Tag Archives: Carlos Delfino

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.

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.

Deal!!! NBA players, owners reach tentative agreement

NBA players and owners came to their senses during ten-hour settlement talks Friday, and will advance a tentative agreement to their respective memberships for approval.  No, the lockout’s not over, not yet.  But the lawsuits will be withdrawn, the players’ union will reform, and approval of the deal is expected from all parties.

Many reports cite “significant concessions” by the owners.  Whether that happened is highly suspect, considering that objective observers at Yahoo Sports, The New York Times and CBS Sports had weeks ago decided that the divisive issues were relatively minor.

The real issue at stake here was respect.  NBA commissioner David Stern had made too many ultimatums, issued too many deadlines and given us all the high hat.  The players responded by disclaiming interest and filed an anti-trust.  This tentative settlement, ten days later, was more of an apology from the NBA than a compromise. 

Some of the details as reported HERE and HERE:

  • The split of Basketball Related Income was set at a “band” of 49-51 percent.  This reflects the 50-50 agreement that had been previously reached.  One percent will go to the fund for retired players, a nice play by the union and a swell gesture by the owners.  Apology accepted.
  • The “Carmelo Anthony rule” was dropped by the owners.  This would have prevented players from exercising their Larry Bird contract extension rights in “extend-and-trade” deals like the one that sent Anthony from the Nuggets to the Knicks last spring.  It’s very unclear as to why the owners were trying to stop these deals, which amount to a player limiting his own movement in deals that all parties have to agree to.  This was never a sensible bargaining item, and not much of concession.  Shrugs all around.  The OK City Thunder are still stuck with Kendrick Perkins (also an extend-and-trade deal last season).
  • Mid-level Exception (MLE) contracts for teams over the salary cap were set at four years.  The owners had wanted to alternate four-year and three-year deals, but what was the point?   There’s no rule that says a team has to use its MLE at all.  Don’t want a player for four years?  Don’t sign him.  And how was a team limited to three-year deals going to compete with a team that could offer four?  More shrugs at the bargaining table.
  • Sign and trade deals by teams paying luxury tax would be allowed but “limited,” according to reports.  Huh?  These types of deals occur too rarely to figure out what that means.
  • Qualifying offers to restricted free agents would be raised.  Aha.  The Bucks had two restricted free agents, Luc Mbah a Moute and Chris Douglas-Roberts.  Because they were 2nd round draft picks, their pay scale was low and the Bucks only had to commit $1 million to retain their rights to the players.   That’s pretty low risk, especially for Luc, who’s due to get a raise.  The Bucks decided not to retain rights to CDR, despite the low financial commit.  Raising the qualifying offer would not necessarily drive salary higher for a player like Luc, whom the Bucks want to keep.  But it would make it more difficult for teams to restrict players they have little interest in retaining.   Freedom! – but not necessarily for players in high demand.
  • The owners conceded on when to assess the Mid-Level Exception (MLE).  Teams not paying luxury tax will be allowed to use the full $5 million MLE, regardless of whether, on paper, the MLE nudges the team into tax territory.  This keeps any number of improving teams in small and big markets from being penalized as though they were repeat tax offenders like the Lakers and Celtics and Spurs, which is what the owners wanted to do.  I’ve wondered why Herb Kohl or any small market owner agreed to this and questioned whether this was a clause to level the playing field for the luxury tax payers, contrary to the owners’ rhetoric about “competitive balance.”  If the owners actually conceded on this, I can finally stop blogging about it.

“Yessssssssss!!!!!!!!!!” – Andrew Bogut tweeted this morning.  

“Does the beard and mullet stay or go?” wondered Jon Brockman.

“Es finalmente todo esto verdad o sigo soñando ???”  That was from Carlos Delfino.

Que?

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.

*********************

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.

Settling for Jump Shots: The Skiles system and the Bucks on-court decisions in the pick and roll analyzed

John Salmons, looking for better options than his jump shot.

