Tag Archives: Dan Gadzuric

Shaq for Hire: The Diesel is the final piece of the Bucks puzzle

http://www.mentalfloss.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/magic.jpgThe Bucks don’t have a center on the bench to back up Andrew Bogut.

Shaquille O’Neal doesn’t have a job, and his asking price for 2010-11 may be coming down.

If Bucks GM John Hammond doesn’t already have Shaq’s agent on speed-dial, what’s he waiting for?

Bogut’s coming off his first All-Pro season but he’s also rehabbing his mangled right paw and the Bucks still have Bogues on medical watch from the serious lower back problems that forced him to miss half the 2009 season.  Whether the Bucks prospects live or die with Bogut’s health is still a little unclear given the roster changes this summer, but nobody’s going to take them seriously in the playoffs if Bogut’s not healthy in April and May. They need a veteran big to help them manage the health of their 25-year-old star through the NBA’s 82-game ordeal.

Shaq meets and exceeds the job requirements, no doubt about that, and he “knows somebody” at Bucks HQ — coach Scott Skiles and The Diesel have been pals since their playing days on the early 1990s Orlando Magic.  It wasn’t always that way in Orlando — Skiles, Shaq and Larry Krystkowiak were the combatants in one of the NBA’s more infamous practice brawls — but the mutual respect between Shaq and Skiles was pretty well documented during the Bulls-Heat playoff series’ in 2006 and 2007.

The Diesel doesn’t have much left in the tank, but if Bogut can stay relatively healthy (there’s that “if” again) the Bucks don’t need a full time center — nor do they need Shaq to resemble the center who was 3rd team All-Pro with the Suns just 18 months ago.  They only need Shaq to be better than the two guys who manned the post against the Hawks last spring, Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric.  Sitting on the bench in street clothes, Shaq would be more valuable to the team and to Bogut than KT and Gadz.

The only real questions, then, are money and desire.  The Bucks can’t really afford to pay him much more than the veteran minimum.  Setting aside the money question, if Shaq wants to play, and wants to play for Skiles and  add to his legacy by helping one of the games rising young centers, Milwaukee is the place for him to be.

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For the full story on the Shaq-Skiles-Krystkowiak melee, check out Chris Sheridan’s definitive account from a few years back when Krykstkowiak was coaching the Bucks.  Sounds like Larry got the worst end of it.

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Just when it was safe for Bucks fans to come back in the room, the elephant wakes up.

Paint help: Bucks draft shotblocker Larry Sanders

Sanders, Larry

I’ve joined NBA draft night just in time to hear Jay Bilas describe Gordon Hayward as “an elite shooter” and realized it was going to be a long night of sneering banality from the wardens of college ball unless I acted quickly.  Off went the toob and over to Ball Don’t Lie I went for the annual draft live blog, hosted by Trey Kirby and featuring special guest Sham from ShamSports.com, where I had just gone to find out how long the Bucks will be stuck with Cory Maggette (three more years at $31 million total).

Meanwhile in the draft …

That “elite” shooter Hayward went to the Jazz with the #9 pick, by the way.  And the Pacers drafted Paul George with the #11 pick, taking two perimeter forwards who the Bucks worked out off the board. The Bucks will draft in a few minutes.

Here’s that Ball Don’t Lie link again if you prefer your NBA analysis from guys who like pro basketball and actually think a good night of fun is sitting around at the NBA draft making up stupid nicknames for the players.  Turn ESPN off when you find it.

Kentucky’s Patrick “Swayze RIP” Patterson fell all the way to 14th, just out of the Bucks grasp.

With the 15th pick the Bucks selected …

Larry – “Remember Gary Shandling for the his Amazing HBO show, not the movie where he played The Alien” –  Sanders, the 6’9″, 210-pound forward-center from Virginia Commonwealth.  Who is Larry Sanders?  Raw, wingspan, thin, not much of scorer but is scoring what a good team should want from a rookie, especially one drafted 15th?  No. Learning to play Skiles-style defense will dominate Sanders’ NBA life for some time with the Bucks.

Check that – the Bucks list Sanders at 6’11” and 235, so size was probably the deciding factor here.  Here’s the Bucks description of From Bucks.com Draft Central:

Larry Sanders Larry Sanders – VCU – Junior
11/21/88 – 6’11” – 235 lbs – Forward | Draft Profile

  • Career Highlights: Team was 75-27 during his three seasons with two regular season CAA titles and one postseason CAA title. Two-time CAA Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Strengths: Extremely long and athletic forward who can rebound and block shots at a high clip. Runs the floor extremely well for his size. Has a frame that should fill out nicely. Offensive game is a work in progress.

From the BDL peanut gallery:

Andy – Desipio.com:  Bilas just compared Sanders to Theo Ratliff. Huh? You mean he already has a huge expiring contract?

Sham can’t believe Sanders went ahead of Solomon Alabi, center from Nigeria who played at Florida State.

