Tag Archives: Detroit Pistons

Young Buck returns to Wisconsin older, wiser, healthier . . . “a world hooper”

Jennings was often a human highlight film off the bench in NY last season, and led the Knicks in assists per game, dishing out 4.9 per game in 24.6 minutes. Jennings played 58 games with NY and 36 for the Washington Wizards, including 13 playoff games. NY Times photo found at Baller brand website. License: Standard noncommercial use.

GM Jon Horst had been tracking the global basketball economy for weeks, and was ready to make his move when China’s CBA wrapped its season up on Monday. It’s just that nobody expected the Bucks Chinese import to be Brandon Jennings, the young Buck of the 2010 “Fear the Deer” season.

Mass confusion erupted Tuesday at General Mitchell Airport as Brandon Jennings strolled through the Far East gate, looking nothing at all like a 7-foot behemoth to fill the Bucks biggest need for the stretch run and playoffs. The ensuing near riot was a happy event, according to baggage handlers who witnessed it, as nine out of 10 Bucks fans agreed that having Jennings back in Wisconsin was a good thing, a very good thing indeed. He’s not a Buck yet, having signed with the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate in Oshkosh, but there’s at least some expectation he may soon be if all goes well in Oshkosh.

Jennings, went to China this season to clear his head, to hit the reset button at age 28 after bouncing around from Orlando to New York and Washington while trying to fully recover from a gruesome torn Achilles injury that derailed him in Detroit three years ago. It was a decision made quickly last summer after a disappointing playoffs with the Wizards, where his playing time dwindled and he averaged but 1 point and 1 assist per game in the 7-game series against Boston.

“I just packed my bags and I was gone,” he told USA Today upon returning to the U.S. earlier this month.  Jennings’ Shanxi Brave Dragons didn’t make the Chinese Basketball Association playoffs, despite his 27.9 pts and 6.8 assists per game, but the experience helped him “grow up and mature and realize what was important in life,” he said. The interviewer didn’t ask what, specifically, was important because a discussion about the wonders of Chinese cuisine (Jennings’ favorite) ensued. Jennings said he was fully recovered from the injury and “back to the person that I was before I got hurt, the person that I was in Detroit.”

That person in Detroit was a very good NBA point guard, on the edge of being an All-star. The Pistons got off to a miserable 5-and-23 start to the 2014-15 season, losing 13 in a row at one point, until they waived madly individualistic power forward, Josh Smith. They gelled almost immediately after Smith exited, winning 12 out of the next 15 games. Jennings was brilliant during the Detroit winning streak, scoring 20 pts per game, dishing out 7.2 assists and shooting 40% from three. But Detroit’s winning ways and Jennings’ 2015 season ended abruptly in Milwaukee Jan. 24, when his Achilles tendon snapped as he tried to recover a steal by Brandon Knight under the Detroit basket.

Brandon Jennings, 15 games 12/26/14 to 01/21/15

He made it back in 2016, but his starting point guard job had been handed over to Reggie Jackson, who had enjoyed a good run in Jennings’ absence. The Pistons traded him in February of 2016 to Orlando in a swap of ex-Bucks — Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova for Tobias Harris. The move reunited Jennings and Ilyasova with Magic coach Scott Skiles, their coach for 3-and-a-half years in Milwaukee.

The reunion with Skiles was short-lived, however, thanks to the ill-fated player personnel schemes of Orlando GM Rob Hennigan, who had no plans to resign Jennings or exercise the team option on Ilyasova’s 2016-17 guarantee. A few weeks after the 2016 ended, Skiles abruptly quit the coaching job. A month later, Hennigan traded Ilyasova, Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis to the OKC Thunder for Serge Ibaka, a dumbfounding move that left little doubt about why Skiles decided to walk. Ilyasova was left in contract limbo and, while sorting it out, missed the Turkish national team’s Olympic qualifying tournament.  Jennings, meanwhile, signed a one-year, $4.83 million deal with the Knicks. The Magic, after a 29-win season in 2017, sacked Hennigan in April (and, weirdly enough, replaced him with John Hammond and Jeff Weltman, the guys who drafted Jennings for the Bucks in 2009).

Had Hennigan been competent and the Magic better employers, Jennings and Skiles would likely be in Orlando still, building on what they had begun in Milwaukee. Ilyasova, Oladipo and Sabonis? Who knows — but the success Oladipo and Sabonis are having this season with the Pacers suggests that Skiles would likely have made things work in Orlando.

Jennings went on to New York, where he played back-up to Derrick Rose at point, bringing speed and highlight film passing off the bench, even if his shot hadn’t quite returned to pre-injury form. Jennings easily led the team with 7.2 assists per 36, but the Knicks dropped out of the playoff hunt and bought Jennings’ contract out in late February, just in time for him to join the Wizards and back Wall up in the playoffs. His playing time steadily declined as the playoffs wore on. When the Wizards lost game 7 in Boston, they did so largely without Jennings, who played all of 5:40 in the game and didn’t attempt a shot.

