Tag Archives: Ersan Ilyasova

NBA Trade Deadline: A survival guide

It’s that time of year when nothing is true and everything is permitted in the NBA rumor mill. Fake news abounds, the rumors mostly click bait, yet somehow, someway, the craziest out-of-nowhere trades happen. Who saw either Plumlee trade (Miles to Charlotte and Mason to Denver) happening?

Who saw DeMarcus Cousins and Omri Casspi (an underrated forward) headed for New Orleans for a 6’4″ rookie shooting guard (Buddy Hield), another shooting guard who won the Rookie of the Year with the Kings (Tyreke Evans) but doesn’t play much these days, a backup point guard who bombed out with the Knicks last year (Langston Galloway), and a first and second round draft pick.

Even Rolling Stone hates this deal for the Kings. Since when does Rolling Stone write about sports? And what does this have to do with the Bucks, or surviving the phantasmagoria of internet non-reality at the #NBATradeDeadline ???

Everything and nothing. Let’s get started, then.

Rule No. 1: Trust no one, but especially not the Bucks reporter in Racine. Gery Woelfel long ago got into the habit of citing unnamed sources for trades that he truly believed in but never happened. Woelfel’s “news” is mostly click-bait for the Journal Times and gets ignored around Milwaukee, but is picked up by Hoopshype, Hoops Habit, Hoops Rumors and other NBA nooks online, who then serve it up to people who follow those nooks, people you may know, and pretty soon you’re talking about the very Woelfel rumor you ignored the day before.

Woelfel’s trying to trade Matthew Dellavedova and Roy Hibbert for Ricky Rubio and a walleye sandwich right now. Past attempts to get Rubio ended when the T-Wolves demanded that Khris Middleton be included in the deal. Everybody loves Khris, but so do the Bucks.

Rubio doesn’t know about Woelfel, apparently, and sounds a little like he might be traded. Yesterday he tweeted: “Never stress over what you can’t control.” @rickyrubio9 on twitter.

Rule No. 1a: Revisit that twitter account you rarely use.

Rule No. 2: Trust no one, but check out The Vertical with Woj. I became a fan of Adrian Wojnarowski’s feature writing for yahoo a few years ago, and he and his gang of Vertical writers are a heads up crew around trade deadline. They’re saying most teams aren’t looking to do anything major right now, there’s “no traction” to much of the talk, and swaps involving big money centers are the most unlikely of things (killing the Monroe rumors they helped fuel last year). The Cousins trade really did come out of nowhere.

Rule No.  3: The most trade-able player in the NBA is Ersan Ilyasova, and it’s getting pretty funny (that’s him in the photo above, don’t send him money!). Ersan and his highly trade-able, expiring $8.4 million contract were shipped to the Hawks last night, his 5th trade since playing for the Bucks in 2015. This is good for Ersan, as he’ll get a chance to play in the playoffs on a team with Dwight Howard, who’s back near the top of the NBA center rankings (No. 2 behind Denver’s Jokic). The Hawks have the fifth seed in the East and would play Toronto if the playoffs started today.

Rule No. 4: Don’t click on anything that has a question mark in the header or offers a list of things, unless it’s a really funny list. People that sit up all night trolling for trade rumors are very tired people who are not usually funny. People who put questions marks in headlines (ESPN does this a lot) don’t usually have any news.

Rule No. 5: If you think your team has bad contracts, chances are the other teams also recognize those contracts to be bad and don’t want them either. The Bucks overpaid Dellavedova, John Henson, Mirza Teletovic and Miles Plumlee and were lucky to dump Plumlee on the Hornets. The remaining three are not “helpers” in the sense that a playoff contender might really want any of them and they are all heavy – $83 million left to be paid AFTER this season. Henson and Delly contracts go through 2020. The Mirza deal is for two more years after this one. Lebron wants Delly back in Cleveland, but the Bucks made it nearly (edit: the CBA says no, Cavs can’t do it) impossible for the Cavs to do anything about it, given how much the luxury tax they’re already paying.

Let’s review those salaries:

Delly – 3 more years, $28.8 million.

Henson – 3 more years, $32.5 million

Mirza – 2 more years, $21 million, the most trade-able contract, the least impactful player this season.

Rule No. 6: Think of all the reasons a team won’t do the trade, and keep in mind that those reasons are probably more important than your team’s reasons for wanting to do the trade.