I also thought the Bucks would take a good look at Alabi, figuring if they decided to go big, might as well go as big as possible and draft the center from Nigeria (also building on the international  character of the team, missing one player now that the stumbling Dutchman, Dan Gadzuric,  is a Golden State Warrior).  But I’m not sure the Bucks ever got a good look at Alabi.

Sanders they did get a good look at, though it wasn’t so clear at first how much they liked what they saw.  After a June 14 workout, Bucks director of scouting, Billy McKinney said it was “a bit of a stretch” to say that Sanders was “in the mix” at #15:

“I think that might be a little bit of a stretch, but anything is possible. This draft is a little bit crazy right now because we’re not sure how the top 15 is shaking out. Every week we go through mock drafts and we look at the mock drafts and different people are all over the board. We think that might be a little bit of a stretch (to have Sanders at 15) but we have him in anyway to look at him in the event that something might happen in the event that we might move back.”

Sanders’ shot-blocking abilities may have tipped the Bucks decision his way: “We’re a defensive oriented team and of course, one of the things that we’re looking at of course in the draft is trying to get more length and athleticism,” McKinney said.

This could also mean that the Bucks are in the market for more experienced help in the paint for Bogut and may want to trade up for, say, Patrick Patterson, or trade out of the draft for NBA experience. As of the Gadzuric/Bell for Magette trade, the Bucks don’t have a backup center under contract.

The guy I thought the Bucks would end up with, Luke Babbitt (6’9″ scorer/shooter out of Nevada) went in the very next pick, to the T-Wolves at #16. But the T-Wolves are trading Babbitt to Portland for Martell Webster.  Babbitt, obviously, was not enough of a paint defender/rebounder/shotblocker to fit the Bucks needs, however much they liked his offensive game.

5 picks (three straight PFs taken by the Rockets, Bucks and T-Wolves.)

12. Memphis Grizzlies – Xavier “Ohio” Henry
13. Toronto Raptors – Ed “Dangerous Danny” Davis
14. Houston Rockets – Patrick “Swayze (R.I.P.)” Patterson
15. Milwaukee Bucks – Larry “Remember Garry Shandling For His Amazing HBO Show, Not The Movie Where He Played The Alien” Sanders
16. Minnesota T’Wolves – Luke “Rain Man (Shouts to The Jones)” Babbitt – traded to Portland for Martell Webster]
Now the Bucks are describing Sanders as 6’9″.  From the the email I just received from the team:
The Larry Sanders Show Coming to Milwaukee
The Bucks select 6’9” forward Larry Sanders from VCU. Sanders averaged 14.4 points, 9.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game for Virginia Commonwealth last season. Stay tuned to Bucks.com for info and additional draft coverage.
How tall is this guy Sanders really? And when are the Bucks ever going to get their PR #@% together. Pick a height people, especially when drafting for wingspan.
…. It’s 9:45 pm as I type this and the Bucks are about to pick with #37 in the 2nd round.  Sham continues to call for center Solomon Alabi. Like sham, I’m beginning to wonder why 35 teams would take a pass on Alabi and am beginning to like the idea that the Bucks will take the Florida State big man. Bogut can’t have too much help coming off another injury. The Pistons take a point guard named Terrico (or letters arranged to that effect) at #36 and the Ball Don’t Lie guys wonder if he was stoned in some photo they’re looking at.   Bucks at #37 take …
Darington Hobson Darington Hobson – New Mexico – Junior
9/29/87 – 6’7” – 205 lbs – Guard | Draft Profile

  • Career Highlights: Made an immediate impact at New Mexico after transferring from the College of Eastern Utah. Was conference’s Newcomer of the Year and Player of the Year in his only season at New Mexico.
  • Strengths: Skilled wing who can play three positions. Very good ballhandler for his size. Has good court vision. Can score in a variety of ways. Sticks his nose in on the glass.
McKinney didn’t have much to say about Hobson after the workout, judging by the workout notes. Hobson worked out with Luke Babbittt, Gordon Hayward, Lazar Hayward and Jordon Crawford, shooting guard out of Xavier. Needless to say, the Haywards and Babbitt got most of the attention. Crawford also went in the first round. I’m guessing that the Bucks took “the best player available here,” though I’s still not sure why that “best player available” isn’t Alabi.   I can’t find a profile of Alabi on Bucks Draft Central, so he must not have come in for a workout.
With their #44 pick from the Warriors (part of the Maggette trade, originally the Blazers pick) the Bucks ended up with Jerome Jordan, a 7-footer out of Tulsa. I guess that shoots the workout theory — the Bucks didn’t work Jordan or Alabi out. Maybe these 7-footers didn’t get around as much as some of the other guys, heat and humidity being what it’s been around here lately. For a minute or two there it looked like the Bucks had taken Gani Lawal, a power forward out of Ga. Tech.
Yahoo Analysis: Jerome Jordan is the rare example of a kid who stayed too long in college since he’d have been more likely to crack the first round had he left as an underclassman. Still, there is upside here if Jordan can diversify his game since the Tulsa big man has been playing basketball for only five years. — Jeff Eisenberg
He’s 7-feet tall. That’s two backup centers added to the fold in this draft. The Bucks have one more pick in this draft, believe it or not – four altogether. This ought to be interesting. It’s pick # 47, the only pick the Bucks have in this draft that was originally theirs.
Keith Keith “Tiny” Gallon – Oklahoma – Freshman
6’9” – 296 lbs – Forward