Bucks social media photo and artwork, Bucks.com.

“I went to China for myself – it was a personal decision,” Jenning explained to Jim Paschke, television voice of the Bucks, in an interview this week. (Watch full interview HERE.) “I just wanted to get away for a minute to focus and get my rhythm back to playing basketball.”

Just as his decision to sign with Shanxi was made quickly, all it took was a phone call from Wisconsin Herd GM Dave Dean to bring him back to Wisconsin. Dean asked if he wanted to come play, Jennings said “of course” and packed his bags again and flew to Milwaukee. His return may not even be part of any plan by the Bucks, and more the natural course of Brandon Jennings being Brandon Jennings, “world hooper”

Jennings can help the Bucks

Ever since Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas destroyed the Bucks in Milwaukee Jan. 5,  scoring 20 points in one quarter against helpless Bucks centers John Henson and Thon Maker, the Bucks have been on the lookout for a defensive minded big man. They picked up Tyler Zeller from Brooklyn during Trade Deadline week, but Zeller’s more power forward than intimidating force in the paint. He wasn’t the solution to the big man problem, not with the likes of Andrew Bogut and Miroslav Raduljica and other free agent bigs out there.

But then the Bucks point guards broke. Malcolm Brogdon‘s left quad tendon tore apart (partially) in Minneapolis, sidelining him for 6 to 8 weeks. And a couple of days later, his backup, Matthew Dellavedova, sprained an ankle against the Nets in Brooklyn and won’t be back until after the All-Star break. The Bucks at point are down to Eric Bledsoe, whose chaotic dynamism is more suited to freelancing on the break or from the wings than running a half-court offense. There’s no guarantee Brogdon will make it back to playoff shape this season, no guarantee Dellavedova will step up, and suddenly the Bucks are very thin at point, a precarious position to be in this late in the season.

Jennings can help. He’s quicker than Brogdon or Delly and has a higher career assist rate — in his brief time with the Wizards, his regular season assist rate was a career high 10.4 per 36 minutes. His steals rate is also the highest of the Wizards three point guards, and he tends to get to the line more. Plus he has 50% more NBA experience than Delly or Brogdon combined.

What he is not is a reliable shooter, but then neither is Delly. Jennings’ three-point shooting tends to come and go in streaks, where he’s either putting on a show or getting frustrated by the misses. In Detroit, he shot progressively less and passed more as the team chemistry came together. The season of his injury, 2014-15, he was down to 13.2 shots per game, while scoring at the same 15 ppg rate. He averaged 15 pts and 7 assists per game through 121 games with the Pistons — before the Achilles injury. If he truly is back to the player he was then, he could help a number of teams. At age 28, he’s still in his basketball prime.

And who can forget the 55-point game in Jennings’ “Fear the Deer” rookie season?

Welcome back to Wisconsin, Brandon Jennings.

“Roundball Revolution”: Rip Hamilton vs. John Kuester

What’s going on with the Detroit Pistons?  And why can’t the Bucks beat them despite the ongoing turmoil between the Rip Hamilton cadre of veterans and coach John Kuester?  Those questions (and a lot of others about the Bucks) are nagging this week as the Bucks prepare to play the Pistons Tuesday.

At the brink of the trade deadline last week, Hamilton rejected an $18 million buyout offer from the Cavs, who were willing to take him off Detroit’s hands with a draft pick.   The buyout would have allowed Hamilton to, ostensibly, go play for the Bulls who were looking for a shooting guard to run with Derrick Rose in the playoffs.

Rip said “No,” he and the veterans were rumored to be hatching a “roundball revolution” against coach Kuester, a shootaround was missed by many, players were fined and benched, Kuester may soon be fired, the fans just want the lunacy to end and the team may be up for sale.

They’re 2-0 against the Bucks this season.  Go figure.  I can’t.  What a mess.

So I’m listening to the Need4Sheed blogger Natalie Sitto’s PODCAST with Associated Press Pistons reporter Dave Hogg, who knows more about these things than just about anybody, except of course for that inexplicable 2-0 record against our Bucks.

“Two more years of this” in Detroit, they sigh in Detroit over Hamilton – who is owed $25 million over that time.   Rip, Tayshaun Prince, Big Ben Wallace and Tracy McGrady (the veterans) may have been operating under the assumption that Kuester is on his way out the door.  They may have been wrong:

“Because of the sale issue, I don’t think [the Pistons] will be firing [Kuester] anytime soon,” said Hogg.  And after Friday [the “roundball revolution”] I don’t think you fire ‘Kue’ now.”

