Bucks Diary

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

If Bogut Plays...Good Things Happen

I've been saying all year, start Bogut, play him extended minutes, and run the offense through him. All three of those things happened at the Bradley Center and as a result the Bucks picked up one of their most astonishing victories in years, downing the perennial contenders the Dallas Mavericks in overtime, 113-110.

What makes this win, at this time, so special is the way it was achieved. This wasn't another lucky come-from-behind miracle win; this was a solid victory against an excellent team. The Bucks did not play in streaks, they went toe-to-toe from start to finish, and prevailed.

What can you say about Bogut? In so many different ways this was a watershed performance for the big man. He finally got 40 minutes, and he produced... big time. On offense, on defense, on the boards, in the clutch, he did it all, folks. I just love the way the guy plays. Channing Frye better than Bogut? Lets put that talk to bed. This guy is the intersection of intelligence, talent, and effort. He may not be supremely athletic, but was Larry Bird? Was Nate Thurmond? Was Bob Lanier? Great players all.

The Bucks are now at a crossroads. They can go one of two ways. They can continue the style of play they exhibited tonight, with Bogut as the focal point, a sort of Blazermania circa 1977 style of winning basketball, or they can simply go back to playing that ridiculous brand of ABA "hoist em' if you got em" basketball that they had been playing up to now with Michael Redd as the focal point. I submit to you that the former path is the road to a future championship, and the latter is the path to mediocrity.

At least one thing is clear: Bogut is a starter. He must start, and preferably at center. There is no way Jamaal Magliore should play more minutes than Andrew Bogut. No way.

TJ Answers

What did I tell you? If TJ can hit his jumpers, as he did tonight, he is lethal. No one can stay in front of him if no one can afford to give him 6 feet of room on the perimeter. His jump shot opens up the world for him.

If he is missing that J however, he is lost, as he had been in the last couple of games. When teams don't respect his jump shot, they know he must drive and they can consequently funnel him to a point where their defense can collapse on the little guy.

The difference is so profound, its the absolute barometer of his effectiveness.

Is Michael Redd the Sterling Sharpe of the 2005-06 Milwaukee Bucks?

This game was quite enlightening. One of the early criticisms of the Bucks was that if Michael Redd did not carry the load the Bucks could not win. Perhaps the opposite is true. Perhaps the team can be more successful if Redd subordinates his role in the offense and allows the ball to flow more freely, rather than seeing himself as option 1, 2, and 3. Perhaps his overshooting was keeping the team from realizing their full potential, and thus inhibiting them from obtaining more victories.

In that sense, he may be the Sterling Sharpe of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Packers of the early 90s were so heavily reliant on getting the ball to wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, and he was such a tremendous talent, many assumed the team would be sunk without him. Quite the opposite was true. The Packers reached their true potential only after Sharpe retired. Sharpe's tremendous production was actually something of a detriment to the team; it made them one dimensional and kept them from discovering what they could be with a more well rounded attack.

Maybe that's what's going on with Redd and the Bucks. I know one thing. If they rely too much on Redd, they become a jumpshooting team -- ie a loser. If they work the ball to others, and more hopefully through Bogut, I think they can hang with anyone in this Association.

This was a win to savor!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Offensive Ineptitude Dooms Bucks

The Bucks lost their first game this season against an Eastern Conference opponent, falling to the Detroit Pistons, 85-76, on Saturday night at the Bradley Center. The loss dropped the Bucks to .500 for the season at 6-6. The Bucks have suffered all six losses in their last nine games.

Brain Dead Down the Stretch

On this night SG Michael Redd both kept the Bucks in the game and killed them. He made some incredible, high-degree-of-difficulty threes to get the Bucks back to within three points midway through the fourth quarter (73-70), but then proceeded to help kill any chance the Bucks had of winning the game by subsequently hoisting up three of the worst shots I have ever seen a professional player take.

He wasn't alone. After getting the game down to the aforementioned three point deficit, the Bucks collectively recorded eight straight unproductive trips to the offensive end of the court, many of them ending early in the shot clock when Buck players either fired the first time they touched the ball, or simply turned the ball back over to the Pistons without even getting the chance to shoot.

In fact, the Bucks offense was so disorganized and scatterbrained down the stretch I kept looking at the Bucks bench to see if they actually had a coach. You would think that after 2 or 3 or 5 of those awful offensive episodes someone on the purple and green bench would have decided to call a timeout and inject some sense into the players. It never happened. The horror show was just allowed to continue unabated. Indeed, from the point they got the game to 73-70 (at the 5:05 mark) the Bucks did not score again until 35 seconds were left in the game and the contest was long since decided. Yet Stotts did not call a timeout until there was 1:14 remaining. By then it was way too late.

Why Not Go Down to Bogut?

In the third quarter the Bucks went down low to Andrew Bogut twice. Both entries produced baskets by the rookie. Then they went there no more. When they were struggling in the fourth quarter, why not go low to the big man? The Pistons were in the penalty, meaning Bogut would have had the advantage on whomever was guarding him. I guess pushing the offense in that direction makes a lot less sense than throwing up early threes or off balance leaners.

TJ Ford must get a jump shot

The Association has figured out how to play TJ Ford. Give him the jump shot if he's on the perimeter. If he drives, stay on the perimeter players so he has no kickout opportunities, and let your big men smother any attempt he makes to finish. This strategy has severely limited Ford's effectiveness. How many times have we seen him penetrate only to dribble back out when he can't find anyone for a kick and is afraid to challenge the interior defense? He needs to show he can consistently drop in outside shots to thwart this strategy.