  • Finished fourth on the team with 10.3 points and first with 7.9 rebounds.
  • Hit 54.7 percent of his field goal attempts (122-223).
  • Attended Oak Hill Academy for his Junior and Senior years of high school.
Bucks workout notes here. Billy McKinney was fairly impressed with the entire group (Wayne Chism, Gani Lawal) that was in Milwaukee June 2 for a workout. But he seemed most impressed with the power forwards, who locked up on the blocks for some rugged matchups. It was exactly what the Bucks wanted to see.  It’s important to note that Gallon may have had the edge — he played high school ball with Brandon Jennings at Oak Hill Academy.
On Gani Lawal…
“He played well, too. It was a very competitive group, Gani Lawal going against Wayne Chism, sometimes Tiny Gallon and other times Deon Thompson. He’s very athletic, really good offensive rebounder and plays well off the ball.”

On Keith “Tiny” Gallon…
“Well that tells you a lot. It’s kind of an oxymoron when you look at Tiny he’s a big man. What I can say about him is that he’s done a great job of maintaining his weight, or getting it down. He started out, we talked to him in Chicago, he weighed 350 in high school. He’s down to 295 now, so his trend, in terms of his weight, has been going down. I’m sure once he gets with a pro team and is able to work with a strength and conditioning coach on a regular basis, he’s going to be even smaller. Maybe he’ll be Tiny, version two.”

And there you have it, Bucks draft day 2010.  Shotblocking Larry Sanders, small forward Hobson, big center Jerome Jordan and a big forward named Tiny Gallon.  Any draft day that ends with the Bucks having a guy with a wieght problem named Tiny Gallon has been a good day.

On Gallon making a name for himself aside from playing with Brandon Jennings in high school…
“That’s very important at this level for him. They played together at Oak Hill Academy for those people that don’t know that, and he and Brandon have a very good relationship, but in terms of how he will play in the pro game is going to depend on his merit—his work ethic, his commitment to keeping his weight down and improving his skill as a player.”

Bucks-Hawks Game 5: Brandon Jennings… Hawks frontline shrinking down to size… D-Wade and the Heat… and other playoff notes

THE MAGNIFICENT DAMAGE that Bucks rookie Brandon Jennings inflicted on the Hawks porous D Monday in Game 4 has a lot of people rethinking the Bucks-Hawks series now that it’s tied 2-2.  Jennings’ bout with playoff inexperience (Game 2) is behind him, and the 20-year-old point guard is on the attack, his confidence and aggressiveness growing as the series progresses. The Hawks don’t have a defender who can stay in front of the young Buck.

Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson was asked whether the Hawks needed to make any adjustments. He said no, that his team needed “more energy, more passion and heart. “

In other words, there are no adjustments the Hawks can make for Jennings.  There’s no Kobe Bryant on the roster to assign himself the responsibility, as Kobe did against Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook in their Game 5.  If the task is left to Al Horford and Josh Smith, switching onto Young Buck on high screens, Jennings’ teammates have plenty more unchallenged layups coming their way. If point guard Mike Bibby switches to allow Marvin Williams or Johnson a turn on Jennings, John Salmons and Carlos Delfino have the field days they had Monday (44 pts combined). The Hawks are an average defensive team (15th in the league) with very below average perimeter defenders. At this point, they have no choice but to live with it.

As for heart, passion, energy and determination, Jennings brings it almost every night, and so do most of his teammates. The Bucks were the wrong team for the Hawks to give any kind of foothold to.

The HAWKS are in the NBA news quite a bit today: Rumors have Hawks management planning to lowball Woodson (I think they’re just going to fire him), offer Joe Johnson a max contract and possible sell their first round draft pick for $3 mill.  Peachtree Hoops wonders if the Hawks are still in the playoffs.  Less and less, Hawks fans.

A PET PEEVE: The disparity between the perception of the Hawks’ front court and the reality of the Hawks front court is almost a national phenomenon. Let’s set the record straight and see if anybody’s paying attention:

Josh Smith, Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia do not have a size advantage over the Bucks’ Luc Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric. This is plain for the eye to see yet everybody continues to report, write, comment that the Hawks are failing to exploit “a size advantage.”

Horford is an undersized center, and that’s not good enough in the playoffs. At age 23, even journeyman NBA centers are going to be,

1) Bigger and stronger;

2) More skilled in at least a facet or two of the game; and,

3) A lot more experienced.