The last time Hamilton played for the Pistons, he scored 15 off the bench in Milwaukee Feb. 5 as the Pistons sent the Bucks to one of their sorriest losses of the season, 89-78.

Detroit shot 51.5% for the game.  The Bucks point guards were terrible.  John Salmons was sluggishly back from his hip injury.  Andrew Bogut scored 18 but the Pistons looked almost like the Pistons of old, running Rip off of staggered screens for open mid-range jumpers and the occasional 3-pointer.  The Bucks failed to take advantage of great defense in the 3rd quarter, when they held the Pistons to 14 points.

The Bucks scored just 13 in that 3rd quarter and resorted to fighting the refs under their basket, who were absolutely horrible, nearly as bad as the Bucks shot selection.

Hamilton hasn’t played since, leading to last week’s “revolution.”   Why did he play that night against the Bucks?

Such are the mysteries that have perplexed the Bucks all season long as they have failed and failed again to get a streak going.  Tuesday may be the Bucks last chance to start one.

Time for greatness: Brandon Jennings

When things are going good, when the running layups are rolling in, when your teammates are hitting the bunnies, the game looks easy for a point guard.  Right now is not one of those times for Brandon Jennings, whose Bucks are 5-10 and in the Central Division cellar, not a place anybody expected the Bucks to visit this season.

But the good times are like ESPN highlights — they don’t define good teams.  And they don’t define great point guards.

The Bucks, last in the NBA in shooting and scoring, need their second year point guard to be great.  “Good” — which Jennings was with 25 pts and six assists in the Bucks 103-89 loss in Detroit Friday — won’t cut it, not when the Bucks are playing without their anchor, Andrew Bogut, sidelined with back spasms.  Not when the coach has complained that some of the new players don’t seem to know the plays.

In addition to everything else Bogut does, the Bucks center is vocal about holding his teammates accountable, both on offense sets and defense.  This now falls to Jennings, who hasn’t found reliable offensive options all season long.  He’s missing John Salmons, who’s been sluggish in recovering from a strained knee.  He misses veteran point guard Luke Ridnour (gone to Minnesota) who brought energy, movement and good shooting off the Bucks bench last season.  And yes, he misses Charlie Bell (traded to Golden State), who didn’t do much himself on offense but hit the spot-up 3 when called upon, yet Charlie knew where he was supposed to be and where each play was supposed to go.

Those veteran guards, Ridnour and Bell, who had spent a long 2008-09 season learning the Skiles style, were indispensable to Jennings in his rookie season.  They had also adopted their coach’s never-say-die mentality, an intangible that, perhaps for the first time this season, disappeared when the shots didn’t fall against the hot-handed Pistons.  The Bucks, the team that never quits, eventually “disengaged” in the 3rd quarter.

“We’ve got to stay positive; that’s the main thing. Everybody can’t just go on their own. We’ve got to stay engaged and stay with what we do best. It starts on the defensive end, and the offense will come.  We got wherever we wanted to tonight. We’ve just got to finish it.” — Jennings in last night’s post game comments.

There’s trouble in the words, “everyone can’t just go on their own,”  and Jennings seems to have realized it.  In the absence of Bogut, he’s the guy who has to make sure the Bucks don’t splinter, don’t “go on their own.”  An average NBA point guard might go with the flow and hope his teammates step up “on their own.”  A great NBA point guard takes control of the game, attacks the opposition and demands that his teammates play to his energy level, win or lose, whether the shots fall or not.

It’s a lot to ask of a 21-year-old who’s played in just 97 regular season NBA games.  But then Jennings never set out to be average, nor has he been willing to settle for “good.”  For the Bucks sake, he can’t.  They are a team struggling to find an identity even as their young point guard learns and defines his own NBA identity.  Ready or not 16 games into the season, the Bucks are a team that needs Brandon Jennings to be great.

Brandon Jennings, #1 at age 10 (pic from the famous ballboy archives)

BJ4GThe 45-34 Bucks are 3-1 without center Andrew Bogut and are playoff bound in the East with a seed no worse than 6th. They’ve successfully avoided a Round 1 matchup with the Orlando Magic, which could have been quite embarrassing and depressing to watch with no Bogut to battle on in the paint against Dwight Howard.

I’m sure Howard’s happy about this too, given the mano-a-mano nature of center battles and the pride that goes into the post rivalries. Sixers center Sam Dalembert, ever the Bogut nemesis, seemed a little lost on the court against the Bucks in Philly Friday, eventually picking it up in the second half to help bring the Sixers back into the game with some active help D … above the free throw line?  Never if Bogut was on the court. On Saturday, the Celtics gave KG the night off and center Kendrick Perkins played just 18 mins.

