Tag Archives: Luke Ridnour

First Glimpse: Bucks-Timberwolves pre-season live blog, game 1

Tip off is in about ten minutes, and still haven’t seen Stephen Jackson in uniform.  Andrew Bogut just got in the FoxNorth camera background and swished a warm-up free throw — right handed — and he’s not wearing a sleeve or a brace on the bad arm.

The pregame hype revolves around Ricky Rubio‘s debut against Brandon Jennings, and Bogut’s health. Rubio isn’t starting – Luke Ridnour does.

Interested to see who takes the Bucks first shot tonight.  If this is anything like last year, it will be Drew Gooden, starting again at power forward, shooting at will.

Not this year.  Mike Dunleavy drains the Bucks first shot, a three-pointer off a feed from Bogut in the post.  Dunleavy’s starting for Jackson.

The starting lineup:  Bogut, Gooden, Dunleavy, Delfino and Jennings.

Gooden takes an off-balance post-up fallaway, misses.  Bogut still hasn’t shot.  8-4 Bucks.  The T-Wolves aren’t getting anything in the paint.

4 minutes in:  Kevin Love beats Gooden on a drive and draws a foul.  Skiles yanks Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova makes his entrance.  13-7 Bucks.

Tobias Harris in for Delfino at the 6:30 mark.  The rookie can get to the rim.  First a layup on the break, then a foul drawn on a drive into the lane.  Two free throws.  17-10 Bucks.

Bucks need a good look and are trying to get it to Bogut in the post, can’t. 3 second call on Bogues on an Ilyasova drive.  17-15 Bucks.

Rubio and J.J. Barea into the game.  Barea somehow grabs an offensive board and Michael Beasley draws a foul on Tobias Harris.  17-16.

Bucks don’t look settled at all on offense.  Jennings, Beno Udrih, Harris, Ilyasova and now Brockman in for Bogut.  We know the Brockman-as-backup-center didn’t work last year.  Yet here we go again.

Larry Sanders anyone?

18-20 T-Wolves.  Leuer into the game for Ilyasova, who has two fouls.

Brockman-Leuer-Harris-Udrih-Shaun Livingston.  This is a D-League lineup to close the first quarter with BJ Livingston and Beno.  Udrih looks shorter in a Bucks uniform for some odd reason.  24-26 T-Wolves, end of quarter.

What have we learned so far?   Mike Dunleavy can shoot, and Delfino looks ready to have his best season as a pro.  Bogut looks comfortable and healthy but didn’t get touches.   The Gooden-Ilyasova playing time problem is still there, same as it was last season.  The bench rotations aren’t set, and one wouldn’t expect them to be at this point.

Livingston looks like Jennings’ taller, older brother.

2nd Quarter:  Luc Mbah a Moute starts the quarter, immediately grabs an offensive board and lays it in, starting the Bucks on a 12-2 run.  Leuer is scoring at will against Anthony Randolph.  Moute is all over the court, making plays.  The guy hasn’t practiced a day due to visa problems with Cameroon that finally cleared on yesterday.

Bogut’s back in at about 9:00 left.   He finally gets his first bucket after grabbing a Moute airball at the rim.

Bogut at the line, 6:28 mark.  He’s one for two, a lot of rim.

Skiles calls timeout after the T-wolves bomb away from three to close the gap, then Gooden eats the ball in the post and takes another bad fallaway.  45-40 Bucks.

Kevin Love just drained a three with Bogut in his face.  Then another one.  Skiles has realized he can’t put Gooden on him, so k-Love is Bogut’s charge.  This is clearly a job for Ilyasova or Moute.   46-50 T-Wolves.

Love hits another one from Downtown, where Bogut can’t get to him.  Bogut looks annoyed, and answers with a driving lefty hook.  Bucks go into timeout after a foul with Skiles looking confused.  48-55 T-wolves.

52-62 at half. Eight threes in the quarter by the T-Wolves.  Ilyasova looks glum, but gives Gooden a hand slap on the way to the locker room.  Bucks assistant Sidney Moncrief is clearly not happy.

This looks far too much like the beginning of last season for comfort.

Did the Bucks really just give up 62 to the T-Wolves in the half?   T-Wolves are 8-11 from 3-point-land.

SECOND HALF: Skiles starts Ilyasova on Love in the second half but Love picks up right where he left off and drains a mid-range jumper.  He’s on fire.

Now the refs are getting into it.  Ticky-tacky fouls and the T-Wolves are living at the line.

Great basketball play by Ilyasova – to Dunleavy – to Bogut for a dunk.  Best passing of the night.  61-68 T-Wolves.

Jennings hits a three from the corner.  But the Bucks are having trouble with Mike Beasley.  And Love again.  67-77.  But Dunleavy’s keeping them close. Another three. 16 for Dunleavy.

Love finally misses.  A jumper by BJ, and the Bucks are in a groove with this unit:  BJ, Delfino, Dunleavy, Ilyasova and Bogut.  It’ll be interesting to see where Skiles goes from here.   79-72 with Bogut at the line.  One of two – 79-73 and the Wolves turn it over.

Skiles has stuck with the group for most of the quarter, then subbed Livingston for Delfino, which may signal a Skiles preference in terms of who’s on his bench.  He’d normally go to Moute but Ersan has slowed down K-Love and Dunleavy’s filling it up.  Bucks had a good rhythm going until a couple of fluke bounces led to second chance hoops for the T-Wolves.

Bogut out after a ticky-tack call guarding Darko.  These refs won’t let Bogut d-up on Darko?  Really?  87-76 and it’s slipping back to the T-wolves.