Simmons really scuffling

SF Bobby Simmons is really in a slump. He can't hit anything -- against Detroit he missed 8 of his 11 field goal attempts and he is shooting just 40% from the field for the season. Other than Jiri Welsch, who Stotts doesn't seem to trust, and Toni Kukoc, who has gottent too old to be effective anymore, the Bucks have no replacement. The bottom line is Simmons has to find his game or the Bucks are going to continue to decline.

How are the Bucks even competitive?

One has to wonder how the Bucks have as many victories as they do. They are undisciplined on offense, other than Michael Redd their perimeter players can't shoot, their starting center is a cement mason, and they play sporadic defense at best. What is keeping them competitive? Michael Redd and rebounding. That's about it. If either of those two things falter on any given night, the Bucks are toast. They can't continue to live this way.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Jaric and Szerbiack Go Wild

Szerbiack Outplays Simmons

The Bucks lost another game to another Western Conference opponent, 99-91 to the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center on Friday night, making them 1-5 against the West. All I can say: Thank God they play in the East.

Unlike some of their other Western contests, however, this is a game the Bucks really should have won. When you hold an All-World player like Minnesota F Kevin Garnett to a subpar 6-17 shooting performance, you absolutely have to win. You won't win, however, when you let a pair of stiffs like F Wally Szerbiack and G Marco Jaric light you up for a combined 54 points on an unacceptable 20-31 shooting. These two guys are nothing more than one dimensional jump shooters. Neither can dribble nor does either have the athleticism to score off of drives. In other words, if you make them put the ball on the floor or just move their feet on offense, they are next to useless. Indeed, on one of the few occasions the Bucks made Szerbiack drive he almost tripped over his own feet, turning the ball over after a wild and shockingly clumsy drive. Yet, for the most part Buck defenders didn't make him move or dribble. They let him set his feet and shoot jumpers. That's when he's actually dangerous.

And Jaric. I guess he plays point guard for the Wolves, though I can't believe it because he has no quickness and absolutely no handle. In fact, any time his dribble was threatened he came unglued and often turned the ball over. Yet he was generally not pressured and he too was allowed to plant his feet and shoot jumpers, which he too is very proficient at. How can this have happened? Why couldn't the Bucks adjust and identify the stationary jump shooters? I mean, at least shut one of these two statues down.

The Bucks should have followed the strategy they used successfully on Wednesday against the Sixers. They should have let Garnett get his, but choked everyone else off. That would have made the Wolves one dimensional and easy to beat. But the Bucks, for some reason, went against that strategy and instead played Garnett tough but loosened up on the Wolves inferior perimeter players. I don't get it. The net result was a 99-91 loss in a game the Bucks played well enough to win.

Magliore comes alive!

Smith and Magliore play well

The Bucks finally established some interior offense at the Target Center. Jamaal Magliore had his best game in a Bucks uniform, scoring 14 points on 6-8 shooting, and generally controlling the boards with 10 rebounds. He may not be very proficient on offense, but every night he brings the effort and the energy.

Speaking of effort and energy, that's what PF Joe Smith is all about. The former #1 pick really rose to the occasion in his matchup with Wolves star Garnett, outplaying him for the first three quarters of the game. Smith finished with 8 points and a whopping 14 boards. He's got a huge heart.

Bogut tenative

Playing his first game since undergoing surgery to set his broken nose, C Andrew Bogut was not himself. For once the Bucks appeared to suffer when he was on the court. In 14 minutes of action Bogut grabbed only 2 rebounds and scored no points. On at least one occasion he also seemed reluctant to challenge penetration from the Wolves SG Trenton Hassell, allowing the smaller man an unabated path to the basket when all Bogut was in position to provide resistance. His initial reluctance is understandable, but we need him to overcome it.

Just a random thought

I was thinking to myself while watching the Bucks-Wolves game on Friday: I have only seen the Bucks C Andrew Bogut operate in the low post with his back to the basket once this year. That was against Heat PF Antoine Walker. I'm sure he's worked the low post more than just once, but the point is it hasn't been nearly enough.

Shooting woes

With the notable exception of SG Michael Redd, who is shooting an incredible 46.2% from the field, and to a lesser extent SF Jiri Welsch, who is shooting 48% on a limited number of attempts, the Bucks perimeter players can't hit the pavement if they spit. Someone amongst the following cement masons needs to step up their game and provide some support to Redd, otherwise the Bucks are going to become a gang of one: PG TJ Ford (37%); SF Bobby Simmons (40%); G Maurice Williams (42.3%); G Charlie Bell (38.9%); and the ancient warrior, F Toni Kukoc (32.4%). Ugly numbers.

The Forgotten Man

After signing a 6 year 36 million dollar contract in the offseason, C Dan Gadzuric must be wondering when he will get a chance to earn his money. He has fallen completely out of the rotation, and was DNP'ed again last night, the third time that has happened in this year's first 10 games. After playing 36 minutes in the first two games of the season, the former starter has logged a combined 35 minutes in the last eight, and that includes 16 minutes in the blowout loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. I know they are looking to move the big man, but I'm sure many teams are wary of his big contract and limited game. Not great value for money.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Bucks West Coast Trip Disgraceful

Bucks effort enough to make you wince

The third best team in the Association? Right. If the Bucks are in the upper half I'd be surprised. They just got destroyed by two stumblebum teams, the Sacramento Kings and the Utah Jazz. And I mean destroyed. For the entire 4 game road trip, the Bucks were outscored by a whopping 59 points.

They are playing no defense whatsoever, giving up over 101 points per game. They should be embarrased by their efforts in three of the four games played on this trip. Someone should have reminded them that they were playing professional games in front of paying fans, not pick-up games at the YMCA. Their effort in the last game was so bad Utah Coach Jerry Sloan was moved to comment on their lack of energy. The other team's coach calling you out! That's low. Its time for your Milwaukee Bucks to look in the mirror, and that starts at the top.

What is Stotts doing?