Andrew Bogut’s two-headed center in relief (Thomas and Gadzuric) are any one (or all) of those three things and it shows. Even Gadzuric, who was hardly active all season, has been around long enough to control the glass and play good D. Gadz has played Horford strong and outplayed Pachulia in his 18 minutes in Game 4 and the first half of the Game 3 blowout.

Smith does give the Hawks some advantages at power forward — experience, upper body strength and ups.  But now that he’s battling Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova instead of Carlos Delfino and Ilyasova, the Bucks have matched Smith up. Let’s be real, NBA faithful — some of that heft Smith is carrying around isn’t muscle, and it shows when he’s up against the quicker Mbah a Moute.  …  “The Prince” and Ersan are both taller than Smith and long-armed, too.  They’ve also outproduced Josh in this series.

Sixth Man of the Year: The Hawks Jamal Crawford won it, but before it was announced Journal Sentinel scribe Tom Enlund asked Crawford what it was like playing for Scott Skiles on the 2003-04 Chicago Bulls.  Let’s just say Enlund left out some important details in this blurb — like Crawford’s nonexistent D and the fact that the Bulls shipped him out of Chi-town after Skiles’ first season.

Crawford is a good shooter and averaged 18 off the bench for the Hawks this season.  He shot well in Game 1 but looked awfully lost on the court in the first playoff series of is career — until  Game 4.  Now that he’s “back to normal” as he put it, it’s probably a good idea to stay at home on him. Luke Ridnour and Brandon Jennings draw the Crawford assignment more often than not.

Hawks Coach Mike Woodson: His contract’s up, the Hawks won’t talk to him about it, and he’ll be gone after the playoffs — the Bucks have assured that.  Vinnie Del Negro’s job in Chicago is probably more secure than Woodson’s, though at this point Woodson probably wouldn’t mind parting ways with the Hawks’ brass.   “Sources say” the Bulls won’t decide on Del Negro’s fate until sometime this weekend, but that was an ESPN story so … wait for the Chicago papers before telling your friends and neighbors or that stranger in the bar stool next to you. The Bulls put up a great fight to get into the playoffs and an even better one against the Cavs. Del Negro doesn’t deserve the axe.

The Miami Heat are impressive.  Overmatched and down 0-3 to the Celtics, Dwyane Wade pulled them to 1-3 on Sunday.  Then in Game 5 Tuesday in Boston, the Heat withstood a textbook Celtics offensive game and were hanging in there, down seven, staying well within D-Wade striking distance. …

I’m a Celtics/Ray Allen fan, not a surprising revelation from a Bucks blogger. And I’ve always liked KG’s game. How quickly so many have forgetten that Garnett was hands down the best player in the NBA circa 2003-05 when Shaq-Kobe malfunctioned in L.A.   The thing I’ve had to get over in following the Celtics is Paul Pierce and the ill will that I had toward the Pierce-Antoine Walker teams of the late 1990’s-2003.  Walker and his sluggish ball-hoggery were the source of those feelings, to be sure, but Pierce bears some responsibility in his role as Walker’s better half.  But I got over it and make it a point to watch the Celtics whenever I can, adopting them as “my team” for the playoffs in the absence of the Bucks in 2008 and ’09.

I can say with fandom authority that the Celtics don’t play much better than they did Tuesday in Game 5, and when the Celtics are good, they’re as good as anybody in the NBA.  Yet the Heat refused to go away until the final 1:30 of the game.  Sure, being led by the 2nd best player in the NBA (sorry Dwight) goes a long way — of course it does. But what’s really impressive is how unifed and indomnable the team behind him is.  At times they even seem like an organic extension of Wade on both ends of the court.  This is a credit to Erik Spoelstra, one of the more underrated coaches in the NBA, and says a lot about Wade as a leader.

The organic effect, visually speaking, is aided by Michael Beasley, such a natural ball player (even when he’s being benched in Game 5), but it comes through in everything the Heat do on the court. Their ball movement and spacing is always good, their shot selection just as good; and Spoelstra has them playing tough, sticky, ball pressure defense that rotates as well as the Top 4 Eastern conference defenses (Charlotte, Orlando, Milwaukee and Boston). In Toronto, Jermaine O’Neal seemed out of place and on his last legs. In Miami he’s a defensive presence, a legitimate and effective center.

The Celtics prevailed 96-86 (24 pts and 5 threes from Ray) and the Heat have “gone fishing,” to quote Kenny and Charles. A retooling is ahead in the offseason with most of the Heat roster in free agency and cap space to land an All-Star.  I don’t see Wade leaving Miami/Spoelstra (neither does he, it seems) nor do I see Heat GM Pat Riley failing to bring in the right big man (Bosh, Boozer, maybe David Lee?). Riley will let others make the Ama’re Stoudemire mistake.