92-78 at the end of 3 quarters.  The T-Wolves cooled off a bit from Downtown (2-7) but got enough garbage going to hold the Bucks off.  There’s not much to what the T-Wolves do but shoot threes and move off of point guard penetration.

Which is to say that BJ and Dunleavy haven’t been good on the perimeter D. This is where the Bucks need Moute and Livingston to help tighten it up.  (It’s not happening tonight).

4th Quarter:  The D-League unit of Udrih-Livingston-Hobson-Leuer-Brockman is getting smoked.  84-100 T-Wolves but Leuer has 14 against Derrick Williams this time in the matchup of rookies.

Hobson has some nifty moves on the perimeter, dropped a nice pass to Livingston for a dunk.  But how different from Chris Douglas-Roberts will he be?   He’s bigger but CD-R was pretty smooth on the offensive end.  I wonder how these things play out in GM John Hammond’s mind.

Bucks are shanking shots, still with the D-League group. Ooof!  Rubio to Derrick Williams for a lob dunk.  Williams beat Leuer badly on a back-cut.  86-105.

86-107.  Another dunk for Leuer.  The rookies Rubio, Williams, Leuer and Hobson are putting on a show.  Skiles isn’t entertained but, why not?  This one’s over and it’s fun watching Leuer light it up in Bucks green.

117-96 final, a poor night on the defensive perimeter, a second quarter of bad matchups that Skiles would like to have back.

LINK. Just to show that I didn’t make all this up.

Scott Skiles apologizes for 35-win season … GM Hammond plays injury card

Asked by Bucks beat writers what his message to fans was with the Bucks disappointing season coming to a close, coach Scott Skiles made an apology:

“I would apologize. Look, I’m responsible for this. I understand that. I would never run from that. It’s my responsibility to get the team to play at the highest level they can play at, and obviously I failed at that. This has been a very difficult season and it’s going to stay with me for a long time. We’re going to try and get better. Do our best to get better. For all of us, that’s not a good feeling.” — Scott Skiles’ season post-script.

Given that the Bucks by the end were just an April Fool’s Day buzzer-beater in Indiana away from the 8th playoff spot in the East, one can say that the coach’s sometimes baffling player personnel decisions are partly responsible for his team not making the playoffs.  The Bucks should be preparing for a Round 1 series with the Bulls, and, as I wrote earlier this week, it was a blown, easy opportunity to fuel the rivalry with Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah and Chicago.


Quote to note, GM John Hammond: “We’re just not playing pro basketball at the moment. We have injuries. Big deal. Every team has injuries. It’s getting to the point where there’s no excuse for the way we played tonight. No excuse whatsoever.” — Andrew Bogut, the Bucks 2011 nominee for Defensive Player of the Year, after one of the Bucks worst performances of the year, an 11-point Saturday night home loss Feb. 5 to coach John Kuester’s mutinous Detroit Pistons.


Bucks GM John Hammond, in a lengthy interview aired during the final Bucks broadcast, was not in the apologetic mood that the press found Scott Skiles in at seasons end.  Hammond was anything but, in fact, as he was feisty in defending his history of winning — “I’ve always won.”  And, as expected, Hammond played the injury card.

Bucks players missed 277 total games last season, and, that of course, explains their poor record.  But not everything.

The injuries do not explain the Bucks’ Jekyll and Hyde management of them, which varied from pushing players back too soon early on to the opposite approach in the 2nd half.   The Bucks didn’t realize Brandon Jennings had a fractured foot until he had played five quarters on it, for example.  They then monitored his minutes a bit too much for his (or anybody else’s) liking when he returned.

The injuries do not explain the chemistry lost from last season due to Hammond’s offseason moves.

In particular and most importantly, the injuries do not fully explain the Bucks’ abysmal backcourt play.  Nor do the injuries change the fact that Hammond in the offseason cleared from the Bucks 2010 bench every last guard who played behind Jennings or John Salmons.

Salmons and Jennings were healthy at the same time for less than half of the season, and as a result both players struggled mightily to find an offensive groove.   Behind them, it took about half a season for the Bucks to realize that Keyon Dooling wasn’t competent to run the point.  Beyond Dooling there was the ever-entertaining, yet often-aggravating adventure that is pint-sized veteran Earl Boykins.  Other than Earl, the Bucks were forced to sign Garrett Temple to two short term contracts.  Shooting guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, acquired from New Jersey in the offseason, had some moments but rode the bench.  CD-R doesn’t think he’ll be back next year, no hard feelings.

Gone were Luke Ridnour, Royal Ivey and Jerry Stackhouse in free agency.  Gone was Charlie Bell to Golden State in the Corey Maggette deal.  Gone was Jodie Meeks to the 76ers last February in a trade for Ivey, center Primoz Brezec and a draft pick (injured Darington Hobson) who the Bucks cut in December.

Gone was any sense of backcourt continuity or bench experience with Skiles’ offensive and defensive demands.  This was painfully obvious in December and January while Jennings was sidelined with the foot fracture.

Gone was a spot in the playoffs.

The honest approach for the 2010 NBA Executive of the Year would be to own up — like Skiles did — to his share of the responsibility, but that would run against the grain of Hammond’s past practice with the press (and, by extension, the fan base); and he apparently doesn’t believe it’s in his best interest.

(It seems that I forgot all about Michael Redd, who tried unsuccessfully to mesh with Jennings/Ridnour/Bell last season. The Bucks were 12-18 in the games that Redd played.  Redd missed the first 72 games this season, but, sorry about the omission.  It does occur to me that Jennings probably thinks his GM is nuts, or, in the very least that he doesn’t care much for cohesion.)

