Tag Archives: John Hammond

Farewell John Hammond: The abstract expressionist maze of deals that demolished the original “Fear the Deer” Bucks

"Convergence" by Jackson Pollock, 1952.

Bucks GM John Hammond is gone to the Orlando to work for the ultra-conservative DeVos family, owners of the Orlando Magic, and quite busy in these political times they helped finance.

Hammond replaces Rob Hennigan, the GM fired by the Magic in April after missing the playoffs for the fifth straight year, this time beaten by his own big trade last summer for Serge Ibaka.

The editorial board at BobBoozerJinx.com (and I) wish Hammond well, and I’m sure he knows what he’s doing, just as I’m sure Hennigan had no clue what he was doing (any GM who trades two legit NBA starters and 6’11” lottery pick named Sabonis for Ibaka is buying a “fire me now” tattoo).

I also can’t shake the puzzling fact that Hammond was still in Milwaukee four years after his own five-year plan to build a winner lay in shambles, circa 2013. Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wes Edens bought the team in 2014 and installed Jason Kidd as coach and de facto player personnel chief right under Hammond’s nose, without bothering to consult him. That he’s only just leaving now, three years later, is a wonder.

Jeff Weltman, Hammond’s draft guru, who left the Bucks in 2013 to work for the Raptors, will join him in Orlando. Scott Skiles, the former Bucks coach who walked out on his coaching contract with the Magic last summer over player personnel disagreements with Hennigan, will certainly not be joining them. Skiles quit after one season in Orlando because Hennigan, apparently, had no respect for Skiles’ ideas about building a Scott Skiles team.

Skiles quit on Hammond, too, for similar reasons. It happened during their fifth season together in Milwaukee, 2012-13, the final year of both the coach’s and the GM’s contracts, and also the year Weltman left. Skiles didn’t like the roster he was dealt post-Andrew Bogut trade (the roster itself didn’t like the Bucks roster) and when Skiles declined to negotiate a contract extension, Hammond let him go.

Their five-year plan in Milwaukee had produced immediate results and a 49-40 record, playoffs included, in its second year, thanks to some deft Hammond roster moves, which won him the NBA’s Executive of the Year award in 2010. The fans in Milwaukee were ecstatic, and the “Fear the Deer” slogan was born. But it fell apart just as quickly when the next Hammond trades undermined the Bucks chemistry (trade for Corey Maggette, 2010, and others; the 3-team draft day trade to be rid of Maggette in 2011 looks now like an unwarranted act of desperation). Injuries robbed the team of any consistency and gave Hammond some handy excuses.

The 2012 trade of Bogut to the Warriors in time anchored a championship defense in Golden State; it immediately destroyed the Bucks identity. By summer of 2012, Skiles had listed his home in the north Milwaukee suburbs “for sale” on the real estate market. By January of 2013, he was gone. Weltman exited for Toronto later in the year, though obviously on much better terms.

There’s an irony here amid the ruined five year plans in Milwaukee and Orlando, or maybe there is only Giannis Antetokounmpo, the diamond in the rough, the superstar rising whom Hammond and Weltman stumbled upon in their 6th summer with the Bucks. Maybe it’s the truth of Scott Skiles and his refusals to coach the Frankenstein rosters his former GMs patched together. The Bucks ability to benefit exponentially from Brandon Jennings via the trade with the Pistons and beyond is another (see the greenest area below). Or perhaps it’s elsewhere, the way one might find whatever it is they’re looking for in an abstract expressionist painting.

If you let your eyes blur a little over the minutia, a full account of Hammond’s wheeling and dealing of the Bucks “Fear the Deer” roster and draft picks does resemble a work of Jackson Pollock splatter art, or at least the same sense of aimless searching one can find in the meander of Pollock’s paints. 

Hammond reduced the entire 2010 Bucks squad and five years of draft pick assets to only a handful of players under contract: Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon, John Henson. Add to that other 2010-connected assets such as the right of first refusal on Tony Snell in this summer’s free agency, Spencer Hawes‘ $6 million player option; and a super protected future 2nd round draft pick, and you have less than a third of a team, with two parts in flux.

Some of it was the work of Jason Kidd, but most of the work was done by Hammond prior to Kidd being hired. And here it is, in every exacting detail (I’m pretty sure I got it all, but someone please let me know if I missed anything).

