Will The Milwaukee Bucks Make The NBA Playoffs in 2013?
Is There New Optimism for The Milwaukee Bucks?
The past decade has been an extremely frustrating time for Milwaukee Bucks' fans. Ever since the breakup of the big three - Ray Allen, Sam Cassells, and Glen Robinson - and the subsequent dismissal of coach George Karl, the Bucks have been struggling for consistent respectability. Although Milwaukee has made the playoffs three times in the past ten years, it has never advanced past the first round. What's worse is that fans who were teased with a little temporary success saw the Bucks play horribly the next season. Early in 2012, the Milwaukee Bucks gave up on often injured center Andrew Bogut and traded for Monta Ellis from the Golden State Warriors. The Bucks also added, hopefully, more length, defense, and shooting in the draft. Does all of this give the Bucks new optimism for the coming 2012-2013 season? This article examines Milwaukee's chances of making the playoffs in 2013.
Bucks Recent Success
The 2009-2010 NBA season exceeded most fans' expectations. in coach Scott Skiles second season, the Bucks finished with a 46-36 record, its best record in ten years. This was good enough to make the playoffs, and in the first round even without star center Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee took Atlanta to seven games before eventually losing the series. Why the big turn around? It was primarily because all players unselfishly bought into coach Skiles' defensive-minded style of play. There was great chemistry on a team which was led by seasoned veterans such as Jerry Stackhouse, Luke Ridnour, and Kurt Thomas. The Bucks had good, solid play from Andrew Bogut and rookie Brandon Jennings. Most importantly, Milwaukee had an outstanding contribution from guard John Salmons who became a go-to-player after being obtained in a trade with Chicago about halfway through the season.
Bucks Recent Failure
On the other hand, the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 seasons were extremely disappointing not meeting fans' wishes. Prior to the beginning of the 2010-2011 season, the Bucks lost Luke Ridnour and Kurt Thomas to free agency. Jerry Stackhouse retired. Milwaukee acquired Corey Maggette in a trade and added Drew Gooden, Jon Brockman, and Chris Douglas-Roberts as free agents. Everyone thought the Bucks would be much better with the added offense from Gooden and Maggette. Why, then, did Milwaukee finish with a 35-47 record and not make the playoffs? I feel there are two primary reasons. The first is that the team was beset with injuries from the beginning of training camp. During most of training camp, Skiles had to struggle to find 10 players for scrimmages. Then, during the season, Bogut was not very effective offensively as a center, because he had not completely recovered from injuries to his right hand and elbow suffered in a game in early April of 2010. Bogut missed 17 games as did point guard Brandon Jennings who was inactive for 19 games due to a broken foot. Drew Gooden who had been counted on to rebound and score missed 41 games due to plantar fasciitis in his foot. In addition to these injuries, forwards Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova lost significant playing time due to concussions.
The second primary reason was the lack of chemistry and not anyone stepping forward to be a leader on the court as were Kurt Thomas and Jerry Stackhouse during the previous season. The probable selfish play of Maggette and Chris Douglas-Roberts saw them in coach Skiles' doghouse. Salmons who had done so well in 2009-2010 did not really step forward as a leader, and he was generally ineffective as a player who could be called on to take control of a game on the line. Although the Bucks still played good defensively, they couldn't shoot and score very well, resulting in the team ranking last among the 30 NBA teams in points scored per game and shooting percentage.
During the strike-shortened 2011-2012 season, the Milwaukee Bucks also underachieved with a 31-35 final record. Once again, injuries and lack of team chemistry played a big part in the team's fortune. Andrew Bogut spent more time off the court than on it. After leaving the team for a spell to attend to a personal matter in Australia, Bogut broke his ankle in January and was done for the year. The defensive specialist, Luc Mbah A Moute, also missed a number of games with knee tendonitis starting from the beginning of the season. The play and conduct of Stephen Jackson also affected team chemistry as Jackson became cancer on the team. The Bucks seemed to be struggling for an identity since the beginning of the season and did not really find it until Bogut and Jackson were traded to Golden State for Monta Ellis and Expe Udoh. The team played better after the trade, however, coach Skiles now had to emphasize offense and neglect defense since the Bucks had no effective center.
