After tonight’s game with the Raptors, the Bucks will have successfully (actually, typically not so successfully) completed 41 games. Milwaukee sits one game back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the East, with 22 home games and 19 away games the rest of the way. With that being said, there are some things that I’m especially interested in checking out in act two of the NBA’s season.
1. The Integration of Stackhouse
How much does the veteran have left? He looked terrific as a role player type on Wednesday, but that was in his first game in nearly a year, surely it isn’t a true indication of his actual current talent level. After a few practices and games, it’ll be interesting to see what Stackhouse can bring to the table offensively. At the very least, I like the idea of having Stack out there at the two spot simply for the extra size he gives the Bucks. While Charlie Bell can look good at times, there aren’t many twos he can physically match-up with very well.
While I’m not sure the actual relevance of this as I haven’t been in enough NBA locker rooms to really know, it’s supposedly going to benefit many of the Bucks younger players to have another old guy around. It does make sense to me in theory, he’s someone who’s been through playoff races before, he knows when to feel good and when to feel bad. He ideally can help calm overreactions to losses and prevent overconfidence after wins. It’s after the real emotional games that I imagine having Stackhouse should help the Bucks, especially someone as young an emotionally involved as Brandon Jennings.
2. Developing Jennings
The second half of Wednesday night’s game against the Raptors was a very encouraging sign in the ever evolving process of Brandon Jennings getting better as an NBA player. After a rough 2-11 first half, Jennings took three layups in the third, two going down for him and one ending up in the hands of Andrew Bogut for a tip shot. The more Jennings is getting to the rim, the better off the Bucks will be.
As a shooter, Jennings has been better on the catch-and-shoot rather than on the pull-up and has had no mid-range game to speak of, so when Jennings is running the pick and roll up top with Bogut, when he attacks that’s when defenses have to respect him the most. The more defenses are forced to collapse on Jennings in the paint, the more things will open up for everyone else. Low shooting percentages in the last few months or not, Jennings is still the pulse of this team.
3. Bench Brigade
At the halfway mark of the season, it’s safe to say that things that have been happening all year can no longer be considered flukey or short-lived, they’re certified trends. One of the most positive trends for the Bucks this year has been stellar bench play. Led largely by Luke Ridnour and Hakim Warrick’s combined 21.8 points per game, Milwaukee’s depth has been advertised since training camp began. At this point it’s becoming hard to differentiate between the second and third string players and I mean that in a good way. Warrick has been playing well for the last ten games and couldn’t work his way into the lineup Wednesday, not because he played poorly when he got in, but rather because everyone else was getting it done. For the Bucks to win games they’ll need their reserves to take control when other teams go to the bench.
4. The Bogut Barometer
After Wednesday night’s victory over the Raptors, the Bucks are now something like 283-1 (actually, 12-2) when Bogut scores over 17 points this season, which means two things. First, the Bucks aren’t getting Bogut over 17 points enough, just fourteen times in 40 games? And second, even if Jennings should be dictating what the Bucks do on offense, the offense should still run through Bogut. Ideally, I’d love to see Jennings getting into the lane off the pick and roll and leaving it for Bogut.
Bogut’s baby hook around the paint has been very effective for him this year, but the problem with that shot is it often leaves the Bucks out of position for rebounds if he doesn’t make it. He’s probably been shooting 60 percent on it when he’s around the basket, so rebounding it hasn’t been a big issue, but I prefer to see both Jennings and Bogut getting involved together. Either way, the Bucks need to be getting Bogut touches as often as possible on a nightly basis. Against the Raptors Bogut had five shots instantly, but in the second that number fell to two, somehow it needs to stay a little more consistent.
5. A Playoff Push
I’ll probably waver back and forth on this the rest of the year, and probably for the rest of my life when I encounter seasons like this one, but I’m buying into the idea of gearing up in a minor way for a run at the playoffs. I don’t want to see any crazy short-sighted trades or anything like that, but the low-risk acquisition of Stackhouse with an eye towards the playoffs makes a little more sense to me now than it did upon signing him. The Bucks aren’t interested in just making the playoffs for the sake of making the playoffs. The idea behind making the playoffs is to further develop all the young guys on the Bucks roster. Here’s what Scott Skiles had to say about it:
“It’s very important that some of our young players get in the playoffs and experience that. We’re trying to do that, it’s how guys develop. I’ve coached a lot of young players already in ten years or whatever it is; the important thing is they learn how to play winning basketball. Just to go out there play and get minutes and get your ass beat … okay you’re getting minutes, but it’s different.
I specifically asked him about a guy like Jodie Meeks.
“He’s a good guy to point to. You get him minutes here and there, but at the same time, we’re down 30 to start the fourth quarter at Portland what are those minutes? Yippee you got minutes that night, you broke a sweat. It’s not where we want to be and how we want to play.”
I’ve always been of the mindset that it makes sense to trot young players out there when things aren’t looking great for a team for the sake of their development, but I think Skiles has a point. Is it really development to play in a blowout? Meeks has shined in a few games that have meant nothing and where has that gotten him thus far? He still hasn’t contributed in a meaningful way in a close game.
The minutes have been up for grabs all year in Milwaukee and if they haven’t been grabbed by Meeks yet, it seems like they won’t be this year. That doesn’t’ write him off as a contributor in the future, but at this point in time, the Bucks wouldn’t really be developing him much by continuing to play he and their other youngsters and get blown out.