A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Why the Milwaukee Bucks may be this year’s surprise breakout team

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Last year’s Phoenix Suns ultra-breakout was a fun story, because nobody, like almost literally nobody, predicted it. They were supposed to be awful, they won 48 Gs. A jump that big never happens.

Is there a potential breakout team this year? I’ve got one name on my mind the more I look at it: Milwaukee

Milwaukee is coming off a horrendous 15-67 season where everything that could go wrong, did. However they were a 38-44 playoff team in 2012-2013 and came into 2013-2014 with a roster hoping to make the playoffs, before injuries or off court issues got to them.

A legitimate frontcourt

What’s important to note about the 2012-2013 team is they had a near clear cut two most valuable players and it wasn’t Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis, who’s poor defense and chucking seasons that year rarely helps teams. It was Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova, who despite providing little to the Bucks in 2013-2014, there’s no reason to think they won’t be back to normal in terms of health and motivation this year.

Sanders and Ilyasova is an ideal front-court combination. Sanders in 2012-2013 was a defensive player of the year candidate at centre, but had little offensive skills. Which made Ilyasova’s stretch power forward game the ideal compliment, opening up the offense in a say Sanders cannot. When taking into account efficiency and volume, calling Ilyasova the best scorer and overall offensive producer on the Bucks that season is also most likely the right call. Neither Sanders or Ilyasova made the all-star game, but the combined offensive and defensive value of the pair should not be underestimated when constructing a team.

The rest of the Bucks big men isn’t so bad a look either. John Henson’s per minute numbers have been above average in the NBA with a solid combination of FG%, blocked shots and rebounding per minute. Zaza Pachulia is also a reliable, backup energy big man who’s still only 30. You can do worse than Henson or Pachulia. Jabari Parker may also play power forward for the Bucks. While it’s unclear if he’ll be efficient or defensively competent, he will space the floor at least if he’s at the 4 which helps the offense.

The perimeter may be more effective than it looks

The Bucks perimeter rotation appears to be a bigger weakness, but the whole may be greater than its parts. What’s important about Brandon Knight, Jerryd Bayless, Nate Wolters, O.J. Mayo, Jared Dudley, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker is none project to be horrible, non-rotation caliber players. With the exception of Parker, the rest have established very passable production and roles in a rotation.

What I’d want these perimeter players to do is this: Space the floor, pass the ball and put pressure on the other team defensively. These are things elite talent is not always needed to do. The Bucks perimeter may be capable of this. Khris Middleton had a strong 3pt shooting season last year at 41.4% on 3.5 attempts a game and while O.J. Mayo in an off season overall shot 37.0% from 3 on 4.4 attempts a game. Dudley did not feel healthy last year but has hit 3s well historically with a career 3pt average of 39.7%. Having three good 3pt shooters at SG and SF is an asset for the Bucks. Of course neither may be as important as Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the perimeter, who statistically had a mediocre season last year transitioning to the NBA, but flashed his talent. In summer league and FIBA he looked exceptional. Jason Kidd’s Nets defense last year relied on aggressive trapping defensively, which could fit Giannis’ role on the Bucks perfectly. At 34.7% from 3 on 1.5 attempts a game last year it’s also possible he makes a leap as a shooter. If Giannis could turn into an impact aggressive defender as soon as next year, it could provide a valuable compliment to Larry Sanders in the front court and shooters who struggle defensively like Dudley, Mayo and Middleton.

That leaves PG where the Bucks have competition between Brandon Knight, Nate Wolters, Jerryd Bayless and Kendall Marshall. It’s hard to tell which way Kidd will choose with these points. Knight led the Bucks in points and assists last year, but was the type of high volume, inefficient guard on a bad team that can later go by the wayside when his teammates improve. Knight needs to improve his 3pt% past the 32.5% it was last year to become an established starter. Marshall’s passing skill may be a nice fit with other shooters on the roster and he himself hit nearly 40% from 3 last year, but defensively he struggles. Bayless has winning experience from playing in Memphis but his productivity relies on his 3pt shooting which has been on and off in his career. Wolters on paper didn’t do a whole lot well last year, but is a big guard with passing vision and upside if he can shoot better. Overall, PG isn’t going to be the Bucks strength but if they can get average production out of the position it could be enough.

Jason Kidd and a winning culture?

Under previous ownership the Bucks were never the franchise to lie down and tank, which some claim dooms them to mediocrity. It was possible the new owners would take the Bucks in a Sixers like, draft picks orientated path, but my feeling is the Jason Kidd hiring tips their hand. Kidd does not make sense for the Bucks and the Bucks do not make sense for Kidd, unless they have plans to start winning sooner than later.

What Kidd may have saw is a team built to mimic how he turned the Nets around without Brook Lopez. By playing Pierce at power forward the Nets spaced the floor and played aggressive perimeter defense. The Bucks may be set up to do that, with the Ilyasova and Sanders front court flanked by floor spacing candidates like Knight, Dudley, Mayo, Middleton, Parker, etc. and a full court athlete in Antetokounmpo. The Bucks may not only find themselves with the right coach to take advantage of their talent, but their talent level may be underrated anyways because our eyes drift to the top of a roster instead of looking at whether all 10-12 guys in the rotation deserve to be getting minutes in the NBA, which may be the case with the Bucks.

While I don’t expect the Bucks to win as many games as the Suns next year, some of the ingredients may be similar from internal improvement of young players, a new coaching implementing progressive strategies offensively and defensively and veterans finding their games within this system.

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Written by jr.

October 3, 2014 at 3:04 pm

One Response

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  1. You’re almost certainly wrong. Parker and G-Bo will be mandate for a lot of minutes for one thing. Long term that’ll be good to help them develop, but short term it’s going to cause loses. Young guys make mistakes, and these 2 are not going to be any different (and with how raw G-Bo was last year he’s still more or less a rookie, the guy has no idea where to be on the court yet most times). Illy looked terrible last year, destroying a lot of his trade value, and Sanders can’t be counted on for anything (not even getting on the court). In case you missed it Sanders sucked last year. He got some support from fans when Gary Neal called him on not “earning his money”, but it turns out Neal was right. Sanders got put into drug rehab this offseason. He’s a mess. It’s unclear if he’ll even be able to repeat his contract year back in 2013, so to say there’s “no reason to think he won’t return to form” shows you know nothing about Sanders situation. Knight is one of the worst, if not the worst, starting point guard in the NBA. As for Jason Kidd, it’s very dubious if he can coach to a high level in the NBA. He certainly underachieved last year, so to talk of him bringing a “winning culture” is pretty silly. Mayo was basically kicked out of Dallas because Rick Carlisle thought he was a loser, and said so in the penultimate press conference of the year, and since arriving in Milwaukee OJ has sucked. He’s also gotten fat, and I mean really, really fat. Google some pictures. The guy looks like a wash out. He’s not going to give them anything next season. I’ll be amazed if he’s still in the NBA in 2-3 years.

    The Bucks did not try to tank last year, not to begin with. Indeed, their fans were frustrated at ownerships many moves designed to help the team inch closer to the playoffs, and the statements from ownership that rejected any idea of tanking. It was only after guys like Sanders and Illy let the team down so much that they said “alright, maybe we should play the hand we’ve been dealt and go for it”. The main reason they were bad last year was because they sucked. Not much has changed since then, except to add some young prospects who aren’t ready to contribute. Every one of the Bucks starters is a below average starter for his position. Their bench is probably below average too. They will be a bad team next season, even if they improve. Even if Jabari is Melo’s clone, they’re extremely unlikely to make the playoffs.

    The one who knocks

    October 3, 2014 at 6:09 pm


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