game, in the very least, interesting.

Salmons has started all seven games for the Kings and had a workmanlike game playing 30 minutes guarding Kobe Bryant and Ron Artest in a Kings win.  Against the Knicks, he was the best King on the floor during a long stretch in the first half, though he had his hands full guarding Carmelo Anthony.

And yes – Salmons is still shooting like crap (34%), though he’s hit a good percentage of his threes (38%), better than the 32% Jimmer’s shooting.

Sure, I’ll be watching Salmons because he’s not Fredette or Stephen Jackson, but also because GM Hammond gave up on him far too soon.  The revolving door that is the Bucks backcourt with Jennings is a sign that Hammond probably has ADD.

STATS CHECK:   The Bucks remain 2nd in the league in team defense giving up just 95.2 pts per 100 possessions, tied with the Bulls behind Denver.  The Bucks are 2nd in forcing turnovers (17.5% turnover rate) and 2nd in defensive field goal percentage, holding opponents to a woeful 44.4% effective shooting.  (Effective shooting counts one made shot for a made field goal and 1.5 made shots for three-pointers.)

But they’ve plunged to 28th in the NBA in team offense,  scoring only 96.5 points per 100 possessions, causing fans throughout Bucksland to wonder whether this is what we get with Jennings at the point.  There may be limits to how much the Bucks can improve from here.  Even baby steps would be welcome, given the strength of the defense.

With that in mind, most troubling is the Bucks defensive rebounding, which has fallen to 71%.  They are not protecting their defensive backboard very well at all, despite a reputation as one of the better rebounding teams in the league.

The Bucks rank 24th in controlling the defensive glass, which obviously undermines the great on-the-ball shot defense they’re playing.  This gets more and more surprising with each game it continues.

Not surprising is the jumper-chucking Bucks’ inability to the get to the line.  They’re dead last in Free-Throws-Field-Goal percentage — only 16.4% of their shots have been free throws.

Defensively, the Bucks are nearly opposite:  They don’t allow teams to shoot well but they foul a lot.  26% of Bucks opponents’ shots have been free throws.  Partial blame for this goes to Kevin Love and the T-Wolves loving referees.

Somebody on the Milwaukee Bucks doesn’t “get it”

“Last night was not a game where you just throw up your hands and say, ‘We don’t get it.’ Sometimes those things happen. Shaun will be out at the 1, for sure, tonight. He’s comfortable there and we have confidence in him there.” — Bucks coach Scott Skiles, talking about point guards and the loss Monday night in Denver.

What this means, I don’t know.  Was Skiles saying that Brandon Jennings threw up his “I don’t get it!” hands in the 4th quarter of the Bucks’ 91-86 loss to Denver, when the Bucks scored all of five points in the final eight minutes of the game?   Or was the coach admitting that he threw up his and said, “I don’t get it?”

Neither Jennings nor his coach looked as though they “got it” in the fourth quarter in Denver.

At minimum, the above comment from Skiles acknowledges that he just might – might – bench Jennings if the point guard plays clueless, and that maybe – maybe- Shaun Livingston might get the call in light of the injury to Jennings’ backup, Beno Udrih.

Maybe.  Comments like the one Skiles made above had no bearing on the Bucks miserable play in Salt Lake City last night.

Jennings shot 4-19 in the Bucks 85-73 loss.  Stephen Jackson, starting again at guard-forward-forward-guard shot 5-17.  No, they don’t do enough in other parts of their games to make up for a 9-for-36.

Before the trip West: Five Bucks appear on NBA leader boards; Bucks re-establish Top 5 team defensive rating

Happy New Year!   And welcome to 2012 on behalf of the editorial board at The Bob Boozer Jinx, most of whom are still sleeping off last night’s hilarity, events made possible by the board’s decision to handcuff me to the steering wheel of an alcohol-detecting cab and make me drive them around all night.  They’re not responsible for any of the gunfire you might have heard at midnight.

The Bucks had this weekend to themselves, getting ready for a five-games-in-seven-days trip west, which begins Monday night with the familiar Mountain-Time, Denver-Utah back-to-back and takes them to Sacramento and L.A. (Clippers) before wrapping up in Phoenix next Sunday.  It probably doesn’t need to be said that, in this lockout-shortened season, the Bucks (2-1) need to gut out at least two wins on this rough road and come home no worse than 4-4.