Basketball Prospectus this week published a great analysis of the Bucks offensive tendencies, commonly referred to these days as “the Bucks offensive woes.”

LINK to Basketball Prospectus article “The Bucks Stop There.”

It’s no secret that Bucks GM John Hammond and his coach, Scott Skiles, have not made good shooting a roster priority and have either traded away (Jodie Meeks) or let go (Luke Ridnour) of the decent shooters the Bucks did have.  But given this well known deficiency, why do the Bucks so often insist on settling for jump shots?

And why is the Skiles offense determined to result in spot-up jumpshots?

According the Basketball Prospectus analysis, the Bucks run plays that result in spot-up jumpers 23.4 % of the time — 2nd in the NBA.  That’s incredible given the lack of shooting on the roster.  The Bucks make 38.4 % of their spot up jumpers — 22nd in the league.

That’s “not good enough to justify taking the shots,” the article notes.  Yet that’s what the Skiles offense dictates, just as it did during his four-plus seasons coaching in Chicago, when the Bulls offense featured Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni.  The Bucks, unfortunately, don’t shoot as well as those former Bulls, not here in Milwaukee, and not prior to joining the Bucks.

Brandon Jennings, we learn, isn’t as horrible running the pick and roll as some perceive.  He’s actually “average” – delivering 91 points per 100 possessions coming off ball screens and shooting 41.8% out of the pick and roll — not great, but average in the NBA, according to Basketball Prosepectus.

John Salmons, on the other hand, has been as bad as perceived this season.  When he’s settling for jumpers off the dribble on ball screens, he’s scoring a meek 75.5 points per 100 possessions and shooting a god-awful 33.3 percent.  This is both by offensive design (Skiles and Boylan) and player choice (Salmons).

Were Salmons to simply become “average” shooting off of ball screens, he would have to hit about one more shot per game than he normally makes.  That’s two points, three if it’s from Downtown, where he has continued to shoot well; it’s his jump-shooting inside the arc that seems to have left him.  The Bucks have needed more than a three-point bump from Salmons to win, so, ideally, what the team needs him to do is stop settling for jumpers off the pick and roll and take it to the rim.

In the paint, Salmons stands a much better chance of generating the 4 or 5 points per game — either by scoring, drawing fouls and defenders, or opening up weak side rebounding opportunities for the Bucks front court — that the Bucks need to get over the top in these games down the stretch.

Up to this point, Salmons as been settling for the jump shot off the ball screen 78% of the time.  That’s OK if you’re Ray Allen and shooting 50 percent from the floor and 46.6 percent from 3-point-land (yes, those are his current shooting numbers in Miami) but it’s clearly not what the 2011 Bucks need now from Salmons.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE, and I hope you do. It’s well worth the read and includes play-by-play video to illustrate the Bucks’ offensive tendencies.

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Salmons, Delfino on fire against the Nets

With Bogut still struggling with offensive efficiency and needing more arm surgery in the off-season, the Bucks in their game tonight at the BC against the Nets needed a smart floor game from point guard Brandon Jennings and some efficient offense from their top scoring options, Salmons and Carlos Delfino.

They got it.   Jennings had eight assists and one turnover in 40 minutes.  Salmons and Delfino shot the lights out, rippling the nets with a combined 20 of 29 shooting and 51 points.  Delfino shot 8-11 from downtown and led the scoring with 26.

The game wasn’t televised in Milwaukee, but we know that 13 of Salmons’ 16 shots were from inside the arc, a good sign for a Bucks offense that has desperately needed smart shot selection and efficient offense to stay in the playoff hunt.

The Bucks stay home to play the Knicks Sunday afternoon.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trailblazers more revenge than “a test”

With so many teams around the league having improved, it’s tough to predict that the Bucks will win 50, especially considering that they’ll play most of their Western Conference schedule and 28 of their first 49 games on the road.