A DIFFERENT BREED (Tyreke Evans not included).  Sekou Smith tracked down Bucks guard John Salmons this week for his “Hang Time” blog at NBA.com. The reason?  Salmons has had the unique experience of sharing backcourts this season with Derrick Rose and Brandon Jennings. How are Rose and Jennings able to be so good so young?

“They’re just a different breed,” Salmons concludes. Writer Smith names Jennings, Rose, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in his context.  He’d like to include Rookie of the Year favorite Tyreke Evans in the mix, but it doesn’t sound as though Salmons and Jennings are willing to play ball r.e. the Kings rookie. Here’s what Jennings had to say:

“I think it really depends on the person and how he approaches the games. Kevin Durant is a winner. Derrick Rose is a winner. Of course, I like to win. I’ve been saying that from the first day I got here. Winning is everything to me. So it just depends on the type person you are, the player you are.” — Brandon Jennings.

20-5-5? Don’t get me started about the historical irrelevance of this thing. Five rebounds from the guard position is tough in any day and NBA era and it’s great that Evans has a nose for the ball and a drive for the glass. But as the #1 scorer on the ping-counting Kings, Evans and his team would have been better served in the long run had he focused less on passing and more on his shooting/scoring  That’s what Jerry West did in his first few years in the league, and West didn’t hit the 5 assists mark (per 36) minutes until his 3rd year in the NBA.  He was too busy putting the ball in the hole.  Not to put Evans in the company of West, who played before my time, nor to say that 5 assists is anything to be aimed for … don’t get me started on 20-5-5.

Sactown Royalty has learned that Evans has won Rookie of the Year, which will be annonced later this week.  Jennings has accomplished more this season, leading a team still very much in transition — and making personnel changes on the go — into the playoffs.  It wouldn’t have happened had Jennings cared less about winning.

“Scott Skiles: More than a tough guy.” You gotta love the guys at Celticsblog.com. After the last regular season game, blogger tenaciousT eschewed the usual press conference mumbo jumbo and decided to spend his time in the Bucks locker room interviewing Bucks players about what makes their coach tick.

Scott Skiles, writes tenaciousT, is intriguing because, well, “coaching styles, personalities and results” are intriguing.  TenaciousT is like a lot of Celtics fans who appreciate defense, so he wanted to know how one of the NBA’s top defensive coaches makes it all work.

Tenacious interviews Skiles and the veterans: Kurt Thomas, Charlie Bell, John Salmons and Jerry Stackhouse. There are comments from Skiles on whether his Chicago Bulls “stopped listening” to him.  The comments from Salmons, the fish who saves but can opt out and leave, are worth a read. Most candid was Charlie Bell, tenacious says, and pay no attention to the elephant in the room during his interview with Charlie.

Bango is nuts! This was at Game 4.  What does he have planned for Game 6?

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Bucks-Hawks recap: Jennings dazzles; Smith and Horford outplayed again

For the second time in three days the Hawks frontline starring Josh Smith, Al Horford and backup center Zaza Pachulia were outplayed by the 69-year-old, two headed center filling in for Andrew Bogut and a pair of tenacious, defensive-minded young forwards named Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova.

But Brandon Jennings was so brilliant at point in orchestrating the Bucks’ 111-104 victory Monday in Game 4 that the paint battle won by the Bucks big men will probably escape notice. And Jennings was genius, in attack mode most of the game, knifing through the Hawks switching, slow-footed perimeter defense as the Bucks ran a layup drill on their way to a 2-2 split in the best-of-seven series. 

Jennings led the Bucks with 23 points and 6 assists. John Salmons was the model of midrange efficiency with 22 pts on 9 shots (10/10 from the line). Carlos Delfino finally arrived in the series, breaking out of a 28% shooting funk to hit 6/8 from three-point-land and score 22. 

The Bucks shot 55% for the game — a cornucupia of layups and wide open shots, thank you Hawks D.  The Bucks rarely settled for jump shots and sank 28/32 free throws. 

Yes, the Bucks shot 32 free throws. That’s news.

The boxscore shows that the Bucks won a game at home and split in the series. But they also came away with some important realizations: 1) They can withstand a good shooting night from the Hawks and win; and, 2) They controlled the paint once again since the switch of Luc Mbah a Moute onto Josh Smith in Game 3. The Bucks weren’t supposed to be able to accomplish #2 with Andrew Bogut on the sidelines in an arm cast.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson. “It’s like we don’t have toughness. They’re getting to all the loose balls, all the rebounds.”

Delfino isn’t going to shoot 6/8 from downtown most games, true enough. But Jamal Crawford and Mike Bibby aren’t likely to combine for 36 pts on 67% true shooting, either. Crawford found “normal” after three lost games and scored 21 pts on 12 shots. Mike Bibby was 5-7 from 3-point-land for 15 points on 11 shots. Overall the Hawks shot 48% and made 10 of 19 from 3-point land. The Hawks shot well enough to win.

Joe Johnson was superb again, shooting 11/22, scoring 29 and dishing out 9 assists.