Notes: Sixers shooting guard Meeks will be the lone member of the 2010 Bucks starting for a 2011 playoff team. … Kurt Thomas remains on the Chicago bench but seems to have lost his backup center minutes to (too lazy to look up his first name) Asik. …  Guard Ivey is the 10th man on the Thunder bench.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Salmons, Delfino on fire against the Nets

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

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

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

The Bucks stay home to play the Knicks Sunday afternoon.

Chemistry problem: 2010 Bucks and 2001 Clippers are a strange mix

What did Corey Maggette, Keyon Dooling, Earl Boykins and Brian Skinner have in common entering the NBA’s 2010 offseason?

They were all teammates on the 2000-01 Los Angeles Clippers, the last team that Bucks GM John Hammond coached in the NBA before taking a front office job in Detroit as Joe Dumars’ basketball operations VP.

Other than that, not much except a lot minutes on losing teams until, one-by-one last summer, Hammond brought them to Milwaukee to play for the Bucks.

Coincidence?  It doesn’t seem possible.  Maggette in 2010 was a player the Golden State Warriors couldn’t use and a 3-year, $31 million salary cap burden they didn’t want to bear through June 2013.  The Bucks proposed trade of Dan Gadzuric’s 2011 expiring contract and Charlie Bell’s $4 million per year salary was well received in Oakland, to say the least.  Done deal, thank you very much Mr. Hammond.

Dooling was a free agent whom the Bucks targeted to back up Brandon Jennings after Hammond decided his available sub-luxury tax room was better spent on Drew Gooden than on Luke Ridnour, who signed a four year, $16 million deal with the Timberwolves.

Boykins was also a free agent pickup, fan friendly bench filler behind Jennings and Dooling.

Skinner was the last 2001 Clipper added, prior to training camp.  He didn’t make the Bucks roster but early season injuries made Skinner the obvious big man roster-filler-who-had-been-in-training-camp.

The Maggette trade opened a lot of questions.  “The Machette” isn’t a player who comes to mind when one is looking to improve an NBA “good chemistry” team with the in-your-face defensive mentality of the Bucks.  He doesn’t exude “Scott Skiles player” at all — quite the opposite.  Offensively, Maggette has a well-earned reputation for getting his 20 points, damn the outcome of the game or his wide open teammates.  One of his nicknames is “Bad Porn.” Defensively, well, nobody’s ever accused Corey Maggette of being all that interested in defense.

Perhaps Hammond held a different view, having coached Maggette in Maggette’s second NBA season.  He also cleared $1.7 million in payroll making the deal with the Warriors (which he quickly spent).

Hammond and Maggette both arrived in L.A. in the 2000 offeseason.  Maggette was acquired — along with rookie Dooling — in a trade with Orlando for draft picks.  Hammond arrived a couple of months later with new Clipper head coach Alvin Gentry, who the Pistons had fired during the 2000 season.  Hammond and Gentry are part of a Larry Brown coaching tree that began in the late 1980s and early 1990’s in San Antonio and L.A., and extended to the Pistons during the Grant Hill era.

There they were, ten years ago, assembled in Los Angeles.  Maggette and Dooling, Skinner and Boykins, part of the Clippers kiddie corps; Hammond part of the coaching staff from Detroit assigned to develop the kiddie corps into an NBA team. The Clippers won 16 more games that year than they did the previous year.  Of course, the Clippers won only 15 games in 1999-2000 but improvement is improvement.  Hammond would stay only for the first year before returning to Detroit in 2001 to work for Dumars.

The Maggette trade, in and of itself, might have stood on its own despite the questionable judgement of integrating Maggette with a Skiles team.  But when Ridnour agreed to a 4-year, $16 million contract with the T-Wolves and the Bucks responded by offering their Bi-Annual Exception to Dooling only days later, the 2001 Clipper connection came into view.

July 13 – 21 was a strange week.  Ridnour, a Skiles favorite whose scoring off the bench had been key for the Bucks in 2010, had figured in the Bucks 2011 plans until Hammond made others.  Ridnour had solicited the offer from the T-Wolves and agreed to it July 13, but didn’t sign it right away.  The Bucks actually signed Dooling (and made a trade with Sacramento for forward Jon Brockman) before Ridnour finalized his T-Wolves contract.

This brought Maggette and Dooling — part of a Magic-to-the-Clippers trade ten years earlier, Clippers teammates from 2000-04 — together again in Milwaukee.  In the very least, their old assistant coach had to find it amusing.

Combine this with the availability of free agents Boykins and Skinner and it was likely too much to resist — a sign from the Clipper gods!   The chances that mere coincidence brought four 2001 Clippers to the 2010 Bucks all in one summer seems remote. Very remote.

It wouldn’t matter — and could have been fodder for a feel good 2001 Clippers reunion story — if things were panning out for the Bucks.  But the Bucks are a disappointing 12 wins, 18 losses, and, due to injuries, have had to rely on Hammond’s new acquisitions far more than planned.  Chemistry questions have arisen, with Maggette the focus after grading his Milwaukee experience an “F,” following a tough loss to the Bulls on Tuesday.

“Fear the Deer?” NBA.com writer Steve Aschburner asked last week after the Bucks lost to the Bulls in Chicago.  “Right now, Bucks the ones ducking for cover.”

