NBA PM: Can Bucks’ Season Be Saved?
2010-2011 has been a mixed bag for Milwaukee to say the least.
Despite suffering a slew of injuries for the first two thirds of the season, the Bucks currently rank fourth in the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions. They ranked third in that category last season, but considering the various disruptions to the lineup, Scott Skiles’ team has persevered in that regard.
Offense is another situation altogether.
“Our defense is always going to be there because it’s just something that we’re going to do,” Brandon Jennings told HOOPSWORLD. “But we’ve got to try and dig deep and mentally try and be engaged as far as making shots down the stretch, not going through those stretches where we’re missing so many shots in a row as five minutes pass.
“We got to make shots,” he continued. “That’s the main thing.”
Of course, the Bucks haven’t made shots this season, which is why they’re currently three games out of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. They’re tied for 27th in the NBA with a 51.8 true shooting percentage, rank 18th in 3-pointers made and are tied for last in points per shot. It’s no wonder they’re scoring only 98.7 points per 100 possessions—29th in the NBA.
“We’ve had a problem scoring all year and it’s a combination of things,” guard John Salmons told HOOPSWORLD. “Sometimes it’s not executing. Sometimes it’s just missing open shots, not finishing down low. We’ve got to continue to look at all those things to solve our problems.”
Salmons went on to say that the team has also had “a problem all year” when it comes to pushing the tempo. The Bucks are the NBA’s fifth slowest team in terms of possessions per game; but they’ve held opponents to a 44.7% mark from the field this season (sixth-best in the NBA), so it stands to reason there’s ample opportunity to turn defensive rebounds into fast-break points—especially when they have a humming bird like Jennings at the point.
“I don’t think we are a slow team,” Luc Mbah a Moute told HOOPSWORLD. “We want to run. We want to get out and run. I think when we’re really good is when we’re turning people over and we get out and run and get easy baskets in transition. I think that’s when we’re at our best. Our goal is not to bring the ball up slowly. The goal is to try and get steals, turn the ball over and score quick. But we also try and control the game and make plays and make sure we have the upper hand on the offensive end.”
But as sluggish as the tempo has been, the real culprit may be team chemistry.
If the Bucks want to play fast or slow, they’ve been hampered by the laundry list of injuries to players like Jennings, Salmons and Andrew Bogut. Without a consistent lineup in place, Milwaukee’s players spent the season learning a myriad of personnel groupings.
“The fact we didn’t develop a great chemistry early in the season with guys being out,” Mbah a Moute said. “We went into training camp with guys being out. That was tough for us, because we had key pieces not being there and we started the season and it was just injury after injury. It seemed every time we would have a good core of guys out there, somebody would get hurt and we’d have to change it again. Just that inconsistency, I think, lingered in the offense and that’s been the story of the season.”
“John Salmons,” Jennings said, “was out the whole training camp and preseason for us. Being out that long, his rhythm is going to be off. And also, Carlos Delfino. He had back-to-back 30-point games for us. He came up big. If he’s knocking down shots, that’s going to open up the offense more.”
Delfino has averaged 19.2 PPG while shooting 51.4% from 3-point range over the last five games, but the team only picked up two wins in that time.
As good as the Bucks have played defensively—and a lot of that credit should go to Bogut, Mbah a Moute and Delfino—they’re facing tough odds. Without more of a scoring punch, they’re likely going to head into the offseason with another big question mark on offense.
Big Buck Endorsement
As difficult as the Bucks’ season has been, Mbah a Moute is very encouraged with the development of rookie power forward Larry Sanders.
“I think he’s got a lot better,” Mbah a Moute said. “He just has to listen and work hard. I think he’s done just that from playing, not playing, starting, going to the D-League. He just labored through the whole thing and did a good job of accepting it and embracing it and trying to get better.”
Sanders—whose former VCU teammates are set to face Butler in the Final Four—is starting to get some playing time (18.7 MPG in March) and he’s capitalized by hitting the boards (3.7 RPG in March) and scoring points (5.7 PPG). He’s also blocked 1.3 shots per game over the last month, which is a good indication that he can develop as a defender.
“I see him being kind of an Amar’e [Stoudemire] type of guy,” Mbah a Moute said. “He’s that athletic. He blocks shots and has a nice jump shot. I think if he continues to work on his game, when all is said and done, he could be an Amar’e-like type of player.”
Jennings is optimistic about the 6-11 Sanders as well, but he’s a bit more cautious.
“I think he’s still learning,” Jennings said. “It’s going to be a learning process—especially for a big man. I think, this summer he should really put some weight on and come back stronger and come back better. Most of it’s just mental. How much do you really want it?”
Speaking of Endorsements
New Nets point guard Deron Williams hasn’t committed to the team for the long haul quite yet, but he is very happy with backcourt partner Anthony Morrow.
“I’ve only played with one other shooter similar to him and that’s Kyler Korver, a guy that’s just a dead-eye 3-point shooter,” Williams told Colin Stephenson of the Star-Ledger. “Guys like that are a point guard’s dream because you’re pretty much mad when they miss.”
Morrow hasn’t missed a whole lot this season. He’s currently averaging 13.2 PPG while shooting 42.4% from beyond the arc. The best part: He’s only 25, still improving and signed for the next two seasons at only $4 million a pop.
Remember When Jermaine O’Neal Played for the Celtics?
Following his arthroscopic surgery on his knee and two months of rehab, Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal has rejoined a team in need. Boston (5-5 in its last 10) has struggled since trading center Kendrick Perkins, and with Shaquille O’Neal battling his own injuries, this team was in need of a boost.
And O’Neal could wind up playing in San Antonio on Thursday.
“I’m able to go,” O’Neal told Jullian Benbow of The Boston Globe. “No limitations.”
O’Neal, who has missed 56 games this year, had a resurgent season in 2009-2010, but has failed to meet expectations in Boston because of his knee issues.
Despite missing the majority of the regular season, O’Neal thinks he did the right thing by having surgery in January.
“You make your decisions and you stand with them,” he said. “Obviously, you don’t want to lose time. That’s what we’re fighting with: losing time. And you end up losing it anyway. It’s hard to regret stuff. You make decisions and you go with it. You wish it would have happened differently.
“In a perfect world,” he continued, “should I have done it earlier? Absolutely… We exhausted all our options and then got to a point where there was no more options.”
FYI—My Twitter handle has changed to @alexraskinNBA.
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