But then a Bucks fan can always remember what the Bucks went through last season:  Michael Redd drama that cost them the first two games; simultaneous games missed by Bogut and Mbah a Moute that derailed their early season momentum (an 8-3 start); and 16 more games of Redd drama that tripped a few more losses, finally ending at the outset of a six-game western road trip — Redd played his last minutes as a Milwaukee Buck in L. A. and the Bucks headed to Phoenix without him.

In Phoenix, the Redd-less Bucks gave the Suns a great game and probably should have won it (a blown lay-up by Bogut in the final minute led to a 105-101 loss) and then pointed their sights north and west to Portland.

Brandon Roy, Andre Miller and the Trailblazers embarrassed the Bucks like they hadn’t been — and wouldn’t be — the entire season.  The Bucks were down 30 at the end of the 3rd quarter and the Blazers ended the game with an unheard of (against the Bucks) 118-plus 131 points per 100 possessions.  It was sick. The Blazers starters shot 33 for 48, and the Bucks were never in it from the opening tap on.

Roy is one of the game’s superlative shooting guards, and his Blazers are one of the few teams that did not make significant upgrades in the offseason. They are almost precisely what they were when the Bucks rolled up the West Coast last January, minus a couple of decent backup point guards.  They’re relying on their improving core of Roy, Miller, LaMarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster and Rudy Fernandez, plus Marcus Camby and a healthy Greg Oden (don’t laugh) to maintain a 50-wins level in the ever competitive-yet-middling Western Conference. Good health for the big men could make the Blazers a West powerhouse.

The Bucks are in the same boat, like it or not.  Drew Gooden isn’t much of an upgrade; and while Corey Maggette seems bent on proving that he is, the Bucks don’t have a backup center or point guard of Luke Ridnour‘s caliber (the Blazers’ Steve Blake, now a Laker, would have been a good addition, Jarryd Bayless, too).  No, Bucks improvement depends not on the Bucks new additions that GM John Hammond hopes will sell some tickets (that’s not really a crack at Drew Gooden)  but on the Bucks core — Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut, of course, and on John Salmons, Luc Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova.

Here’s that box score from last January.  Ouch.

Salmons wasn’t a Buck yet (and Camby not yet a Blazer) and Jennings was in the middle of his first six-game Western trip.  But still, it looks to me like the Bucks should have something to prove tonight.  And why not?  Bogut will be matched up against Oden, not Camby, if for no other reason than the drama of it all, with the still unanswered questions about whether or not Oden can hang with a real NBA center. … We’ll see how long that lasts.

And the Blazers were thumped in Chicago last night.  The back-to-back I-94 gauntlet is tough for travelling Western Conference teams, even for the Lakers, and the Blazers are no elite team — not yet.   Revenge on the Chicago-Milwaukee gauntlet should be sweet, mean and an unavoidable trap for Portland, shouldn’t it?  If the Bucks are a 50-win plateau team, this one should be in the bag, shouldn’t it?

Then why does it feel that the Bucks — built for the rugged East — have a better chance of winning in Boston Wednesday night than they do at home tonight?

DEL-THREE-NO: Carlos Delfino is on a shooting tear to start the season, bombing away at a 46.7 percent rate from downtown (12-26).  He leads the league in three-point attempts and is 2nd in makes, behind only Heat sharpshooter James Jones. History suggests that the notoriously streaky Delfino won’t be able to keep it up.  But then again, who knows if Skiles continues to play him 36 mins a game.  Del is in a groove, no doubt about that, and once a shooter is in a groove, a streak can last for weeks.

Del’s 110 minutes in three games puts him among the league mpg leaders, but guess who’s at the top through four games —  Roy and Aldridge, with Andre Miller also in the top 10.  There’s nothing up the sleeve of these Blazers — they roll it out there with their best playing heavy minutes, knowing that their best are probably better on most nights than your best.

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.