In the battle under the hoop, however, the Hawks talented stars, Smith and Horford, were losing again. Throughout the game, the Bucks stayed bigger than the Hawks, matching Horford and Pachulia with Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric, and Smith with Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova. Contrary to what has been written and said repeatedly about this series, the Bucks have the size advantage and whatever edge Smith had in athleticism has been mitigated by Mbah a Moute, who’s slightly taller, just as athletic and probably quicker.

The Bucks locked the Hawks big men down, rebounded more (Bucks held a 41-38 edge including team rebounds), scored more and fouled less.  The tale of the tape shows that the Hawks big men came out on top only by turning the ball over less.

Smith, Horford, Pachulia:  90 mins, 30 pts, 19 boards, 2 blocks, 5 turnovers and 13 fouls. And Smith had two steals.

Thomas, Gadzuric, Mbah a Moute & Ilyasova:  95 mins, 37 pts, 24 rebs, 2 blocks, 8 turnovers and 9 fouls. Gadzuric had a steal.

Smith was strong  with 20 pts and 9 boards but this is no longer a mismatch. Mbah a Moute and Ilyasova (21 pts, 10 rebs combined) are matching Smith at every pivot and box-out, and he retreated to the perimeter to do his late game scoring — including a jumpshot banked in from above the free throw line.

Horford (8 pts, 8 rebs) is simply being outplayed by Thomas and Gadzuric, who count height, weight and about 22 years of NBA experience on him. 

Gadzuric has found new life in the playoffs after almost an entire season on the end of the bench and on the inactive list, all but forgotten save for the final 14 months of the $36 million contract he signed in 2005.  Monday night, Gadz was everywhere in 16 mins, with 7 pts, 5 boards, a steal and a rejection into the seats that brought the Bradley Center crowd to its feet.  In your face Joe Johnson:

In 51 minutes played in games 2, 3 and 4, Gadz has hauled in 21 boards and blocked 3 shots.

Bucks-Hawks Game 4: Learning to “Fear the Deer” in the paint

Fear the DeerIt’s hard to hold your head up when “Fear” is in your new slogan and your team fails to show up, as the Bucks failed to do in Game 2.   But with a dominating 107-89 Game 3 victory behind the deer, Bucks fans can once again say it with pride. 

I can appreciate that John Salmons (22 pts on 11 shots) will not shoot 9-11 from the field in Game 4 tonight. But that’s not the sort of thing I focus on when I’m analyzing games, nor was the Bucks shooting ever a reason to “Fear the Deer.”  (The soft on D, good-to-even-“great” shooters were traded out of Milwaukee in GM John Hammond* and coach Scott Skiles’ first summer on the job.)

The main reason the Hawks should “Fear the Deer” (other than the nagging internal Hawk concerns about team mental stability) is the Bucks ever-evolving strategy(s) for managing the Hawks young frontline. Looking to Game 4 tonight (7:30 p.m.) and beyond, the prospects of the Bucks big men getting stonger and more confident against Josh Smith and Al Horford seem pretty good. It may even be safe to buy a “Fear the Deer” t-shirt or two for the summer.* 

“Fear the Deer,”  Josh Smith and Al Horford.  The Bucks are serious about controlling the paint in this series, and they seem capable of doing it without Andrew Bogut.  Neither Horford or Smith got more than a bucket or two in post-up Saturday, which isn’t really that surprising. While the Hawks duo did some early damage in Game 1 in post-up (off Joe Johnson feeds), most of their scoring has been on lob plays (Smith); layups and dunks off turnovers. They haven’t been killing the Bucks in contested post situations. 

The unchallenged shots were the problem (and a Skiles focused prior to Game 3) so it was a matter of the Bucks big men locking in against Smith and Horford. Bucks defender-at-large Luc Mbah a Moute started the game on Smith for the first time in the series.

Centers Kurt Thomas (6’10”) and Dan Gadzuric (6’11”) took turns on 23-year-old Horford, at 6’9″-6’9.5″, an undersized center who makes up for it with the quickness and spring.  Thomas, at age 37, truly needs 32-year-old Gadzuric in relief to get this done, and all of his accumulated tricks of the trade.  

Horford scored 10 pts on 5-9 shooting Saturday and was limited to just 3 boards in 31 mins. Hawks 6th man Jamal Crawford, a guard, had more defensive boards than Horford did in Game 3. And those rebounds were just about the only things that Crawford did right or well all game.

Thomas (13 rebs) and Gadzuric (10 rebs in 17 mins) hauled down 23 boards combined in just under 43 mins.  They kept their man, Horford, off the glass, and had him locked down most of the game.

Note on Gadzuric:  Much maligned and overpaid Gadz has scarcely played all year, and the Hawks have probably made a critical mistake in allowing him to get some confidence andgame going (for the first time all season). Atlanta is a team prone to mental lapses, and going to sleep on Gadz was a big one that could have some carry-over.  Game 4, keep an eye on Gadz.  