How Hammond dealt Bucks assets Aug. 2009 – June 2013
(Green and CAPS indicates deal for current player (s) or asset; Red indicates end of the Bucks 2010-12 ties to that player, where the branch ends. “Assets” includes all draft picks 2008-2012.)
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2008 No. 8 draft pickJoe Alexander – traded 2/08/2010 w/ Hakim Warrick and a 2010 1st Round draft pick swap to Chicago Bulls for John Salmons, a 2011 2nd Rd pick (Isaiah Thomas) and a 2012 2nd Rd pick (Doron Lamb).
John Salmons – traded 6/32/11 w/ 2011 No. 10 pick (Jimmer Fredette) to Sacramento Kings for Beno Udrih as part of 3-team Corey MaggetteStephen Jackson, Shaun Livingston pick swap deal w/ Charlotte Bobcats
Beno Udrih – traded to Orlando Magic for J.J. Redick
J.J. Reddick – traded to L.A. Clippers for two 2nd Rd. draft picks (2014 – No. 48 Lamar Patterson; 2015 – No. 41 Pat Connaughton)
Patterson traded to Hawks for 2015 pick Norman Powelldead-ends with Greivis Vasquezleft unsigned by Bucks as 2016 free agent;
Connaughton was the pick sent to Brooklyn as compensation for the Bucks hiring coach JASON KIDD (see also Tobias Harris trade 2013)  
2008 No. 37 pick – Luc Mbah a Moute – Traded for to Sacramento Kings for future 2nd Rd picks
2014 2nd Rd Pick – Johnny O’Bryantwaived 2016
2016 2nd Rd pick – MALCOLM BROGDON – (Bucks traded their own 2016 pick Patrick McCaw to GSW for $2.4 CASH)
2009 No. 10 pick – Brandon Jennings traded 2013 for KHRIS MIDDLETON  Brandon Knight and Viacheslav Kravtsov
KHRIS MIDDLETON – current Buck
Brandon Knight – Traded w/ Kendall Marshall (claimed on waivers 2014) to Phoenix Suns for Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis in 3-team trade w/ PHI.
Sixers trade Michael Carter-Williams to Bucks
Miles Plumlee – traded to Charlotte Hornets for Spencer Hawes and Roy Hibbert
Roy Hibbert – traded to Denver for cash, SUPER PROTECTED 2019 2ND RD PICK (top 55 protected)
SPENCER HAWEScurrent Buck, had player option 2017-18. Bucks
Michael Carter-Williams – traded to Chicago 2016 for TONY SNELL
Tyler Ennis – traded 2016 to Houston for Michael Beasley, unrestricted free agent 2017 (Beasley signed with the Knicks
Viacheslav Kravtsov – traded Aug. 2013 w/ Ish Smith to Phoenix for Caron Butler
Caron Butlerwaived Feb. 2014, signed with OKC
2009 No. 41 draft pick – Jodie Meeks, traded for free agent veterans and 2010 2nd Rd Pick (Darington Hobson)
2010 No. 17 draft pick – swapped for Chicago’s No. 15 as part of Alexander-Warrick for Salmons trade, used to take center Larry Sanders.
Larry Sanders bought out March 2015 – ANNUAL $1.866 MILLION SALARY CAP HIT THRU 2022
2010 2nd rd pickDarington Hobson, injured, never plays, waived 2012
2010 2nd rd pick – Tiny Gallon, waived 2010
2010 2nd rd pickJerome Jordan, obtained in trade for Maggette, sold to Knicks for CASH
2011 No. 10 pick – traded in 3-team Corey Maggette trade draft day June 2011 with SAC and CHA for 2011 No. 18 pick (Tobias Harris)
J.J. Redick traded 2013 to LAC for future 2nd Rd Pick (2015 No. 41) and 2014 2nd Rd Pick (No. 48 Lamar Patterson)
Lamar Patterson – traded to Atlanta Hawks for 2015 2nd Rd. pick
2015 2nd Rd pick – (Norman Powell) traded to Toronto for Greivis Vasquez
Greivis Vasquez – left unsigned by Bucks as 2016 free agent
2015 No. 41 pick (Pat Connaughton) sent to Brooklyn Nets as compensation for Bucks coach JASON KIDD
Ish Smith – traded for Caron Butler, Aug. 2013
Caron Butler – waived, Feb. 2014, signs with OKC for playoffs.
Gustavo Ayonleft unsigned by Bucks as 2013 free agent
2011 No. 40 pickJon Leuer – traded w/ J. Brockman, Shaun Livingston for Dalembert, 2014 2nd round pick
Dalembert leaves in free agency 2013
2014 2nd Rd. pick – traded to Philly for Nate Walters
Walters waived to make room for the Bucks to sign Kenyon Martin
Kenyon Martinwaived Feb. 2015
2011 No. 60 pick – the Isaiah pick, traded to SAC for Jon Brockman
Jon Brockman – traded to HOU in Dalembert deal, 2012
Dalembert – leaves in free agency, 2013
2012 No. 12 pick – (Jeremy Lamb) swapped for Houston’s No. 14 Pick (JOHN HENSON) in trade for Sam Dalembert
2012 No. 42 pick (from Chicago) – Doron Lamb – traded 2013 to ORL w/ Tobias Harris for J.J. Redick, Ish Smith, Gustavo Ayon
Amir Johnson – traded Aug. 2009 w/ Sonny Weems to Toronto Raptors for Carlos Delfino and Roko Ukic
Carlos Delfinoleft unsigned in free agency Aug. 2012, signed w/ Houston
Roko Ukicwaived Jan. 2010
Sonny Weems – traded Aug. 2009 w/ Amir Johnson to Raptors for Delfino and Ukic
Hakim Warrick – Signed as FA July 2009, traded to CHI (w/ Joe Alexander) Feb. 2010 for John Salmons
Salmons traded to Sacramento as part of 3-team trade June 2011, thread finally ends with Greivis Vasquez, 2016
Charlie Bell expiring contract – traded June 2010 to the Warriors for Corey Maggette and a 2010 2nd Rd draft pick (Jerome Jordan)
2010 2nd Rd Pick – (Jerome Jordan) sold to Knicks for CASH
Dan Gadzuric expiring contract – traded June 2010 to the Warriors for Corey Maggette
Corey Maggette – traded to Charlotte Bobcats June 2011 for Stephen Jackson and Shaun Livingston, as part of 3-team trade (also included a swap of draft picks and John Salmons to Sacramento for Beno Udrih).
Shaun Livingston – traded with Jon Leuer, Jon Brockman to Houston for Dalembert
Stephen Jackson – traded 2012 to the Warriors w/ Andrew Bogut
 