When a team with as much talent as the Bucks consistently falls behind by 20 and more points to opponent after opponent, at some point you have to ask: Is the coach doing a good job of preparing them to play? The answer here is no. Stotts has to shoulder blame for the pathetic efforts the team has put out. The two things a coach should demand every night are effort and defense. Too many nights the Bucks have provided neither. What has he done to penalize the lackadaisical efforts? Anything? Just standing there on the sideline like a statue isn't going to cut it, Ter.

Play Bogut more

I'm going to eat some serious crow here. A couple of posts back I said that 82games.com was statistical nonsense. I'm partially reversing myself, or at least qualifying my criticism. I still don't believe you can draw sweeping conclusions about a player's performance based solely upon a comparison of how the team does while he is in the game versus how they do when he is out.

But, in the case of C Andrew Bogut, where many of the contributions he makes do not show up on the stats sheet, the statistic can be at least a little enlightening. The fact is there is only one player on the roster who can say that while he is on the court the Bucks outscore there opponents: Bogut (benchwarmer Ervin Johnson notwithstanding). And, when he's off the floor the Bucks have been outscored by double digits. Now compare that to Magliore's numbers. His are the worst on the team. When he's out on the floor the Bucks get outscored by double digits, and when he is on the bench the team outscores its opponents. In fact Magliore is the only player on the Bucks who can make the dubious claim the team outscored its opponent while he was on the bench!

Magliore is doing nothing. (I truly believe Dan Gadzuric could put up better numbers than Jamaal is producing.) Until Magliore gets his game together, he should sit and Bogut should start.

Ford missed way too many of these

Ford can't hit anything, Williams has disappeared

After great starts, the point guard tandem of TJ Ford and Mo Williams has completely fizzled. Neither is making shots, and its hurting the team. On this disastrous trip, the two combined to shoot 24 for 68 for a whopping FG percentage of 35%. We need those two to get it going again.
That's all I have for today. I'm too disgusted to write anymore.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Bucks Diary: Nice Rebound

Ford Comes Up With A Spectacular Assist Late

On Tuesday the Bucks emailed their effort into the Staples Center and were humiliated by the much improved Los Angeles Clippers. On Wednesday the Bucks regrouped and produced one of their best efforts of the season in an impressive victory over the much improved Golden State Warriors. For once, the Bucks never dug themselves a hole, instead building an early lead and for the most part holding onto it for the entire game. Paradoxically, the Bucks slipped late in the fourth quarter, giving fans some nervous moments in a game that looked put away, but they fought through their difficulties and got the win. Very inspiring night for the Purple and Green. Here are some impressions from the victory:

Bogut Impressive in More Limited Duty

At the start C Andrew Bogut was relegated to the bench in favor of the veteran PF Joe Smith. The move limited Bogut's playing time, and I think that was a mistake. The Bucks seem better with Bogut on the court, particularly when he is playing the center position. While Bogut was on the floor and playing center during the second half the Bucks took and secured complete control of the game, building leads as large as 17 points, and never allowing the Warriors to get any closer than 12. It was when Bogut left the game midway through the fourth quarter that the Warriors rallied, outscoring the Bucks 19-9 with the rookie phenom on the bench.

And though Bogut had his worst shooting night of the season, I was really encouraged by his play on offense. He was unusually aggressive (he got up 12 shots in only 16 minutes!) and he seemed hell bent on dunking everything in close -- very good to see. He was also his usual tenacious self on the boards. He's a master in that area. If you watch him while the ball is in the air, he is always actively trying to position himself to get the rebound. He's got great instincts.

... Additionally, when Bogut was in there, the offense seemed to flow so much more smoothly, because of his intelligence and his passing abilities. He just makes things easier for everyone else.

... On defense it seems to me that Bogut is more comfortable guarding centers, and he seems more effective too. I think he prefers guarding guys down on the box rather than chasing them around the perimeter.

What Happened to TJ at the End?

PG TJ Ford, the normally flawless ballhandler and floor general for the Milwaukee Bucks, went through a strange case of the yips there at the end of the game. On three straight possessions, he looked like a fuddlefingers, turning the ball over each time and generally looking like Shaky Finch.
Between the 5:47 and the 4:54 mark, Ford had a pass stolen by Baron Davis, had his pocket picked by Davis, and then got his pocket picked again by Mickael Pietrus. On a subsequent possession a couple of minutes later, he again looked unsteady, nearly loosing the ball out-of-bounds. He saved it himself, though, and turned it into an impressive assist to SG Michael Redd (pictured above). Nonetheless, the turnover sequence seemed to shake the Bucks confidence a little at a crucial moment in the game, and added fuel to the Warriors late rally. I can't really explain what happened. He suddenly looked like he was uncomfortable handling the ball. It seems like bigger point guards like the Warriors Baron Davis bother him a bit, and maybe it finally shook his concentration. Weird sequence and out of character for the little guy.

Welsch Looks Good Again But Needs to Finish Drives

FG Jiri Welsch continued to make the best use of his limited time. He was 2-for-4 from the field for five points and added 2 rebounds in only 13 minutes of action. He looks comfortable on the offensive end and surprisingly he moves pretty well on defense. He needs to finish better around the rim though. On two seperate occasions he made strong moves to the hoop but then casually flipped the ball up at the basket, almost like a player would if he were fouled and was simply trying to get a shot in the air. Both turned into bad overlays. He needs to complete his drives with strength. Otherwise he looks like a great addition to the Purple and Green.

Magliore Looked Better

Last night Bucks C Jamaal Magliore looked like the player the Bucks traded for. Indeed, he showed some impressive moves around the basket. His footwork and quickness down low was really eye-opening. He brought out some spin moves I did not realize he had. They were somewhat similar to the kind of moves on the blocks that James Worthy used to display. The problem again tonight -- he wasn't finishing. The ball, for whatever reason, just wouldn't go in the drain. I am encouraged though, because he seems very close to getting his game on.