Personnel Moves Between the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 Seasons
Following the 2011-2012 season, the Bucks realized they had to address the center position, rebounding, and defensive needs of the team. For that reason, shortly before NBA draft day in June, the team traded away Shaun Livingston, Jon Brockman, and Joe Lauer, and acquired center Samuel Dalembert from the Houston Rockets. The Bucks did not re-sign Carlos Delfino and signed Joel Przybilla as a backup center. With its first-round draft pick, Milwaukee selected strong forward John Henson, a defensive star, out of the University of North Carolina. In the second round, the Bucks took Doron Lamb, an expert shooter, from the University of Kentucky.
Status of Bucks Going Into Training Camp
When training camp opens in September of 2012, the Bucks will have 14 players under contract. They include guards Brandon Jennings, Beno Udrih, Monta Ellis, and Doron Lamb; forwards Drew Gooden, Tobias Harris, Expe Udoh, Mike Dunleavy, Luc Mbah A Moute, John Henson, Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova; and centers Samuel Dalembert and Joel Przybilla. In looking at the roster, one can see that there are too many forwards and not enough guards. Based on present indications, none of the players are injured. It is highly likely that before the start of the season the Bucks will trade some of their forwards for a shooting guard with length or sign a free agent available.
What Must Happen for The Bucks to Make The Playoffs?
If the Bucks are to make the NBA playoffs in 2013, they must accomplish the following:
1. Reduce Injuries During The Season
Injuries played a big part in derailing any hopes Milwaukee had last year of making the playoffs. Bogut was lost for almost all of the season with a broken ankle and Luc Mbah A Moute, the team's best defensive player, was plagued with chronic knee tendinitis which caused him to miss many games. The Bucks must definitely avoid injuries to key players.
2. Establish a Good Bench
During the upcoming season, there will be many back to back games. If star players, especially the older ones, are going to hold up for the whole season, it will be necessary for the Bucks to have a deep bench of capable reserves. Ersan Ilyasova, Beno Undrih, Mike Dunleavy, Joel Przybilla and Larry Sanders have proven in the past to be good bench players. Milwaukee must start getting some production from its most recent drafted college players. Players like Doron Lamb, John Henson, Tobias Harris, and Larry Sanders who did so well in the Las Vegas summer league must make significant contributions as reserves in the 2012-2012 season.
3. Establish Good Team Chemistry
Bad team chemistry hurt the Bucks last year. All of the players must play team defense as well as being unselfish. Getting Stephen Jackson off the team in the trade for Monta Ellis was a very good move earlier in 2012. Team leaders like Brandon Jennings and Mike Dunleavy have already boughten into coach Skiles defensive coaching philosophy. If Dalembert and Przybilla also play defense as Skiles teaches, the team chemistry should be better than last year.
4. Improve The Offense with Finishers:
In the past, both Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis have shown flashes of brilliance in being able to be finishers when the game is on the line. Jennings and Ellis must continue to do this, and Ersan Ilyasova, a strong forward, must also be a go-to guy at the end of games on the line.
5. Emergence of Leaders on The Team
To be a truly good team the Bucks need leaders such as Jerry Stackhouse and Kurt Thomas whom they had in the past. Now that Andrew Bogut is gone, this is Brandon Jennings' team. Although he is still quite young, he must assert himself as the point guard and become one of the leaders of the Milwaukee Bucks.
If Milwaukee can avoid serious injuries and get consistent good scoring from Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis, and Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee will be competitive. The Bucks must also be unselfish and play good team defense and rebound. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis both must be more consistent and take their games to the next level before the Bucks make the playoffs.
© 2011 Paul Richard Kuehn