But I digress. It’s time to celebrate in Brewtown, to party, literally, like it’s 1999 and Dominguez High out of Compton is the Division II state champion, the top-ranked ballers in all of California.  A 10-year-old named Brandon Jennings was a ball boy for the Dominguez basketball factory, led by smooth shooting, 6’4″ senior guard Keith Kincade and sophomore center Tyson Chandler (at left), already a household name thanks to a 60 Minutes profile. Kincade scored 23 in the title game against Sacramento Grant, while Chandler was held to 5 pts, 5 boards before fouling out.

The above photo came my way via an email from Dewey (thanks again Dewey!), a blogger at PlaymakerMobile. Dewey’s site is all-sports with what looks like a strong NFL focus (lots of McNabb trade stuff there now), and he’s been keeping an eye on BJ’s exploits in his rookie season.

Back to this photo:  We all know what became of the Dominguez ballboy. And Chandler, a Parade and McDonald’s HS All-American by his senior year, declared for the 2001 NBA draft right out of high school. The Clippers drafted him #2 overall and traded him to the Bulls for 2000 ROY Elton Brand. After years of back trouble, grumbling by Chicago fans about “potential” and a few more in and out of Scott Skiles‘ doghouse, Chandler became a shot-blocking, offensive rebounding machine.  He’s now with Larry Brown in Charlotte, a good place for that sort of specialist to be.

Funny isn’t it, that the the towering 10th grader on the left and the beaming 4th grader in the lower right would eventually end up under Scott Skiles’ tutelage, like it or not. But whatever happened to Keith Kincade?

Celtics 105, Bucks 90: I’ve never believed the reports about the demise of the Celtics, and not for once thought the Bucks could take them in a 7-game playoff, Bogut in the lineup or not. Playing without Kevin Garnett and with center Kendrick Perkins sitting out two-thirds of the game, the Celtics flexed what was left of their muscles and simply overpowered the Bucks. Kurt Thomas didn’t dent the Celtics front line. Ersan Ilyasova was game but too often on his own in the paint, with Luc Mbah a Moute in foul trouble. Ray Allen (21 pts on seven shots; attempted a single three pointer) Rondo and Pierce were too much for BJ, Salmons and Delfino. Sheed was a Bucks killer, as always, and Big Baby wants to fight, someone, anyone.

BJ’s brashness aside, the Celtics are not the playoff matchup for the Bucks —  this year. With better inside help for Bogut, Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute, the Bucks should be ready for the Celtics in 2011.  The Hawks? The Bucks are ready for them right now. 

Bucks 99, Sixers 90: The Bucks won in Philly without Bogut, which, as discombobulating as that was for Dalembert, is just plain weird given The Revenge of the Airball and all things that make little sense about a Bucks-Sixers game. The Bucks managed it with half-a-John Salmons too, as their leading scorer fought a bout with the flu through halftime but looked dead on his feet by the 3rd quarter. Jennings had a bad night shooting (4-17) but I’m becoming more and more impressed with BJ’s defense. Tuesday night he slowed down Derrick Rose in the 4th quarter, enough for the Bucks to eke out a win in Chicago. Last night BJ harassed fellow rookie pg Jrue Holiday into an 0-10 start from the field, a far cry from the hot shooting night Holiday had in Milwaukee March 24.

Where’d the offense come from?  Carlos Delfino was lights out with 23 pts (5-8 from downtown) and Luke Ridnour had one of those nights off the bench where everything found the bottom of the net (18 for Luke on 8-12 shooting). … Centers Kurt Thomas and Dan Gadzuric were awful on the offensive end but solid and focused on D (5 blocked shots between them). The Bucks do what they can, and it’s been good enough all year.

Yi Jianlian #9 of the New Jersey Nets looks to shoot during the second half of a pre-season game against the New York Knicks on October 20, 2008 at the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Knicks won 114-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.The Nets’ Brook Lopez got away with a goaltend to dunk the Nets into overtime against the Bulls in New Jersey, on an otherwise very workable play drawn up by coach Kiki Vandeweghe with 3.6 seconds to go. Vandeweghe set up a football-like screen for Lopez and Yi Jianlian to freely stream into the paint as Terrence Williams drove in on Derrick Rose.  When Williams’ shot rimmed out, both Yi and Lopez were right there for the tap, which Lopez delivered, hand and ball clearly in the cylinder. No call, and on to OT they went, tied at 103.

In the first overtime, the Bulls jumped out to a 110-103 lead but some more terrible officiating (two no-calls on Courtney Lee hacking Rose) and two missed free throws by Rose pushed the game to a second overtime, 112-112.  In the second OT, Devin Harris and T.Williams staked the Nets to a five point lead and the Bulls folded.