Rule No. 7: You need movable pieces to make a trade. The Bucks have a couple of those, most notably expiring Roy Hibbert and Spencer Hawes, who has a player option for $6 million this summer. They offer salary relief, cap space, and, like Ilyasova, are highly trade-able. Unfortunately, you need the cap space too, and to make the trade happen, you probably have to take on a contract for next season that will eat up just as much if not more of your cap space than the contract you’re trading.

Rule No. 8:  A case of Pabst Blue Ribbon sweetens any deal. In the past, we’ve used Milwaukee’s cheap-o hipster beer to improve fantastic Michael Redd trades, a deadline trade for Josh Smith‘s favorite headband, and one involving this great looking parka that Wally Szczerbiak had, which was a much better deal than Raef Lafrentz’s “Curious George” hat, which was also pretty cool.  I’m not exactly sure whether that last one happened or not.

Rule No. 9: Stay off of the Sports Illustrated fan sites. The Bucks site is Behind the Buck Pass (don’t click on that link, unless you really want to run all those ads!). which started out Trade Deadline Day working up a deal for Kings backup point guard Darren Collison. This fire was quickly doused by Brewhoop, which had found a tweet from Bucks beat reporter Charles Gardner of the Journal Sentinel that said the Bucks haven’t talked to the Kings as the deadline approaches.

Rule No.10: Trust no one, but know that Magic Johnson is now the Lakers GM, and is able to make trades with Larry Bird, the GM in Indiana. They talked about Paul George this week, but, hey, nothing happened. Bird’s probably figured out that Paul George isn’t the impact player people thought he was, but also figures most of the league hasn’t figured this out yet. The deadline has passed, and Danny Ainge still hasn’t made a trade for Boston despite a cacophony of chatter about what Danny Ainge and the Celtics want.

Rule No. 11: Just start a list like this one, make up some trades of your own, and suddenly the deadline has passed and we can get back to basketball.

Rule No. 12: Don’t trust your own list, but here’s one to check out. SB Nation’s “Every Trade” list. Oh, look, Andrew Bogut‘s a Sixer for a couple of months, and Taj Gibson‘s out of the Central Division (to OKC).

But hold on, the Sixers will likely buy Bogut out, freeing him up to be signed as playoff help, San Jose Mercury News is reporting (alert: real  newspaper!). The Warriors can’t resign their championship center until after the new NBA fiscal year starts, July 1, but the Cavs are reportedly interested in Bogut. The Celtics couldn’t make a move at the deadline, so they’ll be interested.

And if the Raptors (acquired P.J. Tucker from the Suns, Serge Ibaka from Orlando), the Wizards (acquired Bojan Bogdanovic from the Nets, not to be confused with Serbian Bogdan Bogdanovic) and the Hawks (Ilyasova from the Sixers) are gearing up for the playoff dogfight in the East by adding solid veterans, real basketball players all, why can’t the Pacers and the Bucks? Bogut would be everything coach Kidd has wanted in a tough, intimidating defensive center to start games. There’s no harm done in trying to compete, nor in having a little fun while your doing it. The Bucks have been in the NBA’s bottom 5 in defensive rebounding % ever since Bogut was traded to the Warriors in 2012.

Tyler Ennis has been traded again, this time from Houston to the Lakers, who will trying to lose lose lose to protect their top 3 draft pick. Ennis reminds us that NBA Trade Deadline is often about players like Tyler Ennis.

Meanwhile, the Bucks handed Roy Hibbert’s expiring contract Denver for a super protected 2nd round pick in 2019 that the Bucks won’t get unless the Nuggets are one of the top 5 teams in the league. But at least the Bucks have an open roster spot to sign a player (Bogut!), and as of right now they are $453,951 under the salary cap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s nice to have teammates.

“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.

The Chris Kaman conspiracy: Are the Bucks in the game?

No Andrew Bogut until April at the earliest, highly speculative and tenuous playoff hopes, a Bogut-less Bucks fan base that needs those playoff hopes, no space under the salary cap next season and most of the necessary roster ingredients for a trade.

Stir it all together and you’ve got motive and opportunity for the Bucks to be party to a trade for veteran center Chris Kaman, who’s been publicly placed on the trading block by the New Orleans Hornets.   The Hornets reportedly want “draft picks, cap space and a young player” for the 29-year-old former All-Star (2010) and his expiring $14 million contract.  The Celtics have already declined.

The Bucks have young players, draft picks and the expiring contracts of Ersan Ilyasova and Carlos Delfino, not enough to make the trade.  (See Bucks salaries at Shamsports.com). But Stephen Jackson’s contract could get them there, if the Hornets are willing to take on Jack’s $10 million salary next season.  Add Ilyasova, draft picks and/or the developing Darington Hobson, Larry Sanders et. al., and a trade could work.