Ironically Good Sign: PG Mo Williams Held Scoreless

One of the most encouraging things about the Bucks road victory was PG Mo Williams. Or, rather, the lack of Mo Williams. With one of their hottest scorers failing to get off the schneid all night long the Bucks still found a way to win on the West Coast, against a talented team, and one night after getting blown out. All in all, quite a win for your Milwaukee Bucks.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Bucks Diary: Partial Reassessment on Bogut

A couple of posts ago I anointed Bucks rookie C Andrew Bogut the new Bill Walton. That was probably the product of too much coffee, hysteria, and my general overreaction to Bogut's impressive first two games. I was giddy. I admit it. I want to amend the comparison at this time.

Something has been bugging me about my Walton analogy ever since I made it. The two indeed have similar games, but there was something quite different about the way the young Walton used to play the game, at least as I recall him playing it in my mind's eye, that Bogut hasn't quite matched. Then I hit on it.

Walton was far more aggressive and energetic on both the offensive and defensive ends. He was a kinetic motion machine, bouncing and running all over the arenas of the day. And though Walton could not jump out of the gym by any stretch, he was constantly leaving his feet to challenge any and every opposition shot. Remember, in fact, how he took up the no win challenge of trying to block Dr. J's dunk in the 1977 NBA Finals and received the biggest posterization in history? I'm sure it didn't even phase him. He was unafraid. Bogut thus far is not. He doesn't often get off his feet to challenge penetration. He is averaging less than one blocked shot per game, and seems to prefer playing position defense to shotblocking (how many charges has he tried to draw already?) We need him to be a bit more intimidating when it comes to greeting visitors in the lane.

Bogut doesn't get off the ground with the quickness of Walton, sure, and his footwork at this point is not nearly as good as the redhead's, but I think those things can be improved upon with work. Heavy legs can be lightened through ropework and other more high tech training methods. Again, Bogut doesn't have to be a great leaper, he just needs to get off the ground with some quickness and repitition. At 7'0, he ought to have at least a little Bill Russell in him.

If he continues to play the sort of passive earthbound game that he has thus far been playing, the kind of game that completely nuetralizes his height and does nothing to ward off penetration, he will be a bit of a disappointment to Bucks fans. Get aggressive Andrew! Get the gum off your shoes! We don't want Vlade Divac or Michael Doleac. Damn it, we want the poor man's Billy Walton!

Bucks Diary: Pounded by the Clippers

Redd Rejected By Redneck

You could see this one coming from the Bradley Center to Sussex. The Bucks were beaten soundly on Tuesday by the Los Angeles Clippers. They deserved what they got. You simply cannot continuously get down by huge margins and not expect that one day someone ain't gonna let you up.

The Bucks have spent the early parts of every game this season seeing how big a hole they can dig for themselves, and then spent the remainder of each game trying to dig out. I said in my last posting their good fortune was bound to run out. Tonight it did. The Los Angeles Clippers destroyed the Bucks in every way possible, building leads that bordered on 30 points, and generally humiliating the visitors.

Ford Eaten by an Alien

TJ Ford had a nice night offensively, but his man on the other end, the alien looking Clipper PG Sam Cassell, ate him for lunch. Cassell sank 9 of 12 shot attempts, 5 of 5 foul shots, and never appeared to be even bothered by Ford's defense on his way to 23 points. Ford needs to find a way to be more effective on the defensive end. He will often give up size in his matchups; he has to learn some tricks to help himself overcome that handicap.

Where was Magliore?

This is now becoming troublesome. Bucks C Jamaal Magliore is providing nothing. Where is the offense we were promised? Last night he had zero points in 22 minutes of action. Combine that with Bogut's 2 points in limited action and guess what? The Bucks are back to being the donut team. They're getting nothing from the middle. They have no post up game. No one has shown themselves to be effective on the blocks. That must must must change.

No Effort

The Bucks did not give a professional effort in tonight's game, especially in the second half. They looked like they didn't even care. It was embarrasing. Did anyone else detect an inordinate amount of laughing and giggling between the two teams? It was infuriating. Why didn't Stotts put a stop to it? Moreover, the Bucks, for a supposedly good team, really took this thrashing with a smile. Very disturbing. They better check their luggage and find their collective game or this West Coast trip is going to be one blowout after another.

Williams Back to Earth

You knew Mo Williams wasn't going to remain mercury hot for the entire season. He was bound to cool off and he did. The problem was no one else picked him up. I'm really uneasy about the Bucks' two biggest scoring threats being essentially jump-shooting guards. The better teams in the league are just going to destroy the Bucks unless they can get some reliable production down low.

Welsch looks good

Though his statistics didn't show it, I thought FG Jiri Welsch looked pretty good out on the court Tuesday. There was a certain flow to his game. At this point its just intuition, but I think he will be productive.

Scary Kamin

This is not relevant to anything, but have you ever seen a bigger redneck looking player in the NBA than Clippers C Chris Kamin? He looks like he belongs on the graveyard shift at the auto parts salvage yard, not on an NBA court. Cut your frickin hair man. You look like a Camaro driver.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Bucks Diary: Curb Your Enthusiasm

Bucks Celebrate Miracle Win

Its been a thrilling first five games for fans of the Purple and Green. After an improbable last second victory against the formidable Indiana Pacers, the Bucks stand 4-1, with each victory containing a rally from a double digit deficit, and two being either won or preserved with a last second three point basket. The cardiac Bucks. Their game telecasts should contain a cautionary warning for those with heart conditions. No rally is to great to overcome. The only thing that can stop them is time.