There’s no time like the outset of this trip to check the NBA leader board and see where our Bucks landed after Week One.  The good news is that the Bucks are again among the league leaders in defense, led by Andrew Bogut; and that they’re rankings on the offensive end aren’t half bad.  (NBA LEADER BOARD and SUMMARY).

Consider this an early touch-point blog of sorts.  I’ll check back to measure progress (or lack thereof) after the trip.

TEAM DEFENSE:  The Bucks — so far — have maintained their 2011 Top 5 defense despite new additions Mike Dunleavy, Jr., and Beno Udrih, guys hardly known for tenacious D.  Entering Sunday’s games, the Bucks ranked 2nd, giving up just 95.2 points per 100 possessions. 

(Find the season summary here – scroll down for the “Miscellaneous Stats” where you’ll find offense and defense ratings, turnover percentages and other pace-adjusted stats).

The Bucks rank 3rd in defensive field goal percentage, holding oppenents below 40% (39.8).  In Week One, they were the 2nd-best “effective field goal percentage” defense behind the Lakers (efg% accounts for the points on made 3-pointers).

The Bucks rank 4th in forcing turnovers, getting one 16.7% of the time, which means the Bobcats, T-wolves and Wizards turned it over once every six possessions.  That’s remarkably sloppy opponent offense, but also a key element to the Skiles constant pressure, in-your-grill, man-to-man defense.  It’s designed to force mistakes, not necessarily steals.

The Bucks defensive rebounding rate is in the toilet (22nd in NBA), as the Bucks are controlling just 71.4% of available opponent misses.  We can thank the T-Wolves and Bobcats for that.  Just a bad start for a strong rebounding team or a sign of things to come?  When in doubt blame Kevin Love.

TEAM OFFENSE:  The Bucks rank 16th in offense, tied with the Raptors, scoring 103.2 points per 100 possessions.  Not half bad and a major improvement over last season when they were dead last.

Shooting:  The Bucks are 14th in shooting percentage (45%) but 19th in 3-point shooting (30.5% – ouch) for an effective field goal ranking of 16th (48.6%).

The biggest change for the Bucks is paceLast season the Bucks were 25th in the league, running less than 90 possessions per game.  After Week One they were 6th, pushing the pace to 95.3 possessions per game. Note that Denver, their next opponent, is leading the league in pace, running and gunning under George Karl.

INDIVIDUALS:  Five Bucks are on the NBA Top 20 lists, four of them for good stuff.   The “bad” is Stephen Jackson, who ranks 16th in fouls.  The four “good” are Andrew Bogut (no surprise there), Brandon Jennings (a bit of a surprise), Ersan Ilyasova (no surprise here at the Jinx) and Carlos Delfino (Del-3-no!).  Lets begin with Bogut.

ANDREW BOGUT:  The Pacers may be leading the league in team defense but the best defensive teams on the planet continue to be the Orlando Magic when Dwight Howard is on the court and the Bucks when Andrew Bogut is in the game.  Howard (84.8 estimated pts per 100 allowed) and Bogut (89.0) rank No. 1 and No. 2 in defensive rating, right where they’ve been since 2009.

Rebounding: Bogut is hauling in 11.0 rebounds per game but not on the leader board because the Bucks have played only three games.  He’s 13th in defensive rebound rate (26% of available rebounds grabbed) and 18th in overall rebounding rate.*   Expect Bogut to stake his claim to the Top 10 in these areas on this road trip.   Bogues is 18th in total rebounds, 13th in defensive rebounds.

*A 26-27% defensive rebounding rate is typically good enough for the NBA Top 10. Bogut’s career bests of over 27% were in 2009 and 2011.  For a relative comparison, Dwight Howard was in the 31% range during those seasons.  The elite rebounders of the NBA are in the 18-22% total rebounding rate (offensive and defensive rebounding rates combined), with Kevin Love somehow posting a 23.6% rate last season.

Blocked shots:  Bogut, the NBA’s leading per game shot-blocker in 2011 has yet to make an appearance on the blocked shot leader board.  His typical blocked shot rate since 2009 has been about 6.0% — it’s half that after Week One.

BRANDON JENNINGS:  The 7th leading scorer in the NBA at 22.7 per game, and doing it fairly efficiently.  My computer froze when I wrote that the first time.  BJ is shooting 46% from the floor and getting to the line in the 4th quarter when the Bucks need him to the most.

Free throws:  Jennings is 17th in made free throws and in the Top 10 in free throws per game, with 6.7.