This was actually a pretty good game, New Jersey’s 12th win.  Lopez and Yi combined for 41 pts and 26 boards; Brad Miller and Joakim Noah responded with 43 and 19, while Williams had the second rookie triple double of the season for the Nets.  But refs will be refs in the NBA. And this loss by the Bulls (38-41) sets up a Sunday night showdown with the 38-41 Raptors in Toronto for the 8th playoff spot in the East.   

Over at Blog-a-Bull, friendly neighborhood Bulls fans are, as usual, trying to fire coach Vinnie Del Negro.

Very, very interesting box score from Miami. Pistons fans have always regretted trading the wrong guard (Chauncey) for Allen Iverson in 2008 but very few fans seemed to notice that the Pistons went 8-2 last year with the Answer doing his thing while Rip Hamilton and Rasheed Wallace were out with injuries.  This season, it’s more of the same. Deactivate Hamilton and suddenly coach John Kuester remembers that Ben Gordon is on his team. 39 points from Gordon later and the Pistons had broken Miami’s nine game winning streak. Things are getting real obvious in Detroit, as in Michael Redd-Tracy McGrady obvious.

Somebody in the West plays defense?  Of coures the Lakers do when they want to but how about the Oklahoma City Thunder?   I didn’t think coach Scott Brooks had them playing Eastern Conference style D but after last night in OK City vs. the Suns, I’m a believer. The Thunder held run-and-gun Phoenix  to 34 pts in the 2nd half and closed out a 96-91 win. This is the kind of game that will win Brooks Coach of the Year honors, though it doesn’t seem as though OK City fans really appreciate a good defensive performance.  Or maybe it’s just because the blog I read was one of those ESPN jobs. 

I’m still in awe about the final shot defensive stand the Bobcats made this week in New Orleans. Mean and suffocating it was, and game winning. The Cats and Bucks are tied as the stingiest defenses in the NBA, ahead of the Magic, Celtics and Lakers. Then the Heat and the Cavs. The Thunder are 8th, giving up 104.2 pts per 100 possessions, just ahead of the Spurs and Jazz, rounding out the top 10.

Point being – it doesn’t take much to get it together in the NBA, really. Play dedicated team D, rebound the ball, have a reliable, go-to scorer and you’ll win some games.  It’s no great secret why the Bucks are 21-6 since acquiring John Salmons – they were winning and playing great D most of the year, and Salmons gave them the go-to offense they needed.  The Thunder play some excellent team D for Brooks; Kevin Durant‘s got the scoring end of it well in hand. It’s the D that makes them a likable sleeper pick to get to the West semis.

Andrew Bogut named East player of the week… The Charlie Bell Factor, too

Andrew Bogut and the Bucks were the buzz of the league last week, and that was before they beat the Utah Jazz  with gut check defensive stands and clutch shooting. The Bucks center even won over the round mound of TNT, Charles Barkley. 

Monday the NBA named Bogut Eastern Conference Player of the Week, March 8-14, over Lebron James, rival center Dwight Howard and Bobcats guard Stephen Jackson.

Bogues led the league in blocked shots for the week (3.7 per game), was second in rebounds (13.7) and scored 19.3 ppg. AB began the week with a monster game in the Bucks win over the Celtics (26 pts, 17 boards and 4 blocks) and continued his strong play in wins over the Jazz and Pacers.

Heck, he didn’t play that well offensively in the latter two wins, though he anchored the tough defensive stands that turned back the Jazz, on a 23-5 tear before losing to the Bucks and Thunder last weekend.  Suffice it to say Bogues has had better weeks during the 2009-10 campaign; it’s been his coming out party as a force in the league to be reckoned with, an All-Pro center.

Nice that the NBA is noticing, in light of the All-Star snub AB  received from the East coaches and Commish David Stern just a few weeks ago. A belated thanks NBA, and we’ll take that 5th seed in the playoffs, too. As for Bogut?

“Thanks [for the fan support] for the player of the week award I was fortunate enough to receive,” he tweeted. “Still a lot of work 2-do.” 

The daily newspaper in Milwaukee has even noticed Bogut’s breakout season. Journal Sentinel sports editor Garry D. Howard left that “Jerry Stackhouse was the spark” thing behind and wrote a laudatory piece on Bogut and Skiles.

   Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade (3) drives to the basket against the Milwaukee Bucks' Charlie Bell, left, in the first half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 30, 2010, in Milwaukee.   The CHARLIE BELL FACTOR: It’s real, trust it, know it, never mind the Hollinger ratings (rarely kind to defensive commandos). Bell has been on the bench as Skiles instead plays Stackhouse, leading to talk that Stack sparked the Bucks’ turnaround. Nevermind that Charlie was the shooting guard Skiles relied on most when the Bucks turned things around after their long and losing trip West.