Over the Christmas break, Bucks center Andrew Bogut described the current situation, or the mental saga that is  learning to play for Skiles:

“No disrespect to guys from other teams but when guys first come here and think, ‘Oh this is a tough system. Am I going to buy into it fully?’  And then they realize that our coaches keep it professional, and they make you keep the (same) system every day. Once you realize they’re not changing the system for anybody, guys start to buy in because you have no choice. … So it usually comes to that at this time of the season. Guys kind of realize that nothing is changing.  This is what wins us games. It’s a proven winner, so if we keep doing it, we’ll win games.”

The problem is that too many of the players who know the Skiles system is “a proven winner” just don’t seem to be around this season.  In addition to losing Ridnour, the Bucks saw veteran center Kurt Thomas escape to the Bulls in free agency.  The Bucks have missed them both this season.  Badly.

Starting small forward Carlos Delfino‘s  been out since early November with concussive symptoms and may not return this season.  Jennings will be out at least three more weeks with a broken hand.  Right now there are just as many 2001 L.A. Clippers on the Bucks bench as there are 2010 Bucks.

Sentimentality is sometimes nice in professional sports, a relief from the “it’s a business” aspects of it all.  But considering the good chemistry the 2010 Bucks finally found on their 30-13 finish and 7-game playoff battle with Atlanta, the sentimentality of a 2001 Clippers assistant named John Hammond — or the whims of the Clippers gods — may have gotten the better of Hammond’s current team.

Note: There is no evidence yet that forward Drew Gooden — also signed as a free agent last summer — had any previous connection to the 2001 Clippers, other than finishing the 2010 season as a Clipper.  Gooden in 2001 was a 19-year-old sophomore at U. of Kansas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note to Scott Skiles: Last season’s forwards, please

The Bucks 2010-11 Bucks in their first two games look eerily similar to the 209-10 team that tried and failed last Nov.-Dec. to work Michael Redd into its rotation.  The Bucks with Redd stood around on offense; the ball didn’t move; they lacked chemistry and consistent defense; and they lost twice as often as they won (the Bucks were 6-12 when Redd played).

To be fair, that team — like this season’s Bucks — had injury issues.  After a 6-3 start Andrew Bogut went out for six games with a deep thigh bruise and Luc Mbah a Moute missed a couple of weeks with a bum ankle.  Mbah a Moute has been hobbled by a bad ankle in the Bucks first two games this season, and Bogut has been limited by foul trouble, his healing right arm and some conditioning issues.

What last year’s Bucks team had that the current Bucks do not was a backup center in Kurt Thomas; a backup point guard nicknamed Frodo who knew the offense as well as the coach and played with desperate energy; and they had the unselfish “D-Wade stopper” Charlie Bell, who made sure that the ball was going in the post to Bogut.  With the unsung hero Bell starting in Redd’s place, last year’s Bucks were 19-16 including a couple of clumsy, disjointed losses with Redd firing ill-timed bricks in a reserve role.

What last year’s Bucks team didn’t have was a logjam at forward; they had a simple rotation (when Redd wasn’t playing).  The eight-man rotation of Jennings, Bell, Luke Ridnour, Carlos Delfino, Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Bogut and Thomas was well-knit, smart, unselfish, and extremely hard-working. Nobody outrebounded that team by 23 boards (the T-Wolves had a 62-39 rebounding advantage). That team never gave up 19 offensive boards. What’s different about this season?

1) Not once last season did Skiles relegate Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute to scrub 26 minutes … COMBINED.  And;

2) Not once during the 2009-10 82-game schedule did the Bucks suit up without a legitimate backup at center for Bogut.

Those two factors are directly attributable to the rebounding failure in Minneapolis Friday night, and the failure to win “50-50” plays and get to loose balls in the paint.  And it’s no accident that when Skiles played Mbah a Moute, finally, late in the 3rd quarter, the Bucks pulled back into the game and erased most of a 17-point T-wolves lead.

On the court for that run were Brandon Jennings, pint-sized Earl Boykins, Corey Maggette, Mbah a Moute and Bogut.

Skiles can’t solve the backup center problem until GM John Hammond acquires a backup center.  But coach Skiles can remember last season, and some of the things that made the Bucks tough, scrappy and competitive for most of it.

More Mbah a Moute, now that he’s able to play, and some renewed trust in Ersan Ilyasova are two of those things.  Here’s hoping Skiles remembers them tonight in the home opener against Larry Brown’s Charlotte Bobcats — no strangers themselves to scrappy play and tough D.

A must win home opener: Both the Bucks and Bobcats are looking to avoid starting 0-3. With a difficult Portland-Boston back-to-back on the schedule next week for the Bucks, 0-and-3 could very quickly become 0-5.

Game 5: Bucks heroes, Hawks goats

This wasn’t right. It couldn’t last. The Bucks stunning come-from-behind 91-87 victory in Atlanta will be called unlikely, unbelievable, improbable. But the Bucks should not have been trailing in this game, and certainly not down 13  (67-54) with just under 5 minutes to go in the 3rd, Brandon Jennings having just turned it over to Jamal Crawford for the second time in less than two minutes.

The Bucks had missed layups and wide open jumpers for most of the game, and the Hawks were getting up to block shots in the paint. For about a 13:30 stretch in the first half, the Bucks couldn’t buy a hoop (3-20 shooting) and turned it over 5 times.

“We didn’t play all that well. It was ugly.” — John Salmons

Meanwhile, Hawks center Al Horford hit a prayer of a fallaway as time expired at the half and Hawks forward Marvin Williams had emerged from his usual invisibility and was on his way to career playoff high of 22 points on 8-10 shooting.  Was it more improbable that the Bucks were only down 46-43 at halftime or that the Bucks hadn’t buried the Hawks 60-44?