The question is, how long can the Bucks continue to live dangerously? You can't fall behind by 20 and expect to win on a consistent basis. Sure, the wins so far are great, and the list of oppoents defeated is impressive, but do you remember the beginning of Apocalypse Now when Willard and the Army brass are listening to a recording of Kurtz on which the demented Colonel says:

I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream. That's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight... razor... and surviving.

That's what I think of when I think of these Buck wins. A snail crawling along the edge of a straight razor and surviving. How long can they keep surviving? Not long I fear. Here are the areas that need shoring up if the Bucks are to become a legitimate title contender:

Inside Scoring

Earlier I said the Bucks were built along the lines of the San Antonio Spurs. They don't play that way, however. They don't feed the post nearly enough and they don't utilize the offensive skills of their big men, specifically Jamaal Magliore and rookie Andrew Bogut. They are becoming too dependent on the jump shooting skills of G Michael Redd and reserve G Mo Williams. To become a true contender, they must make a more concerted effort to work the offense inside-out. In other words, they have to feed the high post, probably Bogut as he is the superior passer. He can then trigger the offense back to the shooters, or use his own moves to get easy inside baskets. This will prevent the Bucks from being so hot and cold.

More Defense

Thus far the Bucks are playing very little quality defense. This type of play doesn't fly in the play-offs. Redd can be shut down. How reliable is Williams? I wouldn't want to go into any play-off series depending solely upon outscoring the opponent, or hoping the opponent misses an inordinate amount of foul shots (as Indiana did on Saturday). Defense is a constant. The Bucks must begin to concentrate on playing more of it.

No More Houdinis

Statistically speaking, these come from behind wins tend to even themselves out. The Bucks cannot dig themselves these gullies and then expect night after night to pull off miracle escapes. They need to start playing from ahead. They need to go aggressively to the hoop and even out the foul shot opportunities. Until they do that, they cannot expect to continue along the winning path they are currently on.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bucks Diary: Start Playing From Ahead

Bucks need to do this more often

The Bucks have had a spectacular and unexpected start to the 2005-06 season. But one trend bothers me. Whether at home or on the road, in every game the Bucks have dug themselves a double digit hole they then have had to dig out of. That's part of the reason I'm leery about all the goodwill that's been showered on the team lately. Championship teams don't have to rally from way behind night after night. They play from ahead. Until the Bucks show the capacity to do so, I think I will continue to be a little skeptical.

Feed the Post

The Bucks need to take advantage of the new talent they have acquired in the post. They can get easy baskets if they made a more concerted effort to run the offense through Bogut and Magliore. Both are more than capable of passing out of the post, so the looks will still be there for the three wing players. It would also relieve some pressure from TJ Ford. Teams have gotten the memo; they're starting to gear their defenses toward stopping him. There are consequences for such a strategy, and the Bucks need to take advantage of them.

Strange Loss

The Bucks loss to Golden State had a somewhat flukish quality. The Bucks outrebounded the Warriors, they produced more assists than the Warriors, and they had more steals. These are the statistics they flash at the Bradley Center on the "Hustle Board". They do that because generally the team that wins the hustle points wins the game. Not so on Tuesday. Which leads to my last musing.

Free Throw Disparity

The Bucks are not getting to foul line enough, which indicates they may be settling for too many jump shots. Teams that live and die by the jump shot are teams that don't advance very far in the play-offs. I said in my initial post on this blog that the lack of a so-called "slasher" troubled me. This is one of the areas where such a shortcoming really shows up. The Bucks need to attack the basket and get to the line. That's where the game was lost on Tuesday, plain and simple. The Warriors had more free throws made than the Bucks had attempted. That can't happen.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Bucks Diary: Up the Power Rankings

Bucks C Magliore Wrestles with Zo Mourning
After a successful opening week in which the team went 3-0 against three legitimate play-off contenders (two on the road) the Milwaukee Bucks soared up ESPN.com's "Power Rankings", from 13 to get this... 5! Could you imagine the Bucks at No. 5 in any such poll just one month ago? Of course, these polls tend to be the "Who's Hot, Who's Not" lists of sports journalism, but for now at least the Bucks are getting some love. Word to the wise, however: I don't think the Bucks are at this point the fifth best team in the Association.

Redd Can D it Up

Some have suggested Michael Redd is not interested in defense. I always believed this was not true. He has always struck me as at least a serviceable defender, dating back to his days as a reserve under George Karl. Saturday he showed what he is capable of doing. He played some very impressive defense against the difficult Heat G Dwayne Wade, holding the young superstar to 21 points on only 6 of 17 shooting. His effort was a key to the Bucks victory. By the way he still got his, scoring 23 points on the other end. Michael thus far is earning his money.

Bogut's Legs Looked a Little Heavy

Rookie C Andrew Bogut has had an encouraging opening week. On Saturday however I thought his legs looked a little tired at times. He had a hard time getting his base in the low post against Heat F Antoine Walker, though he did back him down, shoot over him, and then retrieve his own miss and put it in. I'm simply glad at this point that GM Harris had the foresight to bring in Jamaal Magliore so that Bogut didn't have to start his professional career going it alone in the paint. He did a nice job against Heat C Alonzo Mourning when he had to defense him, but I shudder to think of him having to bang with the big man all by himself all night long.

How Long Can G Mo Williams Keep this Up?

Mo Williams was terrific again on in Saturday's home opener. He's really dialed in at this point. I wonder how long he can keep up this kind of incredible shooting. Perhaps coming off the bench keeps his legs strong and fresh, aiding his jumper. He's been a refreshing surprise in a week of refreshing surprises.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Bucks Diary: Bucks Overcome Inspired Mourning

Love for the Pocket Rocket on Opening Night

Great Britain's experience in World War I has often been described as a series of frustrating defeats followed by ultimate victory. Meaning, Great Britain overcame the military might of Germany by hanging together and then simply outlasting them in the end. That's what happened in the Bucks victory over the Heat on Saturday night. In front of a sometimes raucous, sometimes quiet opening night crowd the Bucks withstood the Heat and a brilliant throwback performance by Heat C Alonzo Mourning to post their third victory in three chances to begin the 2005-06.