Charlie’s still an X factor determining the Bucks success, as he played heavy minutes in the 12 games between the last game on the 1-5 western trip (at Houston) and the disjointed loss to Houston on the eve of trading deadline (the last game the Bucks played without John Salmons). In the 12 games in between the Houston losses, the Bucks were 8-4, with Charlie averaging 31 minutes per game. 

Yet there are many in the Bucks fan base convinced that Charlie doesn’t make a positive impact on their team’s performance. Let’s go to Charlie Bell’s game logs (what would I do without you basketball-reference?) for a closer look.  

CB’s avg. line in those 12 games:  31 mins, 40% shooting but 42% (20-47) on threes, 13-18 from the line, 2.5 rebs, 1.8 assists, 10.2 ppg. 

That three point shooting % is not a typo — Charlie was shooting 42% from the land of Ray and Reggie during the turnaround stretch that preceded Salmons’ arrival. This includes lousy bad night — a 1-6 outing and a loss in Toronto.  Minus that game, and Charlie was draining nearly half his shots from Downtown (46.3%) for three weeks. It was a shot in the arm the Bucks needed.

Here’s more: 7 steals, and only 8 turnovers in 371 minutes. That’s baallll control, an extremely stabilizing court presence for Brandon Jennings, who has to be allowed to make mistakes (and does) running the point in his rookie season. Michael Redd was finished for the season, the Bucks were working Stackhouse into the lineup — somebody had to help Bogut and Jennings restore order.

And for all the defensive muggings that Charlie lays on opponents, Charlie gets off scot free — only 23 fouls total, or 2 per game.

Some highlights: Bell had 18 in a win against Philly Jan. 27, part of a 5-game stretch in which Charlie averaged 13 ppg.

Bottled up Dwyane Wade, not once but twice in three days. On Jan. 30 Bell hounded Wade into a  7-19 shooting (23 pts) night,  “one of his most frustrating games of the season,” according to the Miami Herald. Jennings called Bell “a D-Wade stopper.” In public.

In the rematch two nights later Feb.1 the Bucks held Wade to 20 pts on 6-20 shooting, as Bell and Luc Mbah a Moute alternated on Wade. “The Bucks might have ‘a D-Wade stopper’ in Charlie Bell,’ as rookie Brandon Jennings said. Or they might not,” went the Herald game report. “But what is certain is that the Bucks have become Heat stoppers.”

First game off the road: At the BC against the Raptors, the Bucks played their starters heavily — Jennings, Bell, Bogut, Delfino and Mbah a Moute — and fed Bogut in a 113-107 win. The starters accounted for 86 of the final tally, Bogut leading the way with 27.   Bell shot 6-9 for 13 pts, dished out 3 assists and didn’t turn the ball over in 36 minutes. It was a statement game to the home fans that things were coming together for the Bucks, that they could win and this was how they were going to do it.

In those first dozen games coming off the western trip, Stackhouse was new, working to fit in. The hope that Redd would be able to fit in was recently lost, Salmons wasn’t here yet. Jennings was mired in a shooting slump. Somebody had to step up and help execute the game plans, maintain Skiles’ constant pressure D on the perimeter. Bogut stepped into his All-Pro stride, all-Rambis defensive whiz Luc Mbah a Moute moved into the starting lineup, Carlos Delfino began shooting better…

… and there was Charlie Bell, the X-factor, hitting 42% from 3-point land, the former point guard taking care of the ball, making plays and supplying in-your-face defense.  The Charlie Bell Factor — the Bucks can depend on it.

Quote of the Day:  “This team is bad.  This team needs a few pieces, and to build a new identity.  Right now there’s nothing.  They’re one of the worst offensive teams, one of the worst teams defensively, they’re a shell of their former selves.”  —  Need4Sheed blog guest writer Boney on the Pistons.

And to think the Bucks split with that shell of the Pistons.

Skiles has Bucks looking competent… The Answer is a Piston

Ramon Sessions has looked great at pointWait and see. That’s the attitude most Bucks fans are taking with Scott Skiles’ team, numbed as many of us are by years of losing — selfishly losing at that. Improvement and team basketball is what most of us want to see.

After four games, not half bad.

The Bucks are 2-2, one of the losses a heartbreaker against the Toronto Raptors Saturday in the home opener. After looking at the game film, coach Skiles had this to say:

“I was going to say I was mad as anyone losing that game last night. Those are games we feel we need to win. But then you sit down and look at the tape and you see the effort we’re giving and what we’re trying to do and it causes some optimism.”

