I’m in the process of finishing John Devaney’s book on a season with the 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks, Alcindor And The Big O: A Season’s Diary. It’s a diary about the whole team, but much of it centers on the two most important pieces of that season’s NBA Champion Bucks squad. He discusses how Lew Alcindor (more famously known as Kareem Abdul-Jabar) and Oscar Robertson were able to feed off each other and help lead the Bucks to their title.
At one point, Devaney remarks that he’d once heard someone mention that the two stars formed a symbiosis. A symbiosis is the intimate living together of two dissimilar organisms in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Kind of like Brandon Jennings and Andrew Bogut?
Now before you put your fist through your keyboard typing out an angry e-mail or comment, I assure your, I’m not comparing either Jennings or Bogut to Robertson or Kareem. Again I’M NOT COMPARING JENNINGS TO ROBERTSON AND BOGUT TO KAREEM. But that doesn’t mean they cannot operate in a similar fashion. The Bucks strategy with Kareem and Oscar was simple: get it to Kareem and if he’s getting doubled let Oscar create until he’s doubled and can kick it out to the shooters. They played off each other and were able to blow away the competition and take each other to the next level.
In a similar fashion, the Bucks try to run everything they do through Bogut first. He’s option 1 and 1A if you will. Teams have gotten wise to this and have been quick to double team him lately. When he’s getting doubled, Jennings frequently is in charge of probing the defense and getting the Bucks another shot, even if it’s frequently his own (errant) shot. Often Jennings will resort to an unsuccessful drive just to open things up for Bogut by drawing his man. Make no mistake, this offense runs through Bogut and Jennings.
And they work well together while running it. The Bogut-Jennings pick and roll has been a season long staple of the Bucks offense and when Jennings is finding Bogut he’s often left with some of his easiest shots. Bogut’s career year has certainly been the result of his own hard work, but don’t downplay Jennings role in it.
Bogut’s final line Wednesday: 26 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks – in 30 minutes. Bogut sat out the fourth quarter! 26/13/2 without a fourth quarter! A friend texted me during the game about Bogut, “someone should be in jail…cuz it’s a crime he wasn’t an allstar.” You won’t get much of an argument on that from me, friend. An even bigger crime has been the lack of recognition he’s garnered for his defense. Bogut now has a block in 21 straight games. That’s the longest streak in the NBA, but I bet you didn’t know that, because no one likes to mention that the Bucks have the best defensive player in the league aside from (maybe) Dwight Howard. Yet, there are top five lists for defensive player of the year that don’t mention him. Such is life on the outside of the playoffs in a small city I guess. But it shouldn’t be so.
- Coming into the evening, John Salmons had been struggling at the rim, as a Buck, shooting under 30 percent. He was still contributing plenty, just not quite as efficiently as everyone had hoped. Well Wednesday was an example of everything the Bucks hoped for when they acquired Salmons. Salmons attacked the rim repeatedly and when he wasn’t getting layups he was getting fouled. Salmons ended the evening with a bunch of free throws and a very efficient 18 points (5-10 FG 8-8 FT).
- Jerry Stackhouse often contributes in ways unseen to the Bucks.
“He’s a pro. He’s been around a long time, he’s not afraid to say to someone in a time out, ‘pass the ball you’re double teamed,” said Coach Scott Skiles before the game. “That may seem like a simple thing but there is an awful lot of players in the league tip-toeing around each other and that usually is a hallmark of losing teams. Usually the winning teams aren’t afraid to get after each other a little bit out there.”
Against the Hornets, Stack went ahead and did some work on the floor to make sure no one was forgetting about what he does outside of the huddle. Stack did have a turnover or two that made me cringe, like the one on a fast break when he lost a pass, but he scored13 points (4-7 FG 2-3 3FG 3-3 FT) and more importantly, he was taking and making open shots that made up for some of his sillier turnovers.
- Few players have carved out a home in my “Defense” category like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, but offense is what gains him first mention tonight. Luc stayed within himself, as usual, and grabbed rebounds around the hoop and finished them for his teammates. He didn’t get out of his game, taking just one shot outside the paint, and proved too quick for the Hornets to consistently keep off the boards as evidenced by his ten rebounds, four of them offensive.
I’ve already covered Bogut and his work in this one, so I’ll try to avoid redundancy and just say he’s good and controls the paint. Not to be overlooked was the fine work of LRMAM, who is garnering the rare double mention from me this evening. David West is no easy matchup for most power forwards in the league, much less a guy built like a small forward masquerading as a power forward.
West has as fine an array of fakes in his moves as I’ve seen all year. He really sells them and gets guys jumping around. Occasionally he’d get LRMAM to bite, but the thing about LRMAM is, he’s not out there to block shots. He’s just trying to keep position and make things difficult. He did that for West, helping to limit him to 6-13 before sitting out the fourth quarter in which West hit a few shots.
“I had to use my speed and my hands and rely on my teammates. Obviously you can’t win the physical battle with him being stronger, you got to try and use your quickness and be smart. He was throwing a lot of fakes, I think because he got two fouls on me in the first quarter and he felt like I was going to bite on them again. I did a good job staying down, you got to use your head, stay down and rely on your teammates. When you have Bogut coming from behind to block shots, so once you know that it’s easier to stay down, it makes it a lot easier.”
- If you’re looking for a player that will run through a brick wall if it means he can get an open layup on the other side, Marcus Thornton is your guy. In the first quarter he sprinted past everyone and caught a layup on the sideline before darting to the hoop to convert on a layup made difficult by Brandon Jennings. That was pretty much a theme with Thornton the rest of the evening: catch the ball and find a way to shoot or go to the hoop. It worked against Cleveland on Tuesday, (he had 23 in a quarter!) but was less effective against a Bucks squad that may have been more ready for him. Thornton had 25, but it wasn’t always easy for him (8-21 FG).
As I sat with a colleague of mine we debated on the reality of whether or not this Bucks team is really as good as they appear. I’m buying into it, while he remains more skeptical. The question of the Bucks validity can only be answered on the road, and only against teams better than the ones they’ve beaten lately. That’s where true playoff teams show what they are made of. The Bucks get their chance to show what they are made of starting Saturday and Sunday with back to backs on the road against possible playoff teams. John Salmons certainly doesn’t feel like he’s on a .500 team.
“I feel like we better than that,” said Salmons. “We just going to try and continue to win games and move up the standings.”
I asked how much it helped to have veterans like you and (Jerry) Stackhouse?
“Stack a little bit more of a veteran than me, it’s good to have him around, have Kurt (Thomas) around. It’s a good mix of veterans and young guys.”
Right now, the mix couldn’t look any better.