Heat takes Bucks Out of their Game

For most of the night the Heat, led by Mourning, had the Bucks out of their game. The team's offensive sparkplug PG TJ Ford couldn't get in the paint, and when he did the Heat collapsed on him and Mourning slammed the door shut. The Bucks got occasional points out of their running game, but weren't able to get out often because Mourning and Heat PF Udonis Haslem controlled the glass. If that weren't bad enough, the Heat seemed to quiet the red-hot Michael Redd for long stretches of the game. This didn't portend well for Milwaukee. In fact, at several points in the game I looked at the scoreboard and was astonished to see the Bucks were still within a couple of baskets of the Heat. The Heat seemed to control the tempo and action through most of the game.

Simmons Keeps Bucks Above Water

During a crucial stretch in the fourth quarter, with the Bucks down 87-79 and Miami threatening to breakaway, new Bucks F Bobby Simmons endeared himself to his new fans by almost singlehandedly keeping Milwaukee in the game. Simmons scored 10 of his game high 23 points during a five minute stretch late in the fourth quarter that turned the game in the Bucks favor. In the time between Simmons first basket of the fourth quarter, on a lay-up off a beautiful feed by G Michael Williams at the 6:51 mark, and his final points of the game, on a thunderous driving dunk that sent the crowd into a frenzy at the 1:12 mark, the Bucks outscored Miami 17-6 and effectively snatched the game away from the visitors. A brilliant home debut for Simmons.

Salute to Alonzo Mourning

When oldtimers argue that Boston Celtics C Bill Russell was the greatest player of all time, many today roll their eyes. After all he couldn't shoot. Then when you watch what Alonzo Mourning did on Saturday night you reassess. A center who can effectively turn the lane into a veritable no man's land can essentially tilt the entire game in his team's favor. Wow, was Mourning impressive. He simply would not let the Bucks get any easy baskets, and he swept the boards like it was 1995 all over again. And I feel great for him. He may be the most underappreciated great center since the incomparable Nate Thurmond roamed the paint. Plus that "ooh my kidney" taunt by the overrated jerk Kenyon Martin still boils my blood. All in all an inspirational night for a true professional.

Heat G Dwayne Wade is Getting Jordan Calls

If the game against the Bucks is any good indication, Miami Heat G Dwayne Wade is being given the ultimate show of respect from NBA officials: he's getting Jordan calls! In other words, whenever he drives to the basket now its an automatic foul. Some of the calls were legitimate, but several were ridiculous and smacked of the old "automatic whistle". Since his whole game seems to be drives to the hoop, Wade could really feast this season if he improved his shooting from the line. A bit of advice for him though: He's not going to last long in this league if he has to make his living that way. He's an injury waiting to happen. He needs to develop a more dependable jumpshot for the betterment of his physical health.

What to make of the win for the Bucks
What did this game tell us? Well I thought it was the Bucks most impressive win. Michael Redd was human with only 23 points. In addition the Bucks were taken completely out of their game for long stretches by tenacious Heat defense and yet showed the depth, resiliency, and resourcefulness to pull the game out.
Some will no doubt call this a tainted win because of the lack of Shaq, but I don't think so. Even on two healthy ankles, Shaq is again out-of-shape and no longer plays defense with any level of interest, and only rebounds when he feels like it; he certainly would not have brought the passion and effectiveness to either area that Mourning brought. Where the team most probably missed Shaq was during the Bucks decisive 17-6 run at the end of the game. During that crucial stretch the Heat began missing their jump shots and seemed to have no other option than Dwayne Wade's kamikaze drives to the hoop. Well, when the rest of the offense melts down you can generally still throw the ball down low to Shaq for some unstoppable points. They missed that, but the Bucks would have won either way.

Bucks Diary: Is 82games.com statistical nonsense?

According to 82games.com Zaza rules

Ever since an article appeared in the New York Times last spring touting the new statistical revolution in the National Basketball Association, the website 82games.com (mentioned prominently therein) has been the buzz of hoopsheads everywhere. The question I have is, do the statistical conclusions contained on that site have any value?

Let me say first that I am not one of these guys that instinctively attacks number crunching sports analysts nor do I reject the work they produce out-of-hand, and I certainly try to refrain from labeling them pocket protecting geeks. I genuinely think good solid statistical analysis can give a competitor the upperhand in almost every industry, so I welcome it. In this case, however, I'm concerned that what 82games is pushing is not good analysis.

I don't pretend to understand the convoluted formulas they use to rate players and their overall contributions to their respective teams. Its so user unfriendly you would almost have to take a full semester course to master it. (By the by, I've found that's always a bad sign when it comes to statistical credibility). But from what I bothered to learn about it, I gather the numbers their formula generates reflect the contribution a given player makes to his team according to how that team does when the player is on the court versus when the player is off the court.

