Six Moves the Milwaukee Bucks Should Make
The Milwaukee Bucks are coming off a disappointing season in 2010-2011 that saw them miss the playoffs and win only 35 games. The Bucks were considered a preseason favorite in the Central Division and were expected to compete with the Chicago Bulls for the division title.
Injuries played a major role in last year’s downfall, but this year’s shortened season and the extra time off during the lockout should help the Bucks be close to 100% healthy throughout the year.
The Bucks are also heading into the season with some new pieces. They made a major draft day trade, adding veteran shooting guard Stephen Jackson, and backup point guards Beno Udrih and Shaun Livingston.
The Bucks are going to have stiff competition with the Bulls and Pacers in their division and a playoff appearance isn’t a guarantee. With that in mind, here are six moves the Bucks should make that will put them in the best position to make another run towards the playoffs.
Re-sign Luc Mbah a Moute
Milwaukee has already made a qualifying offer to Mbah a Moute so it’s very likely they will retain him. It’s crucial to their season that they do; Mbah a Moute can play both power forward and small forward and is arguably the team’s best one-on-one defender. His offense still needs work, but he more than makes up for it with his defense and energy.
Mbah a Moute should be the Bucks starting power forward. He is exactly the type of player head coach Scott Skiles loves. He never gives up on a play, he runs the floor extremely well, and he doesn’t need the ball on offense to be effective. Most of his points come off broken plays and put backs on the offensive glass.
If the Bucks were to lose Mbah a Moute they would have a gap to fill in the front line that they likely wouldn’t be able to do during this offseason. If they were to rely on Drew Gooden for 66 games it’s doubtful the Bucks would be a realistic threat to make the playoffs since Gooden is best suited as Andrew Bogut’s backup at center.
The best thing for the Bucks would be to work out a long-term deal for Mbah a Moute and commit to him being the team’s power forward for the next four to five years.
Pursue a Starting Small Forward with the Mid-Level Exception
The Bucks currently don’t possess a starting caliber small forward on their roster. Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova and rookie Tobias Harris are the leading candidates to be the starter, but the Bucks would be better off looking to free agency to fill the position. After re-signing Mbah a Moute, nothing is more important to the Bucks season then adding a starting caliber small forward.
Although the new collective bargaining agreement isn’t finalized yet, it’s likely the Bucks will be close enough to the salary cap and that they will only have the mid-level exception available to them. For the Bucks to reach the playoffs, they need to offer the full MLE and hope that Caron Butler, Shane Battier or Tayshaun Prince agrees to come to Milwaukee.
If they miss out on those three, the Bucks still have options with players like Grant Hill or Josh Howard. Both come with significant risk, but would fit in well with Skiles’ defensive system. If the Bucks miss out on the top small forward free agents, they would still be wise to sign a veteran like Mike Dunleavy or Tracy McGrady, both of whom would be upgrades over their current roster.
Continue to Develop Larry Sanders
Larry Sanders proved he was a good fit in Skiles’ system last year when the 15th pick in the 2010 draft averaged over a block per game in only 14 minutes of action each night. The 6’11’’ Sanders still has work to do on the offensive end, but he could be a game changer with his defense off the bench.
Any team led by Skiles is going to be known for it’s defense, but Sanders could also help offensively by getting out on the fast break and being a running mate to Brandon Jennings.
Open Up the Offense
The Bucks averaged the fewest points in the NBA last season, scoring less than 92 a game. For the Bucks to improve they need to push the ball on offense and let Jennings use his speed to create shots for his teammates. Jennings is one of the fastest players in the NBA and letting him use his speed in the open court should be the Bucks number one option on offense.
Also, Jackson is at his best in the open court as well. Jackson can be a dynamic scorer and playmaker, but if Skiles puts him in handcuffs and the Bucks are constantly walking the ball up the court, Jackson’s skill set will be somewhat neutralized.
Sanders, Mbah a Moute, Livingston, Udrih, and virtually the entire roster is built for an up-tempo game. The only player that doesn’t benefit from a faster pace is Andrew Bogut. However, Bogut is more athletic than the average NBA center and he will always be the first option in the half court.
For the Bucks to be successful on offense they need to push the ball as often as possible and if the break isn’t available, then they can dump it down to Bogut and work off of him.
Trade Either Beno Udrih or Shaun Livingston
Jennings is going to receive the majority of the minutes at the point guard position and there is no reason for the Bucks to carry two backup point guards that deserve minutes. Unless an injury occurs to one of the three, which is possible considering Jennings and Livingston’s history, one of them is likely to be out of the rotation potentially leading to locker room issues that the Bucks can’t afford.
If possible, it would be in the Bucks’ interest to trade Udrih because of his contract. He is owed over $14 million over the next two seasons, while Livingston is only guaranteed for this year. It would serve the Bucks well to trade Udrih to a team that needed a point guard (perhaps the Lakers?).
If the Bucks can’t unload Udrih, moving Livingston shouldn’t be a problem. He has proven to be a capable backup and his contract would make him attractive to virtually every team in need of a point guard. The Bucks’ best option with Livingston would be to add him into a deal netting them a starting small forward.
Don’t Quit on Scott Skiles
Finally, the Bucks can’t quit on their head coach. Skiles has a history of teams quitting on him after 3-4 years together. He lasted three seasons in Phoenix and three and half years with the Chicago Bulls. With both teams Skiles’ intense attitude eventually led to his players tuning him out.
If the Bucks are to make a run at the playoffs they have to buy into Skiles’ defensive system and play with the same intensity that Skiles brings to every game. Obviously, Skiles needs to know when to push the buttons with his players and when to lay off. With a shortened schedule and the Bucks playing at least one back-to-back-to-back, Skiles’ coaching style will be more important then ever. If the players begin tuning him out, instead of the Bucks having months to regain their composure the season could be lost in a matter of weeks.