Muddied may be a good description for the Milwaukee Bucks current power forward situation. It’s not like there isn’t some talent there. The Bucks have everything they could ever ask for in their power forward position. Athleticism, rebounding, length, 3-point shooting, speed, power and defense. Except those skills are spread amongst five players. And for a team that had trouble splitting minutes between three power forwards for the first half of last season, splitting time between five power forwards should prove impossible, not to mention impractical.
It’s probably safe to assume that the glut of forwards could be relieved to a degree by making the most of the flexibility of some. Drew Gooden for example, can moonlight as a backup center. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has played small forward on occasion in his two years in Milwaukee, though with less success that he’s had at the four. Still, it’s not like the Bucks are stuck with five plodders who can’t move anywhere else.
Yet still, it seems a possibility that the Bucks may move one of their forwards in order to obtain more flexibility at the guard position. Gery Woelful has recently reported that A. the Bucks have gotten feelers on Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova and B. that the Bucks likely will bid farewell to Luke Ridnour.
Could the Bucks be looking to lighten their load at the four and bring in someone who could take some minutes backing up Brandon Jennings at the same time? It’s possible. But moving Ilyasova or Mbah a Moute may be a big mistake.
As fun as the NBA off season is (and I use the term fun very loosely, as this one has been equal parts excruciating and entertaining), it still amounts to gambling. While it seems like Milwaukee’s done a great deal to improve itself for next season by acquiring Drew Gooden and drafting Larry Sanders to help on the front line, it’s impossible to tell how either of them will fit in. And in the case of Sanders, while summer league may be an indicator, until he actually starts getting minutes in the NBA no one will know if he’s ready to make the impact a playoff team like Milwaukee will need. So as fun as it is to project, dream and hope, Milwaukee’s new acquisitions are still unknown commodities.
But Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute are known and valuable.
Ilyasova has probably been at the center of more trade discussion with regard to the Bucks over the past few months than any other player and it’s as easy to understand as it is puzzling. He’s a valuable player. Ilyasova out performs his contract and seems to have room to grow. No one knows what kind of player Ilyasova will become, but most can agree that he’s the kind of player every team would love to have. Of the top 20 power forwards in total rebound rate last season, only Troy Murphy was more successful as a 3-point shooter.
Ilyasova finished last year with a better rebound rate that Dirk Nowitzki and higher field goal percentage than Rashard Lewis. All while showing enough energy on the defensive end to finish second among power forwards in charges taken. There’s enough to like about the player that Ilyasova already is to wonder if he could be the best power forward on Milwaukee’s roster next season. Assuming he’s still on the roster.
Meanwhile, Mbah a Moute has established himself as one of the NBA’s most feared defenders. He’s the defender the mighty Kevin Durant was tweeting about last season. He’s the one who burst onto the scene as a rookie and has yet to relinquish his minutes. Mbah a Moute has earned every bit of playing time he’s had since he’s been in Milwaukee despite his offensive liabilities. Yet he now may face a further diminished role, or even worse, exile. What’s amazing is that he’ll certainly lose power forward minutes to Gooden, who’s not exactly known as much of a defender. The Bucks, a team that prides itself on its defense, is in effect, replacing the best defender on the team with an offensive player.
But if Milwaukee does keep around Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute, minutes will be that much more difficult for first round pick Sanders to come by. This very likely won’t mirror last season when Jennings won the starting point guard spot coming out of training camp or even two years ago when Mbah a Moute averaged 30 minutes a game in his first month in the league. The Bucks simply have more bodies at the four than they did at point guard last year and have more talent than they did two years ago. So far, Milwaukee hasn’t cleared the way for Sanders the way they did for Jennings, though if Sanders shows he’s the real deal at summer league that may be a different story come August.
It’s likely that Sanders and fellow rookie Tiny Gallon will face quite a mountain to climb in order to get minutes if the Bucks choose to keep their deep front court in tact and take a route other than trading a power forward to find a backup point guard. Without a trade going down I see a mix of Gooden, Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute dominating the minutes at power forward (though it may be wise to bring Gooden off the bench and split his minutes between PF and C). However, if Sanders has a Jennings like impact in Summer League, who knows how things could unfold. What seems certain though, given the promise of what’s to come with Ilyasova and defensive importance of Mbah a Moute, is that the Bucks would be very wise to be very careful in moving either of them for a quick fix behind Brandon Jennings.