Well first of all, I teach a logics class so logical flaws sometimes seem obvious to me. One jumps out at me here. It is what I call the "coincidental occurence" and the "happenstance" fallacies. That is, simply because two things occur at the same time does not mean that one caused the other, and simply because someone produced certain results doesn't necessarily mean you can extrapolate those results and consider them fair evidence of that person's value. Yet that is sort of the baseline logic behind 82games statistical analysis.
Let me give you an example. You find you need to undergo dangerous surgery. The hospital recommends a certain doctor perform the surgery. You look at the hospital's statistics and find that the mortality rate for this doctor is considerably higher than the overall norm for the staff. You are understanably concerned that this doctor is not skilled. That's essentially what 82games would have you believe. Yet it turns out the doctor is actually the best surgeon on the staff. He is so skilled that he is the only one on the staff who can perform the most risky cutting edge surgery, accounting for his high mortality rate.
Like the surgeon example above, 82games is saying because the team as a whole performed in a certain manner while a certain player was on the court, and in a certain manner while that player was off the court, those differing performances can be reflected back upon the player. Over time perhaps that may be true, but you must be very, very skeptical. There are so many variables inherently involved between the cause-and-effect they want you to buy, I don't know if its a good purchase. When I look at analysis and judge its merit, I want to know the specific reasons the conclusions occured, what 82games gives us is mere happenstance.

If their logic is faulty, some of their conclusions are shocking. For instance their numbers from last year indicate the Bucks were worse off with Michael Redd on the court. I find that hard to swallow. Then if you look at their numbers from 2003-2004, you would be led to conclude that the Bucks were much better off with ex-Buck Erick Strickland running the point and burgeoning superstar point guard TJ Ford on the bench. Come on now.

If that weren't enough to warn you off 82games' brand of basketball analysis, then get this: if you put faith in their numbers it would seem former Bucks center Zaza Pachulia is on his way to making the next 50 Greatest List. That's to much. Anyone who's watched him play over any stretch of time knows that marshmallow has no game. Yet somehow 82games numbers consistently indicate that he is a very valuable commodity wherever he goes. That's a joke. I checked the boxscore from last night's Hawks game and superstar Pachulia -- a center remember -- somehow went 1-for-9 from the field. Was the basket moving around Zaza? Do you see why I might be leery?

Maybe 82games.com has some value. It probably does. But I haven't found it, and if I were a GM in the NBA, I would certainly view their information with a grain of salt.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Bucks Diary: Bogut Looks Like the New Walton

Bogut looks like Bill Walton redux
Last summer prior to the NBA draft we heard top pick C Andrew Bogut compared to a sundry of players, most of them mediocrities like human statue Brad Miller, chain smoker Vlade Divac, and even the slug Chris Kaman. After his preseason play, and his first two regular season games a new much more prestigious comparison seems apt. Andrew Bogut looks for all the world to be the new Bill Walton.

Their games are so similar it is a wonder few have recognized the parallels. Bogut's size and frame are almost identical to the 1974 version of Walton. His style is a mirror reflection as well. He runs the floor like Walton. He crashes the boards with the same reckless abandon that the redhead had. He finishes around the basket just like him. He even has that same 'two hands in the air' defensive style that Portland fans loved. They're so similar in fact I wouldn't be surprised if I found out Bogut carries his gym clothes in an onion bag and doesn't eat meat.

This analogy gives Bucks fans an insight into what they can expect from their new big man. First, he's not Shaq. He's not going to dominate the paint, or intimidate anyone, or dunk on the entire opposition. That's the Wilt Chamberlin school of big men. The Bill Walton school teaches you to hustle, pass exquisitely out of the high and low post, finish strong around the basket ("throw it dowwwwn, big man") and get teammates easy scoring opportunities. So, Bogut will not put up big scoring numbers-- just as Walton did not -- but he will rebound with abandon, and, despite his relative lack of heft in the post, he will grow to become a more than effective defender and shot blocker.

So strap yourselves in Bucks fans. This Croatian may not wear a bandana or have nasty red sideburns, but he is the closest thing to Bill Walton the league has seen since the redhead's heyday, and that's good news for all fans of the Green and Purple.

Bucks Diary: Are they this good?

I don't want to get too excited about the Bucks just yet. Its only Game 2, but the way they have played is eye-opening. Milwaukee played home opener foil on consecutive nights to two Atlantic Division foes who figure to be in the play-off hunt come next spring. On both nights the Bucks fell behind before rallying to bury their hosts.
On Tuesday they caught up just in the nick of time against Philadelphia. Last night against the New Jersey Nets they rallied much earlier and were in position therefore to turn the game into, frankly, a laugher. The Bucks led the Nets by as many as 16 points, and won by 14.
The question of the moment is: Are the Bucks really this good? I guess we will get more information on Saturday night when they take on the scary Miami Heat. That team is a powerhouse for sure and will certainly test the brash young Bucks.
Until then, I'll ponder some reasons why the Bucks are, or might not be, as good as they have looked the last two nights:

Bobby Simmons informs the Nets Richard Jefferson that he's overrated

PRO: The Bucks have been winning with contributions from various sources.

The Bucks look deep. On Tuesday night they got key scoring contributions from Charlie Bell and a big night out of Bobby Simmons. Last night Bell did not register a point and Simmons had a rough game. Yet the Bucks still won handily, with reserve point guard Maurice Williams having a spectacular night (did you see his Hakeem like fake spin move jumper? Whoever was guarding him was left somewhere in Hoboken.) Versatility in the scoring column is the mark of a tough team.

What zone is Michael Redd in and how do you get there?

CON: Michael Redd has been white hot, and can't possibly keep it up

Everything Michael Redd has been throwing up has been going in. The range finder on his sling shot jumper is locked in. And he's going to the basket effectively as well. He's been incredible the last two games and can't possibly keep up that pace all season. When he comes back to Earth, will the Bucks also?

PRO: The Bucks are crushing teams without gettting anything from Jamaal Magliore

Jamaal Magliore looks a little lost on the offensive end. He has barely contributed there. Once he gets going, the Bucks will only get better.

