Ever since making the playoffs in 2010, the Milwaukee Bucks have had two straight seasons missing the cut. Defensive-minded head coach, Scott Skiles, has made the Bucks into a defensive team, with offense coming at a premium. After adding Monta Ellis, via trade, last season, the Bucks went on a bit of a run. Can they make the leap back into the playoffs this season?
After trading away the former No. 1 overall draft pick, Andrew Bogut, to Golden State for Ellis, the Bucks’ offensive production picked up. In the 20 games that Ellis played in, the Bucks scored 100 or more points 14 times, compared to 19 times in the previous 46 games.
Also in the backcourt is Brandon Jennings, the Bucks first-round pick in the 2009 draft. As Jennings enters his fourth season with the Bucks, he will need to take the “next” step and prove that he can be a long-term solution at point guard for the Bucks. Jennings has shown that he can score the basketball, but has not been able to be as consistent as the other top point guards in the league. He also isn’t the most efficient shooter from the floor (39.3% for his career) and doesn’t get to the free-throw line as much as he should with the quickness he possesses (3.6 free-throw attempts for his career).
The Bucks didn’t add much in the offseason other than the drafting North Carolina’s John Henson and Kentucky’s Doron Lamb. Henson is a long, lanky post player who is more of a defensive play than offensive and Lamb is a guy who reminds me of Daquan Cook, a guy who can shoot the ball really well from the three-point line.
This is a team with few big names, so will it be enough to get them into the playoffs?
Point guard(s) – Brandon Jennings: As I stated earlier, Jennings needs to take the next step and move into that next tier of point guards. He can score, but isn’t as efficient as he should be. Head coach Scott Skiles was a solid point guard when he played, and I hope he can teach Jennings to become a solid, consistent starting point guard. If he planning on getting paid in the next year, he is going to show that he is worth the money.
Beno Udrih will back up Jennings.
Position Grade: B-
Shooting guard(s) – Monta Ellis: We all know about Ellis’ scoring ability, but that’s all he really has been known for in his first seven seasons in the NBA. He has also missed a lot of games in his career (124 to be exact), so durability has been an issue for him. If he can stay healthy, I think Ellis will give Milwaukee a serious one-two scoring in the backcourt.
Rookie Doron Lamb and veteran Marquis Daniels will battle for back up minutes.
Position Grade: B
Small forward(s) – Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: I am unsure of whom the Bucks will start at small forward, but my best guess would be Mbah a Moute. He doesn’t provide much, in terms of offense, but his real value comes on the defensive end. His versatility and ability to guard small and power forwards gives him a leg-up on his competition. He averaged only 23.5 minutes per game last season, but I could see his minutes increase, especially because his defense will be needed.
Tobias Harris and Mike Dunleavy will battle for back up minutes.
Position Grade: C
Power forward(s) – Ersan Ilyasova: Ilyasova came on strong the last two months of the season. Over the last 32 games, he averaged 15.7 points per game and nine rebounds per game. He played so well, it irked the organization to give him a five-year contract worth $40 million. He can stretch the floor because of his ability to shoot the three (45.5% last season), but he also crashes the glass hard (8.8 rebounds per game last season). Time will tell if this contract extension was worth it.
Larry Sanders will see the majority of the backup minutes. Rookie John Henson could be in the mix as well.
Position Grade: C+
Center(s) – Drew Gooden: The Bucks used Gooden at center after they traded Andrew Bogut. Gooden brings a veteran presence to one of the younger teams in the league. He has been around the league (entering his 11th season) and has seemed to revive his career some after things looked gloomy a few years ago. He averaged 13.7 points per game and 6.5 rebounds per game last season. Health has been a concern for Gooden, as he has missed a large amount of time in his career due to injuries.
Samuel Dalembert should figure to see the majority of the backup minutes.
Position Grade: C+
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Brandon Jennings
G: Monta Ellis
F: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute
F: Ersan Ilyasova
C: Drew Gooden
Starting Lineup Grade: C+/B-
G: Beno Udrih
G: Doron Lamb
F: Tobias Harris
F: Larry Sanders
Bench Grade: C
Coaching Grade: B- (Scott Skiles)
I am predicting a third-place finish for the Bucks in the Central Division and I have them missing the playoffs, just by a hair.