The Hornets could do a lot worse.  Ilyasova’s become one of the better rebounding forwards in the league and would be a good addition to the Hornets undersized front court, led by Emeka Okafor.  It’s no secret that, while Ersan is a key member of the Bucks core, Bucks management hasn’t been willing to trust him with starting PF minutes.  For all the good Ersan does on the court, at the end of the day he’s still standing in the way of Jon Leuer‘s development.  Acquiring Kaman helps solve the Bucks defensive rebounding problems (yes, it’s still a problem) in the short term, and clears minutes for Leuer.

So while the Bucks are giving up the better rebounder (currently) and defender in Ilyasova, they would shore up the center position while clearing $14 million in cap space next season.  And Jackson?   The Hornets would be well under the cap next summer standing pat, and adding Jackson would still leave them Room.  They’d only have to pay Jack a year (or less if they trade him).  And, as the Bucks have discovered this season, Jack’s a good guy to have around in spite of all the angry yapping.

So why don’t the Bucks keep him?  Delfino and Mike Dunleavy, jr. play more or less the same position as Jack, and Luc Mbah a Moute needs small forward/guard minutes, too (locking down on Joe Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce, Lebron James, Danny Granger, Carmelo Anthony, to name a few).  Jack’s fairly expendable, and the Bucks play just fine without him.

Kaman fits in well in the Bucks scheme, and he’s a more reliable offensive player than Bogut.  Kaman helps get the Bucks to the post-season, where the Bucks would have Bogues, too (in theory) and a formidable white behemoth front court.

So would the NBA-owned Hornets sting on this trade?   With the league office involved, it’s not clear that the Bucks have the right expiring contracts for a trade, but there are a lot worse contracts out there than Jackson’s (Drew Gooden’s comes to mind).  A trade would likely depend on the young players, whether the Hornets want to keep Ilyasova, and the value of the draft picks involved.

It also depends on Bucks GM John Hammond, never one to stand pat or worry about stability or player development.

Of course, it’s also likely that I’m just talking myself into it so I can post crazy Chris Kaman photos.

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.

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.

Joel Przybilla – The only backup center left for the Bucks has one leg and no Drew Gooden headband

The signings this week of Kyrylo Fesenko by the Warriors and Sam Dalembert by the Rockets has scratched two more centers off the free agent list, and that can only mean one thing for the Bucks:  It’s ex-Buck Joel Przybilla or bust. 

Joel Przybilla, Charlotte Bobcats – $7.4 million – Unrestricted
Kyrylo Fesenko, Utah Jazz – $1.1 million – Unrestricted

Przybilla’s agent attended the Bucks home opener against the T-Wolves on Tuesday, and said the Bucks have “made it clear how much they want him.”

But they may have to outbid the Clippers, who don’t have a backup behind DeAndre Jordan (or power forward Blake Griffin for that matter), and the Heat who are starting another guy named Joel (Anthony) who would look good backing up a healthy Przy.

“Healthy Przy?”   That’s not really realistic.  He’s 31, had two knee surgeries and a long history of other injuries that have prevented him from playing full seasons in every year of his career but one.  Take a look at Przy’s career stats – not a pretty sight.

And, besides, acquiring Przybilla could well mean that the transformation of Drew Gooden into a bonafide, Kurt-Thomas-Omer-Asik, headband-wearing,  Bogut-resting backup center might never happen in the Bucks universe.

Strong games from a host of Bucks big forwards (Leuer and Ilyasova leading the way against Kevin Love) have created a logjam at the four, a nice problem to have but one that will only get worse when Luc Mbah a Moute’s right knee heals, or any day now.  This has forced Gooden to the backup center spot to get playing time, with second year man Larry Sanders sitting next to him on the bench also vying for minutes.

Between Gooden and Sanders, who still needs experience and playing time, they’ll have to get the job done. A broken down Przybilla just isn’t much of an improvement or anything to bank on, whether or not Bogut stays healthy.

There’s also no reason to believe that the GM who, in the summer of 2010, made Sanders a first round draft pick and signed Gooden to a $6-million-a-year contract would admit defeat with either player, which is what signing Przy would amount to.

The Gooden transformation, the Sanders development — they’re far more interesting than Przybilla’s last legs.

So is Greg Stiemsma, 4-year Badger, 2010 NBA Development League Defensive Player of the Year, now a Celtic.  Tonight in New Orleans, Stiemsma has swatted four shots in the first half and, at last check, was helping Kevin Garnett pull the Celtics back into the game against the Hornets.