Darnell Jackson – claimed on waivers 2010, traded July 2010 with 2011 2nd Rd pick for Jon Brockman
Brockman – traded to HOU w/ Leuer, Livingston and 1st Rd. draft pick (Jeremy Lamb) in pick swap-Dalembert deal
Luke Ridnour unsigned in free agency, July 2010, went to Minnesota T-Wolves
Kurt Thomasgone to Chicago Bulls in free agency July 2010
Jerry Stackhouse – signed 01/19/10 for rest of season, signed w/ Heat 10/23/10
Andrew Bogut – traded 2012 season to Golden State Warriors (w/ Stephen Jackson) for Ekpe Udoh, Monta Ellis, Kwame Brown
Kwame Brown – left unsigned free agency 2012
Monta Ellis signed with Dallas Mavs, free agency 2013
Ekpe Udoh – left unsigned free agency 2014
Carlos Delfino – suffered concussion vs. Miami Heat 3/26 2010, left in free agency Aug. 2012, signed with Houston
Michael Redd – injured, played very little for Skiles. If ever there was a trade to be made for Redd, Bucks owner Herb Kohl probably nixed it. Redd was an annual $16-$19 million salary cap liability for Bucks 2008-2011, but also a combination of Lloyd’s of London insurance payments to Bucks and player asset depreciation that could be written off as loss on the team’s books. Contract expired 2011.
Ersan Ilyasova – traded in June 2015 to Detroit Pistons for Shawne Williams and Caron Butler
Butler waived by Bucks a 2nd time, June 2015
Shawne Williams – waived June 2015
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Assets remaining from all transactions, Fear the Deer 2010 roster and draft picks 2008-2012
(Includes all assets resulting from moves of players from the 2010 team and draft picks 2008-12.) Looking back on this post a few months later, woah, some of these moves are so mind-boggling they had to actually happen to be believed, and there are no doubt some who still don’t believe they happened, sort of like seeing the Marvel Deadpool movie for the first time.
JASON KIDD, however partial – compensation 2nd Rd pick sent to Brooklyn, hiring of Kidd done by team owners without Hammond’s knowledge. This token connection to coach Kidd is all that’s left from the No. 8 2008 pick and the No. 10 2011 pick, plus Hakeem Warrick, Charlie Bell and Dan Gadzuric’s 2010 expiring contracts; and Andrew Bogut, who connects to this via Stephen Jackson who connects back to the deals involving 2008 and 2011 draft picks. Madness.
2012 #12 Pick – swapped w/ Houston for #14 – JOHN HENSON
KHRIS MIDDLETON – acquired in trade for Brandon Jennings*
TONY SNELL* (Snell is in Milwaukee due to trades believed to have been instigated by Kidd – beginning with the 3-team Brandon Knight-to-Phoenix trade in 2015; Michael Carter-Williams came to Bucks from Philly in that deal; MCW was traded to Chicago for Snell in 2016). Bucks signed Snell to a 4-year $44 million deal July 1, 2017.
SPENCER HAWES – player option 2017-18* Hawes opted IN, and Bucks waived him August 31, stretching his $6.021 million contract over three years, so they will take an ANNUAL $2.007 MIL SALARY CAP HIT through fy 2019-2020
JABARI PARKER’s KNEES (as a 2014 draft pick, Parker should not be included but perhaps his knees qualifty)
$1.866 MIL ANNUAL CAP HIT through 2022 owing to Larry Sanders buyout
MALCOM BROGDON – 2017 Rookie of the Year
A 2019 protected 2nd rd pick from Nuggets (Roy Hibbert trade) the Bucks will only see if the Nuggets have one of the five-best records in the NBA in 2019.
*Middleton, Snell and Hawes (and the 2019 pick from Nuggets) all connected to Brandon Jennings and Jennings trade thread that starts w/ Hammond’s trade w/ Detroit June 2013. 
Post updated 10/24/2017 by someone who obviously has wayyy too much time on his hands.
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Source-erole and other notes:
Image: “Convergence” by Jackson Pollock, 1952. Prints available at Art.com
Tracking down the final traces of those seemingly infinite 2nd Rd picks: https://www.prosportstransactions.com/basketball/DraftTrades/Future/Bucks.htm
  • Player and team transactions: http://basketball-reference.com
  • Devos family research: Rolling Stone article on worst sports owners, http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/lists/the-15-worst-owners-in-sports-20141125/the-devos-family-orlando-magic-20141124
  • Forbes Magazine, column on Devos social/political networks: https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauriebennett/2011/12/26/the-ultra-rich-ultra-conservative-devos-family/#300911c06479
  • NY Times, 02/07/14, “Betsy Devos confirmed as Education Secretary; Pence breaks tie”: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/07/us/politics/betsy-devos-education-secretary-confirmed.html
  • Orlando Sentinel, Toronto Star, AP story on Hennigan’s firing, ESPN news, a crazy, half-baked CBS Sports feature 12/14/15 on how Hammond and the Bucks were “responsible for basically building the Warriors” championship team. It’s partially true, as everyone knows because the Andrew Bogut trade was a direct infusion of Bucks top 5 Skiles defense to the Warriors. And the decision to trade Shaun Livingston and others to Houston stands alone as Hammond’s worst trade. Where the article gets fuzzy is the question of whether the Bucks were going to draft Klay Thompson with their No. 10 pick (which they traded in their eagerness to dump Corey Maggette). Having covered the 2011 draft here at BobBoozerjinx, I know the Bucks were excited about a guy named Thompson but his first name was Tristan, not Klay. They only swapped the No. 10 pick when they realized Tristan Thompson was going to go much higher than anyone but Cleveland expected. The killer about the 2011 draft, and I never grow tired of pointing this out, is that Kawhi Leonard and Kenneth Faried were both on the board when the Bucks made the trade, and while I didn’t write much about Faried, well, here’s the post.  “The best answer for the Bucks is hardworking Kawhi Leonard,” who “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.” As for Klay Thompson? Hammond didn’t want to take a shooting guard and wasn’t going to be forced into it by “Bucks needs” or any lottery politics — so he traded out of it and did what he likes to do: take the youngest forward in the draft. Klay Thompson was never the pick that got away — that was Leonard, and if you didn’t catch it before the draft, you knew it the instant that sinking feeling set in when the Spurs traded for him on draft day.
  • Adrian Wojnarowski’s twitter account Jan. 2013 (tweet on how Skiles “hates his team” https://twitter.com/WojVerticalNBA/status/288522111281135616
  • Toronto Star, “Raptors without GM Weltman”, 5/22/17:  https://www.thestar.com/sports/raptors/2017/05/22/raptors-without-gm-after-weltman-jumps-to-magic.html