All the while, Brandon Jennings cruised through the Hawks defense wherever and whenever he pleased, showered in boos from the Atlanta crowd every time he dribbled through the lane. Were they booing Jennings or the Hawks porous defense?   I’ll go with the latter.   The more determined, tough and tenacious team won a thrilling Game 5 in Atlanta.  But the winners in Atlanta also had more wide open lanes to the basket and easy open looks.  The rebounding battle was even.

My notebook was filled by the time Jennings dribbled out the final seconds. box score.

NOW FOR SOME HEROES (there are many)

Ersan Ilyasova: TNT had Kevin McHale in the broadcast chair, and I’m glad they did. McHale touted Ilyasova all game, probably thinking Ersan’s uncanny ability to steal hustle plays would have had him fitting right in with Bird and McHale and Parrish on the 1980’s Celtics championship teams. To Bucks fans who remember the heartbreaking losses to the Sixers in the early 1980’s, the 6’9″ Ersan invokes another player McHale hasn’t forgotten, Sixers forward Bobby Jones, the man who caused more grief than any opposing player in Bucks history. ???

Ilyasova was Bobby Jones incarnate Wednesday night, entering the game with 4:09 to play and the Bucks down nine, 82-73. He took over the game with three come-from-nowhere hustle plays on consecutive Bucks possessions that left the Hawks demoralized, beaten and booed by the Atlanta faithful.

… First he chased down a bricked Jennings free throw in the corner and pitched it to John Salmons, who drew a foul and sank two free throws, his 6th and 7th points in a minute-30. The Bucks were within one, 82-81. …  After Joe Johnson barrelled into Kurt Thomas to foul out, Ilyasova flubbed a pass in the lane but stretched out of bounds to save it to Thomas, who then dumped the ball back into Ilyasova, who had managed to post up — and Ilyasova hit a turnaround jumper to give the Bucks the lead for good, 83-82.

Josh Smith missed a three-pointer for the Hawks (yes, he took that shot) and Jennings took it down and airballed a driving runner in the lane. But Ilyasova snuck in and snatched it from Horford and Williams, fumbled it, almost fell out of bounds and slung it Carlos Delfino in the corner.  Three-pointer, assist Ilyasova, 86-82 Bucks lead with 1:16 to go.  … Not even Bobby Jones ever did that to the Bucks three possessions in a row.

John Salmons: He missed a few good looks early and was having an ugly game until the final four minutes, but he and Johnson were busy. The shooting guards, the leading scorers, waged a defensive battle that didn’t end until Johnson (13 pts, 6/16 shooting) fouled out with 2:15 to play. When Johnson left, Salmons picked up Crawford and, though he had played 43 minutes at that point, seemed suddenly energized and more hyper-intense defensively than I’ve ever seen him. John Salmons in battle fury?  Crawford had no room to breath and missed a jumper, got it back on a Horford rebound and had his shot blocked by Salmons. After a scrum and jump ball, Crawford got it back again and missed badly — with Salmons in his face. Salmons then drew a foul from Horford and sank another free throw, his 19th point and 8th point of the final four minutes. 87-82 Bucks.

Kurt Thomas: He didn’t score in the game and only played 21 mins (6 rebs, 3 assists) but the charge he took on Johnson with 2:15 to play was sandwiched between two of Ilyasova’s hustling back-breakers. In sequence the plays utterly demoralized the Hawks, and Thomas’ D forced their All-Star out of the game. To make it all the more poignent, Crawford buried a three-pointer as Johnson was whistled for the charge. Ouch.

Brandon Jennings and Luke Ridnour:  Ridnour came into the game at the 1:48 mark in the 3rd quarter and hit two big jumpers to keep the Bucks within striking distance. He was then fouled hard by Joe Johnson — no flagrant called — and sank two free throws.  A minute later he hit a three-pointer to pull the Bucks within 4, 77-73.  Those were big shots (9 pts) that prevented the Hawks from pulling away in the late-3rd to mid-4th quarter. 15 pts in 17 mins, plus 4 steals is an assassin game off the bench.  …. 

Jennings was simply irrepressible and doggedly determined to rip through the Hawks defense.  He started the game hot with 14 in the 1st quarter, cooled off but never stopped attacking.  The Hawks have no answer and allowed him to dribble in and out and around their defense all game long, sometimes not even giving chase.  Jennings has been on a mission since he found his focus in Game 3.

SOME GOATS (quite a few of these, too)

Josh Smith: 7 pts, 9 rebs, 4 assists and 3 blks for the Hawks big man. Maybe he is all of 6’8″. Two of his buckets were “Highlight Factory” plays but in the half court all he could manage was a 20-footer from the top of the key. Ilyasova and Luc Mbah a Moute had forced him out to the perimeter again. With the Hawks trailing by 1 after Ilyasova’s jumper, with shooters Mike Bibby and Crawford on the court, Smith launched a 3-pointer. Josh Smith hasn’t hit from 3-point land all season long.  Have the Hawks simply given up on Coach Mike Woodson?   Smith played well enough at times, and played some good defense throughout, but he’s just not there every second. With Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute in his grill every second he’s on the court, Smith has backed down from the challenge. If you look like you just don’t care and act like you just don’t care — you don’t care, Josh.

Mike Bibby: Shot only 5 times all game and missed two free throws late in the 3rd when the Hawks were up 13 with a chance to break away. Only two dimes for the game, most of which was spent guarding forwards Carlos Delfino and even Ilyasova because the Hawks continue to switch their bigs onto Jennings.