Skiles isn’t just blowing smoke in the ballot box — the Bucks clawed their way back into the game in the 4th quarter after doing a good job hanging around through the 3rd despite some officiating that made me wonder if the refs thought the game was being played in Toronto (it was terrible throughout). Still, the Bucks played tough and by and large looked good against a team that moves the ball well and shoots the lights out. The Bucks lost it at the foul line (Michael Redd, 4th quarter) and with some questionable decision-making in the final 15 seconds (Redd again). They were right there despite a 3-13 shooting night from Richard Jefferson and a 1-6 behind-the-arc shooting night from Redd.

Sunday the Bucks bounced back with a solid effort in New York against the Knicks, placing six players in double figures and winning 94-86 in a game that was not as close as the final score. Yes, sharing is caring in the NBA, and it wins games. Rookie Joe Alexander finally got some PT in NY. 


Lose the Red home uniforms: They look worse than those purple road uniforms from a few years ago. What’s so wrong with white at home and green on the road? 

Rebounding and the frontcourt:  So far this season, the Bucks have outrebounded opponents and have done a good job exploiting the advantage they have in the frontcourt over most teams with Andrew Bogut, Charlie Villanueva and Richard Jefferson. Skiles has the team pushing the ball inside to start an inside-out game that will only get better, more balanced and spaced properly if they commit to it. (Isn’t this what Larry Krytkowiak tried to do last season?) Bogut, Jefferson and Charlie have consistently scored double figures plus, and are hitting the glass, including a 54-point, 27-reb. effort Wednesday vs. Oklahoma City.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: While 1st round draft pick Joe Alexander has hardly played and could well be headed for the D-League (well, that’s where I’d send him if he’s just going to sit on the bench in Milwaukee), 2nd round pick Mbah a Moute has looked like a wily veteran off the bench. He’s always in the right place at the right time; he rebounds, plays D, doesn’t force offense and hits the shots that come his way. Yes, it’s early, I know, but it feels like it’s been a long time since the Bucks have had a rookie who looked as competent as Mbah a Moute. He’s adjusting much more smoothly than Bogut did three years ago.

Michael Redd: Fans whinced at the sight of Redd chucking up a wild 3-pointer with a Toronto defender in his face and 11 seconds remaining Saturday, Bucks down by two. No, the shot clock wasn’t about to expire and Toronto point guard Jose Calderon had left Ramon Sessions to double down on Bogut in the post. Somebody was wide open, if not Sessions. Bucks have seen more than enough of this sort of thing from Redd. Call it selfish, call it dumb, there may be no words left for it, but this is the Bucks basketball that fans know too well; it has made 4th quarter defense all-too-easy for opposing teams and it loses games. …. The Raptors, a team stocked with great shooters, took good shots in the final minute and drained them. It was the difference in the game. To Redd’s credit, he took a step back Sunday and played more conservatively, scoring 16 pts on just 8 shots, hitting all three of his 3-pointers. Yes, Mike, you can draw conclusions from the different outcomes of the two games.

Point guard controversy:  Oh, it’s brewing all right, with Luke Ridnour sitting out with a bad back and Ramon Sessions picking up right where he left off last season, handing out 19 dimes over the weekend. Skiles did not play Sessions in the first two games but Ramon logged nearly all of the point guard minutes in games three and four. Skiles has said Ridnour will still be the starter when his back is ready, but there’s little question Tyrone Lue will move down the bench to third-string point guard. (I don’t understand why he was the backup over Sessions those first two games.) This is only the beginning of what will likely be a season-long Luke vs. Ramon issue for the team. The good part of this is that Ramon is playing well enough to push the question of who should be the Bucks starting point guard. It’s way too early for a poll, folks. 

Injuries:  Michael Redd and Luke Ridnour are day-to-day, Ridnour with a bad back and Redd recuperating from an ankle sprain against the Knicks Sunday. The Bucks take on the Wizards at home Wednesday, then head for Boston for the start of a brutal four-games-in-six-days stretch (Boston, Phoenix, Cleveland and San Antonio).

Allen Iverson Iverson’s a Piston: Detroit traded starting point guard Chauncey Billups and starting forward Antonio McDyess to George Karl’s Nuggets for Allen Iverson. Here’s the ESPN story on the trade. Don’t worry, it’s a Marc Stein story, it’s safe and can be trusted. Yes, this trade really did happen (I’m still here Chad Ford, and I’ll be watching).

The Answer is a bit too perfect a match for Detroit for the rest of the Eastern Conference to cheer this swap, especially as Billups seems to have lost a step (or two – the Celtics had their way with the Pistons guards in the playoffs and Detroit was fortunate to get by Orlando in five games in the semifinals). The Pistons weren’t going anywhere in the Eastern Conference playoffs this year. What Detroit GM Joe Dumars has done is trade two of his slower players for one of the quickest players in the league. That’s bad news for Mo Williams in Cleveland and Rajon Rondo in Boston, and poor Jameer Nelson down in Orlando. However, trading McDyess leaves the Pistons extremely thin on the frontline, great news for Kevin Garnett and the host of beastly big men and forwards roaming the paint in the East. What good is having Allen Iverson if you can’t rebound the basketball?