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Election Day.

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.

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

Bucks coach Scott Skiles said after Friday’s blowout loss in Dallas that it was “impossible” to evaluate the 2012 Bucks.  They’ve been too hurt, too MIA and too jumbled in disarray in this rush-start, lock-out shortened season; it just can’t be done, not yet after 11 games, not in Skiles’ mind.

At The Bob Boozer Jinx, we’re undeterred by such obstacles, and have already noted that Skiles and Bucks GM John Hammond failed for the second year in a row to put a team on the court ready to start the season.   With that in mind as the Bucks get set to play the Philadelphia 76ers on Martin Luther King Day, here’s your 2012 Milwaukee Bucks evaluation, coach, in order of most playing time to least.

Brandon Jennings: He’s shooting better and has played smarter, attacking to the basket more than settling for that unreliable jumpshot of his, as the Bucks are playing at a faster pace than last season.  BJ3 is among the NBA leaders in minutes played per game, was at one point near the top in free throws per game (he needs to do more of this) and was shooting 44.3% going into Philly, 35.7% from Downtown.  Those are winning numbers for a point guard these days, especially one that keeps his turnover rate as low as Jennings does (10%).   Had a tough game in Philly and couldn’t give the Bucks an edge in the 3rd quarter when they needed it, but make no mistake — Brandon Jennings has improved.  Defense?  That’s improved, too, as BJ3 leads the Bucks in steals.  He wins the Bob Boozer Jinx “2012 Most Ready to Play” award.

Stephen Jackson:  He shoots, he scores.  He shoots, he misses.  A lot.  A 42% career shooter who can’t make a third of his threes is not a good shooter, but that doesn’t deter Captain Jack.  The intangibles?  Showed up out-of-shape and with a sore back but looks close to 100% now, and he seems to be the kind of nasty competitor the Bucks need some nights — and there will be those.  Unfortunately, he shoots so badly in some games — like today’s 3-for-12 against Philly — that the Bucks will often find themselves climbing out of a deficit as Jack rants.  The Bucks can’t win with Jennings and Jackson shooting a combined 6-for-23.  There will be those nights, and days, like these.

Carlos Delfino:  Here’s another guy who wasn’t ready to go, as he missed two games and was useless for three others due to a sprained shooting wrist.  Del is the Bucks best 3-baller (38%), and a capable defender who is again leading the Bucks in steals.  He’s solid all-around and would do well to take it to the hoop more often, and doesn’t help out on the glass as much as he could.  When he’s on, the Bucks can be dangerous.

Shaun Livingston:  One of the reasons the Bucks can look at their schedule, look at their record, and feel like they should be 7-and-5 instead of 4-and-8 even after reading the injury report.  Livingston has helped the Bucks build a few blowout leads, only to see them frittered away aided by offensive droughts, bad rebounding and Skiles’ flawed sense of matchups and rotations.  A player who does everything there is to do on the basketball court well — turnaround jumpers from the post! — and has fit in seamlessly on the Bucks jumbled roster.  He may have found his second NBA life in Milwaukee.