Minutes:  Jennings is also 17th in minutes played.

ERSAN ILYASOVA:   Tenacious D is his calling card.  Ilyasova ranks 5th in Defensive Rating, leading the Bucks forwards in minutes played (27 per game) and helping Bogut lead the Bucks to their No. 2 D-rating.

CARLOS DELFINO:  Three out of five from Downtown in one game gets Carlos in the 3-point shooting top 10.   Carlos ranks 10th at 60%.

STEPHEN JACKSON:  Fouls, turnovers, wild shots — Jackson’s the wild card for the Bucks, no doubt about that, but he’s also out of shape.  He’s “that guy,” and he even looks like he’s acquired my beer gut.  Jackson’s turning it over three times a game (if not more with wild shots) and would be in the Top 20 there had the Bucks played more than three games.  He’s 16th in total fouls (with 14) and one of the few guys in that bottom 20 who’s played three games.   Here’s hoping Captain Jack finds a groove on the road.

OTHER NOTABLES:

Ray Allen:  A true shooting percentage of 79.9 percent going into Sunday’s game against the Wiz.  Let’s call it 80.   True shooting counts two free throw attempts as one shot, carves up that shot based on percentage of FT makes, and adds the extra point for made 3-pointers to “truly” account for a shooter’s scoring accuracy.  Ray’s 58% from the field, 58% from downtown (14 of 24) and, no, he hasn’t missed a free throw in 16 tries.*

The Celtics may have started 1-3 without Paul Pierce but Ray is on fire and hasn’t taken a bad shot that I’ve seen.  Ray was 11th in Week One scoring with 20.0 per game.

*Ray on Sunday missed his first free throw of the season, always a solemn occasion.

Greg Stiemsma:  The 4-year Wisconsin Badger from tiny Randolph, WI, somewhere up there between Portage and Fon du Lac, made his NBA debut this week with the Celtics, backing up Jermaine O’Neal. Stiemsma blocked seven shots in two games, good enough for No. 2 in the league behind Blake Griffith‘s Clippers running mate DeAndre Jordan (4.7 blocks per game) and ahead of Howard (3.0 blocks).

Dwight Howard:  What trade talk?  Howard hauled in a Superman-like 70 rebounds in four games for the Magic to lead all boardsmen, including a league-leading 52 defensive boards.  Howard entered week two of his season averaging 17.5 boards a game and has cleaned off an astounding 38% of all opponent missed shots.

DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings was leading offensive rebounders with 23 in four games, then demanded to be traded after the Kings were blown out by the Knicks.   That’s 5.75 boards on the offensive glass per game for Cousins.  Somebody block big man out.  Somebody trade him.  Somebody tell him to stay home.  Somebody send him a Drew Gooden headband.

Kevin Love:  Three games, 44 rebounds, 20 against the Bucks.  Love is grabbing 14.7 boards a game, six per on the offensive glass and trails only Howard.  How does he do it?   Maybe hit the glass more, Darko!

Carmelo Anthony:  Forty free throws in four games.  40!  I’ve seen some of those games, and the fouls weren’t of the ticky-tack variety.  Carmelo’s averaging 25.0 per game and is sixth in scoring, a full 2.3 pts ahead of 7th place Jennings. (Note to BJ: Don’t bother trying to keep up with him.)

Lebron James:  Leads the league in scoring (33.0 per game) but the Heat don’t look so invincible.  The Bobcats had ’em in Charlotte but let ’em off the hook with turnovers and missed free throws down the stretch.  They still don’t have a center and are reportedly after ex-Buck-Blazer-Bobcat Joel Przybilla.

The Bulls:   They’re putting the hurt on the Randolph-Gasol Memphis Grizzlies in Chicago tonight, and will probably have the league’s top-rated defense come morning.*  The Grizzlies had all of 28 points at half and finished on the wrong end of a 104-64 score.   The defensive standard has been set in the Eastern Conference.*

*Lo and behold, the Pacers and Bucks remained atop the league in team defense after the weekend.  The Bulls D-rating did drop below 100 pts per 100 possessions (98.3), better than their 2011 league-leading 100.3 pts per 100.

The Hawks, Bulls, Sixers, Magic and Celtics ran Top 10 offense in Week One, something to keep in mind when thinking of contenders for East playoff spots.  Surprised the Knicks weren’t in the Top 10?  Me too.