[Notice how I’m talking about the Eastern Conference, not about the Central Division. Pay no attention to this division rival business some seem to think exists in the NBA (that would be Charles Gardner over at the Journal Sentinel). The Bucks’ Central Division should not be confused with the NFC Central Division that the Packers used play in (now the North), where the schedule makes the rivalries matter. It makes little or no difference to the Bucks whether Iverson was traded to New Jersey, Detroit or Atlanta — the Bucks play them all four times, as they do seven other teams in the East, the majority being outside the Central].

That said, Iverson’s got quite a history lighting up the soft defenses Bucks backcourts have laid down for him over the years. He holds the Bradley Center scoring record with 54, set four years ago in December against Michael Redd, Mo Williams, Mike James and Eddie House. The Bucks split with Iverson’s Nuggets last season, with AI scoring 24 and 26 pts.

NEXT UP: Wednesday vs. the Wizards at home, 7PM. Gilbert Arenas is still out, a good opportunity for the Bucks to pick up their first home win.

Hammond Hiring a Good News Shock for Bucks Fans

John HammondJust when you thought Bucks owner Herb Kohl had become desperate in his search for a new GM as even the most loyal Bucks fans flirted with apathy, Kohl has stunned us all with what appears to be one of the smartest moves possible: Detroit Pistons vice president of basketball operations John Hammond.

Hammond, Pistons GM Joe Dumars right-hand man since 2001, helped build the decade of Eastern Conference dominance they’re still enjoying in Detroit, and manages the Pistons basketball operations. But Hammond is much more than an able administrator: he served two seperate sentences coaching in the gulog of NBA futility gulog that is the Los Angeles Cippers (the first stint as an assistant to Larry Brown) and coached in Detroit under Doug Collins during the Grant Hill years. 

In running the Pistons, if Hall of Famer Dumars looked at things from a players’ perspective, Hammond gave the coaches’ perspective. However the Dumars-Hammond relationship worked, it has worked, and transforming the style of Eastern Conference basketball to the tough, defense oriented, “it takes five” approach we see today. As dominant as Lebron James can be on the offensive end, the East is still the half of the NBA where defense is king.

Hammond’s hiring is a big surprise because the initial reaction to the Bucks request to the Pistons for permission to talk to Hammond was rejected.  

Fortune and Hammond then had a change of heart, just when it seemed Kohl was at wits end in his GM search and even the ever-churning NBA rumor mill had ground to a halt — after spitting out for consideration nearly every right-hand-man, vice president of operations in the league. Kohl had competed with the Knicks for Donnie Walsh and lost (did Kohl really believe he could could compete with Madison Square Garden, still considered by many to be the greatest basketball stage on the planet?). Broadcast analyst Doug Collins, Hammond’s former employer, had again rejected Herb’s advances. Even some of those second-line candidates, such as Phoenix VP David Griffin, had backed away after being interviewed by the Bucks.

The hour did indeed become desperate for Kohl, as he considered interviewing the right-hand-man at one of his favorite supper spots, Ma Fischer’s Restaurant on the East Side. My inside sources tell me that Herb decided against the interview when the restaurant operations guy suggested that, ideally, he would want free reign to make the changes, and thought dangling Michael Redd out on the trade wire might not be such a bad idea. Kohl wasn’t too comfortable with this manager’s attitude but didn’t formally nix the interview until learning his name was Larry.

When fired Sixer GM Billy King, the man Allen Iverson made infamous, surfaced as a candidate this week, Kohl appeared to be at wits end in his search. Bucks fans feared the worst. But then Hammond came out of nowhere and changed his mind.

How and why this happened we’ll soon learn, but it’s very unlikely Hammond took the job without assurances that he would indeed get to make Bucks basketball decisions free of interference from the owner. Maybe the senator convinced him that what NBA wags like ESPN’s Stein call Kohl’s “growing reputation for meddling” is unfair and unearned. Maybe he told Hammond it was fair and earned but promised to change his ways.

Whatever the case, Hammond, who’s had other offers, probably doesn’t take the job without a guarantee that he’ll be in control of the coaching and player personel decisions. If Rick Carlisle’s his man as head coach, as ESPN sources say he is, the Bucks get a winning coach who was right there in Detroit with Dumars and Hammond in 2001 as they began building a contender.

That’s probably bad news for any number of players notorious for their soft defense, including Michael Redd, but that’s best left to a post of its own.