Everyone loves benchmarks, points of significance, times of reflection and all that good stuff. After roughly a quarter of the season in the NBA things start to become a little more clear. Nearly, if not every, team has played some kind of NBA like schedule at this point so we can all feel a little bit better about taking the collective temperature of our favorite teams. The dust is settling and weaknesses, strengths, good players, bad players and everything else is juuust starting to become visible. So let’s hand out some early season awards among the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Kyle Lee Watson Award goes to …
Brandon Jennings. Who is Kyle Lee Watson you ask. Kyle is the ficticious high school hoop star from Above the Rim. (Before we go any further, I know Above the Rim used nine foot hoops and I really don’t care. I still love it.) During Jennings’ insane 55-point game back in early November, everyone was looking for a Jennings’ comparison. Was he Allen Iverson? Chris Paul? The truth is, he was like no one else and the closest thing I’ve seen to that performance was Kyle Lee’s work in the summer tournament in Above the Rim. Jennings rained three’s and mid-range jumpers like it was all scripted.
In his very first home game, Jennings behind the back move and layup (Jennings very first KLW moment) brought the crowd to it’s feet was the tipping point that let us know we might have something special on our hands. The 55-point game sealed it. But this award is about more than flashy moments and one nice game. Kyle Lee went on from playground glory to a Big East championship game winning shot. Jennings may have fallen on hard times late with a not quite there yet mid-range game and a general inability to hang with some guards on defense, but he’s still the Bucks shining star. He has shown us what he can do and while the 55-point games may not be a nightly occurrence, we now have reason to hope things will get brighter sooner than later in Milwaukee.
The “When did he become a zombie?” Award goes to …
So we can safely say knee injuries to shooting guards suck. At this time last year, Michael Redd was ahead of his current schedule and we were STILL frustrated about it. He got hurt earlier this year than he did last year, but last year he was already back by this time, getting his legs under him and trying to carry the Bucks offense all at once. The funny thing is, the Bucks no longer need him to do that. He just needs to fit in! That’s it! Fit in and get to the free throw line somewhere near five times a game and everything would run much more smooth.
But things aren’t going too smoothly. Redd’s abbreviated return near the end of November could not have gone any worse, for the Bucks or for Redd. He looked slow, ineffective, greedy and out of place. Not exactly what either party was hoping for. Best case scenario is that Redd returns at 100% and averages 20 points a night, leading to a team getting all swept up in the madness and throwing a pick and a young player at the Bucks for him. Milwaukee gets younger and cheaper and Redd gets to play for a contender. Worst case scenario at this point is that Redd returns and is equally as terrible as he was in his late November stretch. I think at this point, everyone in Milwaukee would rather Redd sit things out than come back and resemble anything like his most recent self.
The whole situation is frustrating on so many levels. The most obvious trouble is that he’s taking up a large percentage of the Bucks salary cap and giving no return on that money right now. And the Bucks could really use what he once offered. They are so limited on offense from the wing positions that in theory he works perfectly with the Bucks. But then he comes on the court and shoots shots that so few of us understand. It could be a product of having to carry bad teams for so long that Redd has trained himself mentally to take tough shots no matter what, but it’s not what the team needs any longer. Defer to Jennings and let him get you some shots. But first, get healthy and don’t come back until everyone is sure of it.
The “Everybody get your role on” Award goes to …
We’ve really got to give it up for Luke Ridnour. He’s been quite a “Big Tymer” (forgive the bad pun). Seriously though, from 10-15 feet Ridnour’s taking roughly one shot a game and hitting 72 percent of them. From 16-23 he’s hitting 55 percent of his shots. Last year? 39 and 44 percent on those respective shots. Simply put, he’s been better than I ever thought he could be. He’s been as steady a performer as anyone for the Bucks and is doing as good a job offensively when he’s been asked to play the two as he’s done at the one. His floaters and runners are something for Jennings to study too. Now defensively the Bucks suffer when they play Ridnour and Jennings together, but at this point in time it’s tough because no matter what the Bucks are putting an undersized two guard on the floor unless they run Carlos Delfino out there. And that hasn’t been the answer thus far.
