Contrary to popular belief, the Bucks season is not over. Nor does the NBA delay the start of the playoffs until Andrew Bogut is healthy. And don’t expect a first round bye because the Bucks would have been competitive with a healthy Bogut. No, the NBA keeps moving forward every day. So that’s what the Bucks must do.
But how? How can the Bucks get past an injury of this magnitude, at this juncture in the season? Bogut has been the centerpiece for most of what the Bucks have done right, offensively and defensively, in the last two seasons. There simply is no replacing Bogut, especially not with six games left in the regular season. So the Bucks must find a way to remain competitive without being able to replicate everything Bogut gives them.
And naturally, that will put pressure on the remaining members of the Bucks front court. Kurt Thomas and Ersan Ilyasova should see the most significant increases in minutes, with Thomas likely stepping in as the new starting center and Ilyasova probably seeing some more time at the five in small ball lineups. But I’m not convinced either of them will have to take anything more unto themselves with Bogut out. Milwaukee isn’t all of a sudden going to slide either Thomas or Ilyasova into Bogut’s spot on the offense and dump the ball into them in the post. It’s just not their game. I expect each to be more productive, especially Ilyasova and I’ll get to that in a minute, but I don’t expect a great deal more usage out of them.
But, as odd as this appears, I do expect more out of Carlos Delfino.
Something’s occurred to me in the last few games. Something that explains an awful lot about why things have gone the way they have for the Bucks this season. Something I only dove into once a reader pointed out that Brandon Jennings stands around the top of the key an awful lot. And it’s something that completely explains why the Bucks have prospered without Michael Redd, but are being sentenced to season execution after the loss of Bogut.
The Bucks rely an awful lot on their swingmen. I mean, like A LOT. A TON. Watch the Bucks in the halfcourt, it seems as if every other time down their going to Delfino or John Salmons on the wing and looking for them to either dump it inside to Bogut, pick and roll or create something on their own. At this point, Jennings (or Luke Ridnour) often float around the arc, waiting for a kick out that they can shoot or swing to the other wing. That seems to be a lot of the Bucks offense.
So it’s always been important to the success of the Scott Skiles Bucks to have wing players that can create and make decisions, two things that have never been the strong suit of Redd or Charlie Bell. Doesn’t it make a little more sense that neither of them fit so well into this offense? I mean, if you were running a team, would YOU want Michael Redd given the option of creating for teammates or trying to score and get to the line? He frequently chose the latter and it hurt this season more than it helped. There’s a reason that the Bucks offense was 12 points better per 100 possessions when Redd is off the court this year. He plays a position that’s vital to the success of the team offensively.
In addition, it makes sense that the Bucks surged to such great heights once Salmons, a slasher that is willing to create opportunities for others, stepped in for Bell, a spot-up shooter. The Bucks are seven points better per 100 possessions with Salmons on the court offensively.
But now, one of the options for the wings has been removed. There will be no more dumping it down inside for the easy Bogut basket. Both Thomas and Ilyasova are capable pick and pop players, something Bogut wasn’t, but both of them have very little with regards to a post-up game. Now I suspect the pick and roll, already a featured option in the offense, will become even more prominent.
And it will fall on Salmons and Delfino to make the correct choices. I don’t expect Milwaukee to scrap their entire offense and start running pick and rolls for Jennings every time down like the Golden State game. Or let him take over and carve up the lane trying to find open space to float up a shot, because he doesn’t quite have that touch yet. Jennings may run through on his passes and come out to the wings, getting the ball on a reverse (thereby making him a wing) but we’ll see if that really happens. That’s kind of what Steve Nash does pretty frequently, with great success. I’m expecting Delfino to look more like a poor man’s Salmons, driving and kicking or driving and finishing more than he’s been doing lately.
But like I said earlier, I expect Ilyasova’s numbers to improve. He’s going to be getting 30 minutes a night and he’s going to be pounding the glass. With no Bogut, that leaves Ilyasova with the highest percentage of rebounds grabbed while on the court by a Buck not named Dan Gadzuric. And we all know that Gadz only gets that many boards because he hits the bottom of the rim with his own shots. When Ilysaova’s in, he’ll typically get a bucket or two off of the offensive glass. With Bogut, the team’s best shooter percentage wise, not active, there should be more opportunities for Ersan to get on the offensive glass and work his great touch down low for baskets.
It’s not all gloom and doom right now for the Bucks. Winning without Bogut won’t be easy, but this shouldn’t prevent Milwaukee from making the playoffs. A first round series win was going to be a challenge with the big man and will be a greater one without him. But if the Bucks want to make it happen, it’ll have to be a great balance, even greater than what they offer now, that gets them there.