Smith vs. Mbah a Moute:  The Bucks defensive stopper was deployed on Smith exclusively in the first half Saturday and Josh got no easy looks — despite crashing the offensive glass to the tune of NINE offensive boards for the game.  Smith had 12 rebs and 7 pts but was 2-12 from the floor (3-6 from the line). It was a good reminder of how limited Smith’s offensive game can be — if there’s a defender on hand good enough to challenge his shots.

Luc Mbah a Moute:  He brings a Dennis Rodman-like swagger to  defensive play, almost an arrogance; Luc’s success this series on Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson is chronicled here. Smith won’t beat Luc often in the half court. The damage the Hawks’ mercurial star inflicts is usually junk — easy stuff off turnovers and rebounds and lobs from Johnson. Mbah a Moute, despite his ever growing reputation as one of the league’s great defenders, has to do a better job of keeping track of Smith (the offensive glass) …  should Skiles continue to deploy him on the Smith assignment.

Taking it right at Smith: Mbah a Moute, a long-armed 6’8″, is taller than the 6’7″ Smith.  He’s just as quick, if not quicker, though he doesn’t jump out of the building quite like Josh (who does?).  Mbah a Moute scored 12 pts in Game 3 on 5-7 shooting – all of it in close.  He took it right to the rim against Smith and Marvin Williams, and was long enough and quick enough to avoid Smith’s flying blocks. Incidentally, Luc had a layup taken off the scoreboard when Smith was floored as Luc ran him into a Thomas pick in the lane. Smith stayed down for a moment to catch his breath and came up limping. The play seemed to symbolize how the day was going (and went) for the Hawks.

Note: Smith was runner-up to Dwight Howard in the Defensive Player of the Year balloting, which was a surprise. (I thought the Celtics Rajon Rondo, the NBA steals leader, was a shoe-in for #2, considering that he spearheads the Celtics Top 5-rated defense.)  Smith was the only player in the NBA with more than 100 steals (130) and 100 blocks (173).  Statistically, the Hawks D is at least an estimated 5-7 points stingier when he’s in the game, quite a lot when you think about it.  But it also highlights how poor some of the other Hawks are on D (guards Bibby and Crawford in particular). Andrew Bogut was 7th in the DPOY vote.

Enter Ersan: Ersan Ilyasova has been a scoring and rebounding machine off the Bucks bench. John Hollinger would be salivating over his production.  Check out Ilyasova’s line: 

11.7 pts, 8.7 rebs … in 23. 3 mins! …   Ersan’s offensive rebounding percentage through 3 games is 19.1, a playoffs-leading mark. His overall rebounding rate (% of available rebounds) is right behind playoff leader Joakim Noah’s.   The Bucks 6’9″ forward has a knack for being exactly where opponents least want him to be, taking charges, tipping rebounds, cleaning up loose plays under the hoop.

Ilyasova has been in a shooting groove this series (over 60%, effectively), and is a bonafide matchup problem for the Hawks.  Smith, naturally, is the Hawks best defender to check Ersan but Smith can’t guard everybody on the floor, nor is he on the court for 48 mins (same problem for the Bucks and Mbah a Moute).  So far, Skiles has maximized his power forward almost perfectly off the bench, and while expanding his minutes would help defensively, it could diffuse Ilyasova as an offensive weapon. A couple of few more minutes than the 21-24 we’ve seen, though, probably wouldn’t hurt.

Zaza Pachulia:  Horford’s backup is a savvy big man who sometimes is more effective than Horford (though less and less so). The Bucks would be wise not to overlook him.   Zaza was 6 of 7 in the post Saturday, and had a lot to do with the Hawks reeling in the score during garbage time.

Stackhouse and Delfino: They were a combined 5 of 20 from the field Saturday and turned it over SIX TIMES.  True, Del hit two key shots from Downtown to squelch the Hawks 3rd quarter run to cut into the Bucks lead. Those were Hawks demoralizers considering that he hadn’t made one from out there in the first ten quarters of the series. Maybe those shots will snap him out of this slump hes been in, but so far Del has been a negative impact offensive player in this series.  …. The Bucks got away with some sloppy play on Saturday, and some better, efficient play from Stack and Del would probably have the Hawks fighting an uphill battle in Game 4.

Notes from Atlanta:  Found this on Peachtree Hoops, a site “for Atlanta Hawks fans.”

 “The Hawks have averaged a margin of defeat of over (20) points per road playoff loss over the last three seasons. That’s no aberration, folks—that’s a full blown habit.”

Firing Mike Woodson?   The last time that Mike Woodson coached a playoff game as close as Bucks-Hawks Game 1 was May 2, 2008 against the Celtics in Atlanta.  …  (No, that wasn’t the “Dammit RAY” game 4 (April 28 – when Joe Johnson scored 25).  All three Celtics-Hawks games in Atlanta were pretty close. The four games in Boston were blowouts.)   How tough can the Hawks be away from home?  The evidence and history suggests that they’re mentally impaired and unfocused away from their “highlight dome” in Atlanta.