Ersan Ilyasova:  If you followed Ersan this summer with the Turkish national team and with Anadolu Efes in the Euroleague, you knew that Ersan had seemingly lost his jumpshot but wasn’t really bothering to look for it, content to play D, rebound and mix it up inside.  He’s very much a player in transition from “Dirk-lite” scorer to cage-rattling NBA power forward.  Does it look good in the box score or other metrics?   Hell no, with the exception of the rebound column.  Currently making Thaddeus Young‘s MLK day miserable in Philly, and is on the court with Bogut, Delfino, Jennings and Jackson – the Bucks strongest defensive unit today.  That unit “got up on ’em and got  physical,” said Bucks assistant Jim Boylan, noting that this was when the game changed.  They pulled a 13-point deficit down to six in the 2nd quarter.  Bucks trailed by four at the half.

Important note:  Skiles has managed to evaluate Ilyasova, deciding he’s an “off the bench forward” on “a really good, deep club,” and that this seems to be his NBA future.  Ersan would beg to differ, and this will very likely be his last season playing for the Bucks (not a really good, deep club) and certainly his last playing for Skiles.

Jon Leuer:  Ilyasova’s heir apparent and fan fave, currently starting at power forward.  Unlike Ilyasova, Leuer actively looks to shoot, and has been the Bucks most efficient scorer this season.  The downside is that the Bucks defense and rebounding takes a hit when Leuer is on the court, evidenced by the first 4 minutes of the 2nd half in Philly, as the Bucks struggled to keep the Sixers off the glass.  Enter Ilyasova at the 7:50 mark, as Skiles continues to play power forward roulette.  The interior defense and rebounding picks up in the 3rd, but little else.  The Bucks tried to pull back into the game in the 4th without Leuer or Ilyasova.

Andrew Bogut:  Not ready to play this season, missing four of the Bucks first eight games due to a “personal matter” back home in Australia.  Staying on the court is AB’s main problem.  Lesser problems:  As more and more centers step out to the three-point line, pulling Bogut 20 feet or more from the hoop, Bogut will need to learn to adjust — and it is frustrating to watch Spencer Hawes draining threes.  Bogut himself is stepping out a bit this season, encouraged to do so for the first time in his career, and he’s been able to knock down four or five set-jumpers.  Bogut’s game remains close to the basket, of course, where he’s one of the best defenders in the NBA.   He played strong against Hawes, racking up 20 points, 11 boards, four assists and three blocked shots to keep the Bucks within striking distance in the 4th quarter.  His best game of the season, a hopeful sign for Bucks fans everywhere.  Has Godot arrived?

Drew Gooden:  Bogut can’t play 40 minutes a game, certainly, and probably won’t play enough this season to qualify for the NBA leader boards, which makes the 30-year-old Gooden, the Big Zero, a primary NBA backup center for the first time in his NBA career.  Check that – this project was attempted and abandoned in San Antonio and Dallas.  It will have to work in Milwaukee, or Drew becomes a $6 million-a-year big man with no job.  Poor guy.  May end up spending most of his time playing high stakes poker with GM John Hammond.

Larry Sanders:  Drafted in the first round 2011, by 2012 he’s riding the bench behind Gooden, Leuer and Ilyasova – even Jon Brockman at times.   A fantastic shot-blocker and defender in development, now a utility, garbage-time, odd man out.  If Alton Lister was Nellie’s “Big Project,” Sanders is Skiles’ “Really Big Project” — one that the Bucks organization may not ever get around to.

Beno Udrih:  Luke Ridnour is back and he’s taller and left-handed, shoots about the same, too, though not as experienced or sneaky on defense. “Allergic to defense,”  the Kings bloggers said about Udrih when he was traded to the Bucks.  This is true.  Udrih plays about the worst perimeter defense I’ve seen since Michael Redd and Mo Williams.  But he came to Milwaukee ready to play, and, were it not for getting creamed in a collision with Andre Miller in Denver and missing six games, the Bucks might have a road win or two.  A 5-and-7 record would look pretty good right now compared to 4-and-8.  (Udrih returned in Philly and played as the Bucks faded in the 4th.)

Mike Dunleavy, Jr.:  Coming into this season, Dunleavy had missed 110 games from 2009-11, or nearly half of those three seasons.  Now he’s missed eight more with a groin injury.  Yet another guy who wasn’t ready to play this season.  An injury-prone free agent acquisition by GM Hammond.

Tobias Harris:  Strong, good hands, gets to the rim and has good scoring ability around the basket, just as advertized when the Bucks drafted him.  The Bucks rookie had made the most of his 90 minutes to date, and scored 12 against Philly in 21 minutes.  The Bucks don’t have a small forward backup with Dunleavy and Luc Mbah a Moute out with injuries.  The way this season has gone so far, the Bucks may consider taking a development year for Leuer, Harris and Sanders.  Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Jon Brockman:  The Brockness Monster is still that, and he’s a punishing rebounder.  Problem is he can’t guard anybody and has no offensive game to speak of.  GM Hammond knew this when he signed him in summer of 2010.  It’s still not clear why he did it.