CON: TJ Ford is playing above himself

This one I'm not sure about. Perhaps he's a new person altogether. Whatever the case, he's been spectacular, averaging 18 points and 10 assists per game. Getting him back, especiallythis new and improved model, has been like getting both Chris Paul and Bogut in the draft. Actually, he's better than Chris Paul. But, it defies logic that he can come back and play so far above his career numbers, especially in the scoring department. Can he keep it up?

PRO: TJ Ford is the ultimate difference maker

I'm inclined to lean this way. When he's healthy, the Bucks win. Its that simple. He sets up his teammates beautifully, he pushes the ball hard and puts pressure on the other team's defense at all times, and now he penetrates and finishes, meaning defenses will have to respect him. If they do, he will find the open man. He has now outclassed Allen Iverson and Jason Kidd on consecutive nights. What have we got here?

CONCLUSION: Yes, they are this good (I think).

At the risk of jinxing the Green and Purple, I am going to say they ARE this good. They are a fastbreaking, share the ball and hit your shot team that's never out of a game. A couple posts ago I made fun of Chicago Tribune columnist Sam Smith for calling the Bucks a Finals contender; I now apologize. If the Bucks can keep TJ Ford healthy, and if they can continue to get the play off the bench that they have been getting, I think they can compete with anyone in the Association --- including the San Antonio Spurs.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Bucks Diary: Nov. 2, 2005


The Bucks took the court last night against the Philadelphia 76ers to begin the 2005 season. What a beginning! The Bucks rallied behind Michael Redd's hot shooting and TJ Ford's incredible speed and stunned the 76ers by tying the game in regulation. Then in overtime, Ford, Redd, and the sensational new center Andrew Bogut took over and dominated the Sixers leading the Bucks to an impressive 117-108 win. The new Bucks looked very, very good. Here are some impressions.

Bogut is closer to Bill Walton than Olowakandi

Andrew Bogut is the real deal. He hustles, he rebounds, he finishes around the basket. I was quite impressed. Stephen A. Smith reports Marvin Williams doesn't really like to play basketball. Is there any question that the Bucks chose the right man?

TJ Ford is an incredible point guard

TJ was the little engine who could on Tuesday. Though the stats don't really reflect it, I thought he dominated Allen Iverson when it counted most. His coast-to-coast lay-up near the 1:00 minute mark of regulation put was a sight to see, and it put the Bucks in position for the win. His heads up intelligence on the final play in regulation, keeping his dribble alive until he found 3 point expert Michael Redd for the game tying shot, was a thing of beauty. Welcome back Pocket Rocket.

Charlie Bell is a find

In the first half, when the Bucks were struggling to hang with Philly, this Charlie Bell guy showed he is a scoring force off the bench, sinking shot after crucial shot. He is quite an addition to your Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks celebrate Redd's heroics

Bobby Simmons is for real

F Bobby Simmons showed he is not a one year wonder. He finished with 20 plus points in an impressive debut with the Green and Purple. He gives us dimensions that the inconsistent but flashy Desmond Mason never provided. He will be a big key to our Bucks success in the '05 campaign.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Bucks Diary: Nov. 1 2005


Prior to the Bucks acquisition of C Jamaal Magliore, it was difficult to find any expert who said they were a play-off contender. After the acquisition, the Bucks stock rose considerably. In fact, one respected publication calls them a "play-off lock". (Dime Magazine).

Their "power ranking" -- a pretty fair indication of the common wisdom about the team -- is also on the ascent. In the latest edition of the FoxSports.com power rankings the Bucks have vaulted to No. 12. They are No. 13 on ESPN.com.

Is the newfound respect justified? I'm not entirely convinced. The Bucks are now clearly constructed in the San Antonio Spurs image, but there is one conspicuous difference. Milwaukee has no Manu Ginobli. They have no one who, when the shot clock runs down or the offensive play has failed, can go to the hole with aggression and either draw the defense and then pass to an open teammate, take the shot himself, or force the defense to foul him and send him to the free throw line. The NBA types refer to such a player as a "slasher". Without that ingredient the Bucks will basically be one of those two-men-in-the-paint-three-outside-the-3 point line teams. I'm not saying they won't be successful with this formula, but I want to see it work before I start proclaiming great fortunes for the team.

What is Sam Smith Smoking?

Sam Smith, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, and one of the better NBA analysts around (in my opinion) had a really weird column about the Bucks yesterday. The basic point he made was that the Bucks pulled off a real coup getting Magliore. That was a solid observation. But some of his subpoints were questionable. First he said the Bucks would be a dangerous team that the elite teams in the NBA would legitimately fear for the first time since Kareem wore the green. What? Did he miss the Don Nelson teams of the 80s. I think they were pretty good. How about the George Karl teams of recent vintage. Yes, they were flawed and psychologically disturbed, but I think most every team in the NBA feared them. Then Smith said he fully expected the Bucks to challenge for the Eastern Conference championship. While I appreciate the love, I just don't know. Are they that much better this year? My heart hopes he's right, but my head says he was overcaffineated when he wrote that column.

Joe Smith Still Hurting
PF Joe Smith is still suffering from his knee ailment and it looks like he will miss the season opener. Smith says there is nothing wrong with his knee, that its "just swelling". But I spoke with a friend of mine who is a surgeon and he said there is no such thing. He tells me swelling is merely an overt indication that an underlying problem exists. His best guess is that Smith suffers from torn meniscal cartilage, a painful and persistent but not necessarily debilitating condition. My take: I hope they don't try that "microfracture" fracture procedure on him. For older players, like the now immobile Chris Webber, and the recently forced to retire Allen Houston, the treatment seems to have been worse than the ailment.
What's Going On With Jiri?
I'm suspicious about the Jiri Welsch situation. He's only played in two exhibition games because of a "contusion" of his left quadriceps. In other words, he has a thigh bruise. Don't those usually heal in less than four weeks? You never know when its the Bucks what is fact and what is half-fact.