More Bucks forwards: 2011 NBA Draft signs point to the Bucks adding to a crowded power forward situation

The 2011 seasons of Luc Mbah a Moute (“reliable”) and Drew Gooden (very “unreliable”) failed to provide much in the way of writing material (or so I’ve found) so what’s to keep Bucks GM John Hammond from adding another another power forward type to the roster in the draft?

Nothing of course, and that’s what many draft watchers thought Hammond would do even before he said last week that the Bucks No. 10 pick was one of those kinda-sorta “best player available” kinda picks.

In Hammond speak, that means “We don’t know but I’m probably gonna draft an athletic 6-foot-8 guy and hope he can figure out some NBA offense.”

In 2008 that translated to Joe Alexander in the first round and Mbah a Moute in round No. 2.  In 2010, that was Darington Hobson, “the best player available” whom the Bucks had worked out.   In this draft?

Tristan Thompson, 6-8, 225, Canada by way of the University of Texas.

“The Bucks have two terrific building blocks in Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings – but after that, it’s mostly question marks. They traded last summer for Corey Maggette and signed John Salmons and Drew Gooden as free agents, and none of them really panned out as expected,” according to ESPN Draft Insider Chad Ford.

“They really could use help at the 2, 3 and 4 positions. I have Thompson here because, of the players on the board, he’s the most likely to be a Scott Skiles-type player. He’s tough, aggressive and just a beast on the offensive boards. His skill level isn’t particularly high on the offensive end yet, but he’s a good fit alongside Bogut on the front line.”

Chad Ford pays very little attention to the Bucks, but that probably doesn’t matter with this draft.  Here’s how the thinking goes:

Everybody in and around the NBA knows the Bucks need backcourt help.  Unfortunately, what little backcourt help there is in the draft will likely be gone by the time the Bucks pick (assuming they don’t improve position in the lottery).

The point guards (Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Brandon Knight) are slated to go in the top five.  Forward Derrick Williams (Arizona) will likely go No. 2.

Bismack Biyombo, the 6-9 phenom from the Congo with 7-7 wing span, won’t survive past Detroit’s No. 7 pick.

Three of the international big men who’ve been on NBA radar for two years (Jan Vesely, Enes Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas, in no particular order) will be gone in the top eight.

The rest of the lottery board:  a group of NCAA forwards plus shooting guard Alec Burks and 6-11 scorer Donatas Motiejunas (Lithuania).

Ford thinks Charlotte at No. 9 will take San Diego State forward Kawhi Leonard.  Others have a feeling that Jordan isn’t looking for another version of Gerald Wallace and will take Motiejunas, a big forward who’s got a scoring arsenal but a disdain for defense and rebounding. In other words, he’s the least like “Crash,” whom Jordan just traded.

Still others think Jordan will like Burks’ game most of all and will take a chance on the guard developing a reliable jump shot, a la Jordan himself.

The questions about these players are the same ones the Bucks will be asking.  Why bother with Motiejunas if he’s disinterested in defense?   After being dead last in shooting and scoring, can the Bucks afford to play a shooting guard (Burks) who can’t extend past midrange?

Who’s better — Leonard or Thompson or Marcus Morris, a classic 6-9 college power forward with three years at Kansas on his resume?  They’ve all got knocks.  Leonard and Thompson have offensive skill work to do.  Morris’ downside is athleticism and short arms, mid-range shooting.

The best answer for the Bucks is that hard-working Leonard fits the Bucks core personality, if for no other reason than he has a nose for winning 50-50 plays that Skiles can’t resist.  But he’s also a fair bet to be off the board by the nine pick, which would leave the Bucks picking between Thompson, Morris, Burks and Motiejunas.

They’ll likely shy away from Kentucky one-and-doner Terrance Jones, who’s not ready for the pros.

“Best player available” would then be Motiejunas — but Thompson becomes the player the coaches want — a 6-8 defender with scoring potential (Mbah a Moute again) who can play small or big forward.

Thompson would join a crowded stable of versatile Bucks power forward players, in keeping with GM Hammond’s modus operandi:  overload the frontcourt while he figures out who’s staying and who’s going.  The path of least resistance then becomes the trade Hammond backed himself into when he signed Gooden — Ilyasova for whatever veteran backcourt help the Bucks can get back.

Ilyasova wants full time NBA power forward minutes (32-35 per game) but  Skiles and Hammond have thus far been unwilling to entrust him with this.  Meanwhile, Ersan’s already considering offers to play in Europe if there’s an NBA lockout.