Marvin Williams:  Why doesn’t anybody talk about Marvin Williams?

NOT SO BOLD PREDICTION:  I wasn’t surprised by Saturday’s blowout — in fact I expected it at some point during this series. I was more surprised by Skiles’ inability to recognize his team after the Bucks’ lackluster Game 2 play.   Game 4 will be a battle for the interior, with Mbah a Moute’s defense continuing to be a major theme, as well as Skiles’ dedication to his bigger rotations.  After three games in the negative, the Bucks should be able to count on some positive production from Delfino.  The Bucks will hold their own in the paint and win the 50-50 hustle plays late to even up the series 2-2 heading back to Atlanta for Game 5. 

*Bucks GM John Hammond won NBA executive of 2009-10, a vote held among the executives.  This happened a couple of days ago, so a belated comment should be short.  A lot of what ends up happening on this site is that I try to write behind commonly held perceptions about the Bucks or the NBA in general, basketball, too.  One of my least favorite perceptions is that Jerry Stackhouse and John Salmons saved the day and made this Bucks team what it has become. They didn’t, obviously, and the contributions of Stackhouse, in particular, have been overstated by both the Bucks and media in Milwaukee. The additions probably won the award for Hammond, and continue to reside in the realm of “the Bucks lost Michael Redd and …”  Let’s not forget that a lot of what Hammond has done to date has been hit or miss, and that the Bucks are simply a better team with Redd out of the picture.  The GM is a subject whose scrutiny is more properly drawn after the playoffs.

* The “Fear the Deer” t-shirts are the design of Bucks fan Dan Warfield, who wanted one but couldn’t find a place online to buy — so he made his own. The shirts are available through the DIY site, Cafe Press, which offers some nice organic/”green” shirt options.  (And, no, I don’t have any financial interest in the sale of t-shirts — I just think it’d be pretty cool to see Bucks fans representing this summer and into next season.  Fear the Deer!!!

Game 3 victory: Pleased to meet the Bucks

With their 107-89 victory over the Hawks Saturday, the Bucks were pleased to meet themselves — the tenacious, intense Bucks, ready to play and challenge everything defensively … it was the key to the game.

During their 89-107 loss to the Bucks, the Hawks were also reacquainted with a tried-but-true version of themselves:  the unfocused, road troubled, unmotivated Hawks.

Sorry, but Hawks coach Mike Woodson looked like he was going to cry yesterday.  I suppose he couldn’t believe that his Hawks were doing this to him AGAIN, two years after Boston, as though 175 games (including playoffs) hadn’t been played since, as though the Hawks had gained nothing in learned experience.  The Bucks dominated them Saturday.

While Bucks and Hawks alike are busy getting reacquainted with former and true selves, check out Gadz and Zaza.

(Alright kids, just try not making sound effects for that photo. Just try. Can’t do it can you?).

In the Land of the Giants. Dan Gadzuric and Zaza Pachulia were teammates in Milwaukee 2004-05. They were both free agents summer of 2005. The Bucks decided they could only afford one and overpaid Gadz (6 yrs-$36 mil) while Zaza signed a much more reasonable contract (4 yrs -$16 mil) with the Hawks.  Last summer he signed on for 4 more years at $19 mil.

I’ll never understand why the Bucks didn’t hold cost down on Gadz and sign Zaza too, embarking on a three-headed big man project (the Bucks had just drafted Bogut). It would have made more sense than what they did — trade Desmond Mason and a draft pick for Jamaal “Big Cat” Magloire.

In five years of often entertaining failure, never was Gadz so good, really good as he was Saturday. Ten rebounds in 17 minutes. Four offensive boards, six on the D-end.  One assists. One turnover.  Five ugly fouls – that’s our Gadz.

Gadz played big minutes all night (Primoz Brezec played the garbage time), none bigger than in the 2nd quarter when Kurt Thomas’ cut jaw was being stitched.   10 boards in 17 mins when it counted.  That’s e-ffect-a-Gadz.

Dan Gadzuric has a total of 16 rebs for the series, all in his last 35 mins (he had none in six mins in Game 1). He’s playing his best and most important basketball as a Buck – getting more minutes and being more productive than he was four years ago against Detroit.

Hawks starting center Al Horford could get to only 3 rebounds in 30 mins Saturday, as Gadz, Thomas, Luc Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova controlled the paint for the first time this series.  With the Bucks making shots, the Hawks had no chance.

… Does Game 3 really need a  breakdown?  The Bucks made shots, John Salmons showed up. The Bucks showed up and played D.  They also controlled the paint.  The Hawks never stood a chance away from “the Highlight dome” or whatever they call the arena in Atlanta.

Game 4 will be Monday already, (quite a change from and I’ll end by saying that a blowout win over the Hawks is no fluke.  More on that in the Game 4 previews.