Kudos to the professionalism that Ridnour has shown in accepting the backup point guard role and flourishing in it. Whether he’ll keep these numbers up remains to be seen, especially after that especially gory elbow injury he suffered Tuesday night, which supposedly won’t cause him to miss any games. If that’s truly the case, than Ridnour is tougher than I thought too.
The “This is going to sound crazy” Award goes to …
Since pre-season it’s been clear that free throws were going to be an issue for the Bucks. They allow too many and don’t shoot enough. That’s nothing new and we all saw that one coming. It hasn’t really been discussed what the Bucks can do to fix it though. Sure, they could just stop hacking, but given the mismatches they generally are faced with on defense, that doesn’t appear to be something we’ll be seeing any time soon. So the most logical solution would be for the Bucks to start getting to the line more. Problem there, is that they don’t really have anyone who can get to the line except Michael Redd.
Or do they?
Joe Alexander. Yes, he’s hurt and won’t return until probably late January. But I’m thinking he’s just the kind of guy the Bucks need. For every three shots Joe took last year he went to the free throw line. That number for Charlie Bell? Try seven. Carlos Delfino? Eight. Alexander may have seemed lost on occasion and somewhat out of control on offense, but at least the man was aggressive. If you’re still reading this paragraph I’m thinking you may either think I’m on to something or crazy, so I’ll throw this out there right now to tip it one way or the other: the Bucks would be better off going forward (not just this year, but the next two or three) with a healthy Alexander than they would with a healthy Redd from where I’m sitting.
He’s pretty much the exact kind of small forward they need to compliment Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. While he may never develop and I may be crazy, it still seems odd to me to have given up on the guy after one year and an injury. Think to yourself, was he really that bad when he played last year?
The “You’re so close, why do you do this to us?” Award goes to …
It’s the inconsistencies that drive me wild about Andrew Bogut. I can deal with missing shots, but how can attempts and rebounds be inconsistent? For everyone else, I get them being inconsistent, they’re either young or not very good. But what’s the excuse for Bogut’s inconsistent play of late? Maybe he came back too soon from his leg injury, but how does that explain the efforts against Chicago and Boston? Why on some nights does he look like a number one pick and other he’s looks like he wouldn’t be picked. Even if Bogut is struggling on offense it shouldn’t adversely effect his defense and rebounding. But that may be ideal thinking. In the real world if a guy can’t get a shot to fall it’s bound to hurt the rest of his game and Bogut does live in the real world.
But if Bogut’s missing early, so what? Keep going to him and keep shooting! The Bucks don’t have enough other options to afford lackluster efforts from Bogut on virtually any night. And if it’s going to take him scoring some points to be the game changer he can be rebounding and blocking shots, than the Bucks need to make every effort possible to get him going on offense EVERY night. The Bucks wins depend on it.
After 20 Games …
it’s been decided that the Bucks are not the 8-3 team that stormed out of the gates. That was the perfect schedule for this team to get it going against early and ideally build some momentum for when things got tough. Well, that didn’t go as planned as evidenced by the current 1-8 stretch. But that doesn’t kill the season. The Bucks have some tough games left this month, but opportunities do lie ahead in the future. The Bucks heallacious stretch of no consecutive days off starting November 14th ends today. The Lakers and Cleveland are right around the corner, but so is some time to rest and the Kings and Wizards. The Bucks may fall to 9-13 before they get the chance to turn this thing around, but the beauty of the weak bottom half of the East keeps them from falling out of the playoff picture.
If the Bucks can just prevent the boat from springing too many leaks for the rest of December they’ll give themselves a shot at the playoffs. The playoffs have to be the goal if only for the development of the younger players. Organizations struggle to develop players in losing environments and if the Bucks do get to the playoffs this year that’s tangible improvement over last year which was an improvement over the year before. Baby steps are what this organization needs and it looks like it may actually be taking them.