Joe Johnson: He’s going to light up the Bradley Center Friday, or go down trying.  Johnson will try to put the Hawks on his back in Game 6 and get them back home for Game 7.  Like the genuine All-Pro that he’s been, Johnson never seems to be idle on the court. Salmons held him to 13 pts on 6-16 shooting but Joe also had 6 assists and 6 rebs, and played tough D all night on Salmons.  On the goat side of things …. Johnson tied Crawford with a game high 4 turnovers and his team lost its head when he fouled out (Smith shooting a 3) which says something about how limited the Hawks clear-out based half-court offense is.  And Johnson got away with a flagrant foul on Luke Ridnour midway through the 4th quarter, tossing the driving Luke to the floor with a two handed shove.  That’s the second flagrant Johnson has gotten away with in the series. The first was in Game 1 when he pulled Luc Mbah a Moute to the floor in frustration after Luc’s breakaway steal late in the 4th.  The refs wouldn’t be protecting the Hawks All-Star would they?  That seems a little out of place in this series.

Jamal Crawford: No, it’s not really Crawford’s fault that he spent the last few years in New York and Golden State, where defense is a dirty word. He howed some heart and willingness to battle with the Bucks (much moreso than Bibby) but shot 4-18.  No, it’s not really Crawford’s fault that he’s always been a streaky shooter.  He did, however, steal it from Jennings twice in the 3rd quarter as the Hawks built their 13 point lead.  That was probably the first time he and the rest of the Hawks thought the game was in the bag.

Al Horford: How can a guy with a career playoff high of 25 pts and 11 rebs be a goat?  Horford led the Hawks in garbage — buckets that dropped in despite horrendous shot selection. There was the fallaway jumper to end the half and then his first 3-pointer of the season, which he banked in from the top of the key.  That sort of highlight junk (which the Hawks seem to get a lot of) distorted the perception of the game, which was controlled by the Bucks point guards throughout.  The Hawks were never really playing well in this one, despite the score.

It should also be noted that the 20+ points and 11 rebounds, minus the garbage, was still more in Game 5 than Horford scored/rebounded in Games 3 and 4 (18 pts, 11 rebs total). …  This was how Horford’s season went. One good game (big games against the Knicks and the Pacers) mixed in with a couple of bad ones.  The good games resulted in All-Star reserve votes, and he only needed four of those to make it on a scattered vote for the last spot.

Zaza Pachulia: 7 minutes in the 1st half, an and-one and a flagrant foul on Jennings. Kurt Thomas looked ready to kill him and Zaza seemed genuinely worried.

Milwaukee Bucks/Atlanta Hawks Game Review: What Happens Now?Coach Mike Woodson: Will winning the series save his job?  Does he even want to work for the Hawks at this point?  Does it get any worse than Josh Smith and Al Horford shooting threes at crunchtime?  Is there any chance the Hawks will suddenly listen to Woodson in Milwaukee, Game 6?

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.

It’s sucking time at Basketbawful

If the streaking-for-the-playoffs Bucks 101-93 loss to the Clippers in LA didn’t bring Bucks fans down to earth, or at least out of the clouds, how they did it might. After Brandon Jennings scored 14 points in the 3rd quarter to pull the Bucks back into the lead after they had fallen into a 16 point hole, the Clips came out in the 4th playing a 2-3 zone.

That’s right, the Bucks were down 16 to Chris Kaman and the Clippers. Bogut!

The Bucks couldn’t solve the zone or shoot the Clippers out of it. Playing without forward Carlos Delfino and with Charlie Bell relegated to the bench after a poor first half (Charlie started at guard and Salmons moved over to Delfino’s forward spot) the Bucks rimmed 6 three-pointers in the first six minutes of the 4th, two by Jerry Stackhouse, two by Luke Ridnour and one apiece by John Salmons and Royal Ivey. Suddenly they were down 86-78 and couldn’t claw back. Unfortunately, this is why some of our guards (Stackhouse, Ridnour) are 30% in their careers from Downtown.

Kaman had 20 pts and 7 boards, all of them excruciating to watch. Did I mention Royal Ivey? I did. Ivey came in for Bell in the 3rd and sparked the Bucks’ comeback with some rabid D (two steals) and a much needed 3-pointer. Nice to have Ivey back … and wouldn’t it have been great to have him around last season?  It sucked that we didn’t …

BASKETBAWFUL‘s “30 reasons this kind of sucks”: Is it that time of year already?  With the Bucks winners of 12 out 13 going into the Clippers game, losing just once since John Salmons joined the club, Andrew Bogut realizing his All-Pro potential, Rookie of the Year talk for Brandon Jennings and Coach of the Year talk for Scott Skiles, is this really the time to think about the bad stuff?

11. The Milwaukee Bucks: They fleeced the Bulls out of John Salmons, immediately went on an 11-1 run and moved from sub-.500 to the fifth seed in the Leastern Confernece. Andrew Bogut took a break from high-fiving himself to become one of the better centers in the league, Brandon Jennings is learning to pass the ball, and the Bucks as a whole are buying into Scott Skiles’ “bust your ass on defense and outhustle the other team” system. It’s all clicking in Milwaukee, which will inevitably lead to unreasonable expectations for the 2010-11 season. Just wait. It’ll be all, “Once they get Michael Redd back, they’ll be even better. This was a season to build on!”