Darington Hobson:   Good floor skills and likes to drive.  6’7″ but plays like he’s 6’5″.  Belongs in the D-League with the Mad Ants of Fort Wayne, Indy.

Luc Mbah a Moute:  Expect some player movement when Mbah a Moute returns to 100%.  He’s signed and committed for four years ($19 million), and Luc will be here as long as Skiles is here.  He was sorely missed against Philly.  There are few things in the NBA better than watching Luc lock down on the likes of Andre Iguodala.

Trends from the armchair:  The strongest defensive unit — Jennings, Jackson, Delfino, Ilyasova and Bogut — was used only a quarter of the game in Philly — not enough.  Skiles abandoned it late in the 3rd quarter in a hale of Jackson and Jennings missed shots.  Livingston might’ve looked good with this group in place of Jennings.   Note that Leuer, Ilyasova, Gooden and Sanders did not play a single minute in the 4th as the Bucks dropped out of the game.  That was curious, though it may have been a function of Skiles wanting to look at Harris with the game (sorta) on the line.  It never felt like the Bucks were ever in it, not with the perimeter defense playing so poorly. …

…. And Skiles said this couldn’t be done.

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.

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.

Dooling traded to Boston

The Celtics have taken point guard Keyon Dooling off the Bucks hands (yeah, calling Dooling a point guard is kind of a stretch at this point) clearing a roster spot for rookies Jon Leuer and Darington Hobson, who’s back in the Bucks camp after double hip surgery last season.

How’d the Celtics, who are well over the salary cap and in luxury tax land, pick up Dooling without having to give up a $2 million player?  They used a trade exception.

In addition to Dooling, the C’s will receive a protected second round pick from the Bucks — which amounts to the Bucks having to ask Celtics GM Danny Ainge, “what do we have to give you take him off our hands?”

Dooling was the Bucks biannual exception player, signed last year in GM John Hammond’s summer of disasters and will be paid $2.25 million this season.  The Bucks this summer acquired point guards Beno Udrih and Shaun Livingston, making Dooling expendable.

EDIT: “making Dooling VERY expendable.”

None of the Above: The ultimate Milwaukee Bucks draft blog

Like many NBA bloggers, I’ve been scouring the interweb-o-sphere for any and all minutia relating to this 2011 draft class that, while it began heralded as the most underwhelming draft in years, seems to have a better grip on the attention spans of the NBA obsessed than many recent drafts.

The lack of the super-duper-talented has something to do with that; nothing is true, everything is permitted and no one is wrong.  The influx of top notch talent from outside the United States knocks a lot of mock drafts reeling (except for the mighty international site Draft Express)

In this draft, the big men from Europe are better than the guy from Morehead State who ruined your NCAA bracket and the guy from Oakland who gave your small college sneaker picks credibility on your favorite tournament blog.

In this draft, the guy who ran the table at the NCAA’s earned more suspicion than upside.

In this draft, a No. 10 pick is just as good as a No. 15, and the player who drops to No. 10 just may be the last player a team would want to draft.

In this draft, trust no GM.

That’s why today, upon a visit to the Bucks official site, I wasn’t surprised in the least bit to see three players prominently featured as possible Bucks draft picks:  Shooting guard Alec Burks, U. of Texas forward Tristan Thompson and Kansas forward Marcus Morris.

The usual suspects.  All three vaguely fit Bucks GM John Hammond‘s “best player available” rhetoric.  They’re all from the competitive Big 12, all from big, recognizable state schools, all safe, sound reasonable possibilities familiar to NCAA hoops fans.  And they all shot poorly enough in college to have “upside” as basketball players.

The chances are that the Bucks, although they interviewed all three players at last week’s draft combine, don’t want any of the above.

Because in this draft, it’s better to be sneaky than bold … or good.  Bucks GM John Hammond cannot be described to be “in bold mode” after mucking up last summer with the signings of Drew Gooden and Keyon Dooling, and trading for Corey Maggette.  This was after a season in which he drafted Brandon Jennings and made a deadline trade for John Salmons, moves that solidified the Bucks starting backcourt and earned him NBA “Executive of the Year.”

That was Hammond the good.  Sneaky?  Hammond’s pretty good at sneaky in the draft.  Last season the players the Bucks had worked out were gone by the team’s No. 37 pick in the 2nd round, so Hammond took Kentucky shooting guard Jodie Meeks, a player he knew the Philadelphia 76ers were interested in.  Mid-season, he traded Meeks to Philly for … well, for nothing basically, but that’s another blog and it’s important to remember that being sneaky is all about being sneaky, not necessarily about being effective.

So what’s to gain for the Bucks in advertising interest in three players they may not necessarily want?   To trade them or the pick, of course, which is precisely what  Hammond should do.  It’s in the Bucks best interest to swap one or both of their picks (Nos. 10 and 40), plus a roster mistake (Dooling, Gooden) for the rights to draft a bit lower in the 1st round.

Because in the 2011 NBA draft, there’s no such thing as good or bad.  And sneaky, this time, is more akin to shrewd.

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Despite a lot of negative feelings about the “no competitive matchups” format of the combine, there’s plenty of fodder flying around.

***Turkish 7-footer Enes Kanter, the projected top eight pick who hasn’t played in a year (NCAA ban prevented him from playing at Kentucky) wasn’t as impressive to some as Russian-by-way-of-USC center Nikola Vucevic, the biggest player at the combine (7-0, 260, with a 7-5 wingspan.  Kanter skipped out on scheduled interviews with the Bucks (wonder what Ilyasova might’ve told him?), Jazz and Raptors, apparently part of an effort to ensure that the Wizards draft him.  Does up-and-coming center Javale McGee, who made more defensive plays per game last season than anybody not named Dwight Howard or Andrew Bogut, know about Kanter’s plans?

***Jonas Valanciunas is still considered the best big man on the board, according to Euro-scouts.  The 6-11 Lithuanian has a 7-6 wing span and led Euroleague play in rebounds per minute.  Valanciunas ain’t cheap, though.  The team that drafts him will have to immediately buy him out of his contract with Belarus Rivas.

*** Remember Providence’s Marshon Brooks dropping 52 on Notre Dame this season and 43 on Georgetown?  He’s 6-4.5 with a 7-1 wingspan, and, unlike Alec Burks, doesn’t seem to have problems sticking a long range jumper …

Trading down and selecting Brooks or Klay Thompson or centers Vucevic or Keith Benson (Oakland) might be the Bucks best bet to improve, if they can move a Gooden and/or Dooling in the process.

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.

Bucks forwards: The strange case of coach Scott Skiles and the jumpshot of Ersan Ilyasova

Chances are that not too many Wisconsin sports fans were watching the FIBA World Basketball championships the weekend of Sept. 12, when the Badgers hosted San Jose State and the Packers opening their regular season in Philly.

If they had, more of the state’s sports nuts might be questioning Bucks GM John Hammond’s sanity.

After leading his Turkish National team in scoring (14 pts./game) and rebounding (7.5  rpg) during Turkey’s run to a silver medal, Ersan Ilyasova was in summer 2010 a star rising faster than any other international player.

Yet before the FIBA tournament even began, Ilyasova’s GM in Milwaukee had given away a big chunk of the 23-year-old forward’s job and playing time.

Ilyasova returned to the Bucks to find himself all but benched by coach Scott Skiles, watching $32 million free agent acquisition Drew Gooden play the bulk of the Bucks’ power forward minutes.  He was also watching Gooden flounder and the Bucks lose twice as much as they won to start the season.

Much has been made of the 270-plus games that injured Bucks missed, but the truth was that there was never playing time for the five Bucks forwards — Ilyasova, Gooden, Luc Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino and Corey Maggette — seven if you include Chris Douglas-Roberts and rookie Larry Sanders.

When the injuries to Douglas-Roberts, Delfino and Gooden occurred, the healthy players had some idea what their roles and playing time was going to be.  No injuries = limited PT and a management problem for Skiles.

Early on, the best solution Skiles could come up with was to bench Ilyasova, justifying it with talk about the minutia of Ilyasova’s textbook shooting form.  Ilyasova acknowledged that he was fatigued after a long summer with his Turkish team.

But there was always a “what came first?” question about Ersan’s poor shooting and lack of playing time.   Was he struggling with shooting rhythm because of a lack of PT, or was he really, as Skiles suggested, too off his game to deserve the PT?   Whatever the case, there’s no question that Skiles was yanking Ilyasova if he missed his first few shots and that, as a result, Ersan was pressing.  That high-arcing jumper wasn’t falling.  And the Bucks were losing.

Ilyasova started the season 1-for-5 against New Orleans and 0-for-4 in an 8-minute stint in Minnesota.  In game three, the Bucks home opener, Ilyasova played all of 58 seconds and didn’t shoot.

What was wrong with Ilyasova? Absolutely nothing, those who watched the World Championships could attest.  Excuses aside, Skiles was simply opting to play Gooden, the GM’s free agent investment.  The Bucks, also working newcomers Corey Maggette and Keyon Dooling into the rotation, looked lost on defense, confused on offense and worse — they looked like a bad team with a bad coach.

The fifth game of the season, in Boston, still stands emblematic of the Bucks frustrating season.  Against a respected opponent, the 2010 Bucks showed up and outplayed the Celtics until the game’s final minutes when the C’s were able to force overtime.  Gooden was benched after two quick fouls in the first quarter, Andrew Bogut got 20 looks and 21 points, and Ilyasova played 35 minutes, scoring 15 points, grabbing seven rebounds and battling Kevin Garnett to a sub-KG game.  But in what would become an all-too-familiar story, the Bucks couldn’t close the game and lost in a parade of Paul Pierce free throws in overtime.

The following game in Indiana — with Bogut out — Ilyasova played 27 minutes, including some at center guading Roy Hibbert, and was a defensive wrecking crew (2 steals, 2 charges taken) while scoring an efficient nine points on eight looks, hitting two threes.  The Bucks won, offering every indication that nothing short of disaster could land the Bucks behind the Pacers in the standings.

Problem solved, right?  Nope.  Skiles went right back to limiting Ilyasova’s minutes against David West and the Hornets, another loss,and the Bucks were 2-and-5.  Skiles had yanked Ilyasova in five games, four of them Bucks losses.  This would continue through game 14, a loss to the lowly Cavs in Cleveland.  In Philadelphia, Ilyasova snared six rebounds in eight minutes yet found himself benched and watching the Bucks lose by 11.