But no, no it won’t be. Look, I’ve seen this before. Hell, the same thing happened last season when the Bulls obtained Salmons and then rocketed into the playoffs. This chemistry spike won’t last. Michael Redd, once he returns from yet another knee surgery, still won’t be a true franchise player. Salmons — assuming the Bucks hold onto him — will revert to form. Bogut, for all his improvement, probably won’t be a franchise player. And the Milwaukee players will eventually tire of Skiles’ taskmaster tendencies. It’ll happen. It’s just a matter of time.

You’re right, Bawful, that did suck, and here’s why:

Brandon Jennings will become a great point guard in the NBA. The Rookie of the Year talk you’re hearing isn’t in Italian (Jennings played in Italy last year), it’s in English. Kid Money really is that good, and will only get better.

Andrew Bogut is a franchise player. He will very likely be an All-Pro this season, and the Bucks have not had an All-Pro center since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the early-mid 1970’s. We’ve had an All-Star center, Bob Lanier one time, and a very good Jack Sikma, but they were nearing the end of their careers on those great 1980’s Bucks teams. Bogut is 25 and hooking left, hooking right … into his prime.

Sure, it’s taken a while for Bogues to realize his All-Pro potential, but now he’s playing with teammates who aren’t fighting it and has a coach that expects franchise-defining play out of him. He’s putting up a strong 16.2 pts, 10.5 rebs per game, and there’s nothing flukish about those numbers, nor anything stopping him from adding a bucket or two to the scoring average.

No, those aren’t Jabbar-like numbers, and they’re not as good as Dwight Howard‘s, but, like Howard, Bogut is defined by his defense. AB is second only to Howard in NBA defensive rating. In other words, the Bucks play the best defense in all of basketball when Bogut is on the court and Dwight Howard is sitting … or eating, exercising, napping or doing anything other than playing in an NBA game.  AB’s right behind Howard in blocked shots, too, at 2.5 per game.

The Scott Skiles defense, the constant pressure D that wears opponents down,  it eventually wore out Skiles’ players at his previous stops in Phoenix and Chicago. The idea that Skiles will wear on his players to the point where they tune him out is nothing we haven’t heard before. Bogut addressed this in a long Wojnarowski article at yahoo NBA this week, affirming that the Bucks are very much in tune with Skiles. In fact, Bogut said there is nothing “wearing” about Skiles at all.

This could change, of course, but Skiles’ is in just his second year with the Bucks. It took him four years to wear out the Baby Bulls. If Skiles’ run in Chicago is any indication, the Bucks should hit their peak with the coach over the next two seasons. We’ve got some time. And Bogut and Jennings, too.

The chemistry spike and Michael Redd, however, is right on the money, Bawful.  It’s not clear what will happen with that situation. Will Redd come back next season? Can he fit in if he does, despite all evidence to the contrary? The Bucks have proven perfectly willing to put their fans through this tired drama over and over again, and I like it a lot less than you don’t. Now that you mention it, I can already hear the wheels squeaking down in St. Francis … “We can move Salmons to forward, start Redd at guard with Jennings and Bogut and The Prince.” … It sucks, it really sucks.

And we don’t know if John Salmons will stick around or opt out this summer. It’s a cause for concern, and I’m not trusting anything anybody says on the matter right now, least of not Bucks GM John Hammond, who’s been known to say one thing, do another. You’re right, Bawful, that does suck.

On the plus side, Hammond has stocked up on draft picks and the Bucks have three of them this summer, barring any further deals. They’ll have the Bulls 1st round pick, a 2nd rounder from the Sixers and their own pick.  You forgot to mention that, Bawful, because draft picks don’t suck at all. They’re good, and with three of them, odds are the Bucks should be able to find some additional help for next season, maybe even a power forward to help us break the Bob Boozer Jinx.

Maybe … But next year at this time, I do expect the Bucks to be a little further down the Eastern conference “things that suck list” — and I don’t think that’s an unreasonable expectation.

Quote of the day:  “What we have here are a bunch of guys with a chip on their shoulders, with something to prove. We’re a bunch of underdog guys, in an underdog city. Milwaukee is the butt of a lot of jokes and on TV and the movies, but we’ve got a bunch of hard-workings and that suits this city, the people here.” — Andrew Bogut to Adrian Wojnarowski in this week’s feature article at Yahoo.com.

Sessions vs. Ridnour? … Tough weekend ahead

Lucky Luke Ridnour or Ramon Sessions? The question of who should start at point guard has been ongoing since the Bucks traded Mo Williams to greener pastures this summer. That may surprise some, but there were more than a few Bucks fans who had realized at the end of last season that Sessions just might be the point guard of the future. To some it was never a given that Ridnour should start, even though Bucks GM John Hammond introduced Luke as the starter when the trade was made.

Now that Sessions seems to be in a groove and has picked up right where he left off at the end of last season when he averaged 13.1 assists in seven starts, JSOnline put the question to its readers in the form of a poll. The poll of the day, in Packer season, no less. After nearly 700 responses, Sessions is/was in the lead 47-44 percent, with 8 percent going to Tyrone Lue, the third string point guard (Tyrone must have family working on this).

The fact that the voting is so close ought to tell you a couple of things — it’s too early to decide and both are playing well. Thirdly, if we at Sportsbubbler had thought to give folks a minute or two break from the Packers by featuring a similar poll this week, the timing would have been perfect. We didn’t think of it, so the inescapable conclusion is that it’s just too early. The Ridnour-Sessions question isn’t going away anytime soon.

(As more people have voted in the JSOnline poll, Sessions is running away with it).

Both guys have missed two games. Sessions didn’t play at all in the first two games (coach’s decision), but started against the Raptors and Knicks as Ridnour recuperated from a back injury. Wednesday night against the Wizards, they played together for the first time this season and keyed the unit that brought the Bucks charging back in the 4th quarter to beat the Wiz in OT. Ridnour finished with 11 assists. Sessions with 8 as the Bucks charted 37 dimes for the game.  They also scored a combined 42 points without hitting a mess of 3’s, an impressive feat for a couple of point guards.

Did you say 37 assists for the team?  I did. When’s the last time the Bucks did that? Not during the Michael Redd era that I can remember. The 1980’s? (I’m diggin for this stat but I don’t have it yet). Of course,  Sessions had 24 himself last April in a garbage time game against Chicago but the Bucks as a team totalled 33. The Bulls, who won the game, tallied 42. There is a trend there. Sharing is caring in the NBA and also leads to wins. Here’s the video of Sessions show against the Bulls, just because it’s fun to watch so much beautiful passing:

In any case, it really is too early and both players should be tested further; there’s no reason to knock Luke down to 2nd string … yet. In their first game together, they fueled a win and finished the game on the court together. However, running circles around the Wizards second-rate guards isn’t a defining feat for either player. Prior to the Wiz, both players had notched a win and a loss as the starter. Right now, the schedule is so tough that it may not matter until January (game 34) when the Bucks will probably have to get a move on to pull their season together.

In the end, I have a feeling Skiles will probably settle on the better defender as his starter and it remains to be seen whether Sessions can consistently play better D than Ridnour, who has trouble guarding many point guards (Luke wouldn’t have done much better against Jose Calderon last week than Sessions did in the loss, and could well have done worse). It’s Lucky Luke video time:

Here at the Bob Boozer Jinx, the editorial board was ahead of the curve in realizing how stoked about Sessions’ potential both the current and previous Bucks regimes were (and still are). In fact, I sussed it out well before the pre-NBA draft hypsters did that the Bucks were not looking for a point guard in the draft, due in large part to Sessions’ potential. The Bucks didn’t work out any college point guards and took a pass on D.J. Augustin and Jerryd Bayless, a couple of pretty good point guards who were still on the board when the Bucks picked Joe Alexander.

The highlight of that story in May was Bucks development coach Bill Peterson’s comparison of Sessions’ development to Steve Nash’s — Peterson was Nash’s development coach in Dallas.

In the Reno Gazette story, Peterson, the lone assistant Scott Skiles retained from last season’s staff, went so far as to compare Sessions to the young Steve Nash, a Peterson development project in Dallas 1998-2000.

 “If you only knew [about Nash’s struggles]. Guys don’t just start out in this league and they’re lights out. I can remember nights when Nash was booed unmercifully. There were nights when they would boo him every time he touched the ball. I told Sess, ‘Look where he is now. All it takes is hard work and dedication.’ And Sess has that.”

Except that Sessions doesn’t shoot anything like Nash, who’s been the best outside shooter in the league for a while now (two-point jumpers and 3’s included statistically). Neither does Ridnour, but that didn’t stop the NBA wags from suggesting that Luke was the second coming of Nash in 2004-05 when Ray Allen was leading the Supersonics into the West semifinals playoffs. For that we go to MiniShaq’s Lucky Luke Ridnour Mix on Youtube.

Lucky Luke hasn’t yet played out his shot at a second NBA life (for Luke it’s life after Ray Allen), so for now, Skiles’ decision to keep him in the starting role is sound. Might as well see if the five-year veteran can pilot the Bucks to a few wins in the tough early season schedule.

COMING UP: Boston and Phoenix this weekend.

The Bucks head to Boston Friday for a game against the champs and Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. This is a good defensive test for Ridnour and Sessions, who go against lightning quick Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. If Michael Redd is still out with his ankle injury (and he’s now confirmed he will be), Sessions may be called on to guard Ray as well. Former Buck Eddie House, the first guard off the bench in the C’s rotation, is too big for Lucky Luke, so Sessions will likely be matched up against House as well.

Yes, my guy Sam “I Am” Cassell is still a Celtic. Unfortunately, the clown prince of basketball is not on the active roster … for now.

Saturday, Steve Nash, Shaquille O’Neal and Amare Stoudemire and the Phoenix Suns come to town (7:30PM gametime) along with a couple of good 3-point shooters who’d look good in a Michael Redd trade: Leandro Barbosa and Raja Bell. They’re both among the top ten career 3-point shooters in the league.

Can the Bucks at full strength surprise the Suns? This year is probably the last run by Nash/Shaq at the Western Conference finals and they opened the season beating the Spurs. Nash will be a great test for Ridnour and Sessions, but I’m even more interested in seeing how Bogut handles Shaq. When I did my center rankings back in July, I couldn’t justify ranking Bogut and many of the other centers on the list ahead of Shaq. I realize he’s lost a couple of steps, but he’s still Shaq, and guys like Marcus Camby, Mehmet Okur and, yes, Bogut, haven’t achieved anything or played to such heights that they should be considered “better than Shaq.” 

I plan on reassessing the centers’ rankings around the All-Star break, with an eye toward Bogut improving and (hopefully) moving up the list. Outplaying Shaq will be a great way to get his season going in the right direction. 

A shout out to The Rogue Hour, a funky blog, about sports, race and all sorts of American things (a strong and thoughtful commentary about Obama’s election win is the feature up now). And sometimes, The Rogue gives a nice plug to the Bob Boozer Jinx. Belated thanks, Rogue!