After 14 games the Bucks record was a pitiful 5-9, despite leading the league in defense.  Ilyasova wasn’t the only Buck struggling to put the ball in the basket, yet he was apparently the only Buck who had lost the trust of his coach over it.

In ten of the Bucks first 14 games (seven losses), Ilyasova played 21 minutes or fewer and shot a feeble 25.5 percent (13-51) from the field, just 3-for-18 (16.7 percent) from behind the arc.

Clearly, Skiles’ handling of the situation wasn’t helping the shooter.  Something had to give.  In the end, it was Gooden’s left foot and plantar fasciitis condition that would force him to miss 47 games.

But the ten “Ersan-i-yank” games had done their damage.  The Bucks and Ilyasova’s seasons, obviously, would have looked quite a bit different without them.

Ilyasova 2011(60 games) — fgs: 221 for 507 (43.6%)   3-pts: 36 for 121 (29.8%)   rpg: 6.1   ppg: 9.5

Minus the bad start (50 games) — fgs: 208 for 456 (45.6%)   3-pts: 33 for 103 (32.0%)   rpg: 6.5   ppg: 10.5

That’s better overall shooting in those 50 games — all but four from Nov. 26 on — than he shot last season, though with a slightly lower 3-point shooting mark.

2010 season (81 games):  fgs: 44.3%   3-pts: 33.6%   rpg: 6.4   ppg: 10.4

Remove the 32 percent 3-point shooting from those 50 games, and a 49.6 inside-the-arc shooting percentage is revealed — remarkable for a player who shoots most comfortably 17-21 feet from the basket and has a limited post-up game.  To compare, Bogut in a good year makes just one shot more per 30 shooting almost entirely within ten feet of the rim.

Crunching the shooting stats at 82games.com, Ilyasova on the season made 50.2 percent (125 of 249) of his jump shots inside the 3-point line, a Dirk Nowitzki-like percentage.  In close and into the defense was an adventure (just 43.8 percent) where Ersan’s “finishing” and shot selection could stand to improve.  But the midrange Ilyasova jumper was arguably the most reliable routine offense the 2011 Bucks had.

Taking into account Ersan’s 89.4 percent free throw shooting, the best marksmanship of any NBA forward (0.2 percent better in 2011 than Nowitzki), he emerges as the Bucks best “pure” shooter.  “One of the best in the world for a four,” says Andrew Bogut.  And arguably the best shooter on a 43 percent shooting team.

This was evident in late January when Ilyasova went on a tear to help lift the Bucks to wins against Toronto and New Jersey.  It carried over to a three-game road trip west which fell apart when Bogut was injured against the L.A. Clippers.  Such were the frustrations of the Bucks season.

“There’s no question Ersan has to be more consistent with his shot,” said Skiles at the end of the season.

Coach, you didn’t notice — he already has (no further micro-management required).

Ilyasova’s still only 23 years old (he turns 24 next month) and has potential to become one of the best long range shooters in the NBA.  For now, he’s the best jump-shooter from 22-feet-in that the poor-shooting Bucks have on their roster.

Pure shooter, solid, scrappy, disruptive position defender with a top 20 NBA defensive rating … That’s the kind of player who wins games if he’s on the court.

Ilyasova will be as bright a star as the Milwaukee Bucks want him to be. If they clear the path of capable, but limited guys like Luc Richard Mbah-Moute, Carlos Delfino and Corey Maggette – and empower Ilyasova to look for his shot on the same level as Michael Redd, John Salmons and Andrew Bogut – the Bucks have a budding superstar on their hands.  — Denver Post writer Chris Dempsey, naming Ilyasova “the most fascinating player of the 2010 FIBA World Championships.”

Add Gooden to Dempsey’s list and note that, after another season in Milwaukee, Skiles and GM Hammond seem no closer to clearing a path for Ilyasova than they did last summer when they signed Gooden.  In all likelihood, this path now leads out of Milwaukee.

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Three-point shooting at home: Just because the NBA painted a 3-point line on the court, does not mean that an outside shooter has to set up behind it.  For Ilyasova, the particular line to ignore is the one painted on the hardwood at the Bradley Center.

At home, Ilyasova shot a woeful (shield your eyes, it’s ugly) 19 percent from downtown (11-58).

On the road he shot 39.8 percent, good enough to lead the Bucks.

One can’t necessarily blame ticket-buying Bucks fans if they fail to appreciate Ilyasova the shooter, no matter how well he shot everywhere else.  The shots fell more often on the road last season than at home, too, though the difference was not as pronounced.  If it’s a Bradley Center trend, it dug in this season and grew worse.

Indeed, a change of venue may be what’s best for Ilyasova.  Unfortunately, it’s probably not the best thing for the Bucks.

**** Next up: I’ll continue to look at the Bucks power forwards, focusing on defense (Mbah a Moute’s forte) and rebounding (Gooden’s forte) … and Ilyasova, who played the most PF for the Bucks in 2011 and was the power forward on four of the Bucks five most successful rotations.