I’ve seen a few things this pre-season I didn’t expect. Most of them involve how well John Wall played when Milwaukee squared off against Washington, but some have actually involved the Bucks. The re-appearance of Brian Skinner is on that list, as is Tiny Gallon’s inability to outlast Chris Kramer for a spot in Bucks training camp. Topping the list though, is Drew Gooden taking not one, but two charges in the Wizards game. Charges are as good as a blocked shot and in some cases even better, as not all blocks mean the switching of possession. They’re a good thing. Unless they’re occurring more and more frequently because a team is woefully undersized. Then they could be a sign of trouble.
Last season, Gooden took 13 charges, one over the league average of 12. If Gooden is able to position himself effectively, he could see his totals soar this season as opponents hurry to make a move before shot-blocker Andrew Bogut moves into a position to block a shot as a help side defender. Gooden’s reputation as an offensive player who tries hard on defense and loses himself frequently on both ends of the court precedes him, but let’s toss that out the window for a moment. The early returns this season on a group that’s yet to be at full strength haven’t been strong, but I’m beginning to think that Gooden really may be the missing piece that propels the Bucks to the very top of the league defensively this year.
So, yeah, you could say I was pretty fired up about those charges. It wasn’t just the fact that he made a stop via a charge though. It was his awareness and his ability to read the offense to get himself in the right position to make a play. That’s what the Bucks had to do a lot last season.
One thing the 2009-10 Bucks did especially well was take charges. With 222 charges taken, Milwaukee ranked second in the league behind Houston (252). Andrew Bogut, 51, and Ersan Ilyasova, 47, were second and sixth in the league respectively among individual players and new addition Corey Maggette was third amongst all small forwards with 27. The additions Milwaukee’s made and players they have returning has them shaping up nicely in the charges taken department.
Oddly enough, even though I was thrilled with Gooden drawing charges, it’s the fact that he probably won’t draw anywhere near as many charges as Ilyasova did last season that has me thinking Milwaukee’s defensive numbers are going to look better this year.
As nice as forcing a turnover through a charge is, there’s no clear indication that big charge totals have much to do with defensive success. I like them, I think they are useful, but when the Golden State Warriors rack up the fourth most, I become skepticl. Teams employ a variety of strategies when it comes to defending the paint and depending on personnel, must adapt. Milwaukee’s reliance on the charge may have had something to do with less than ideal personnel.
Ilyasova’s total was great, but he gives up a lot of size to a lot of power forwards and can really get over matched defensively. A lot of times he had to resort to establishing position and hoping he’d get a call simply because he wasn’t athletic or big enough to compete down low. The same was true for Bucks eventual starting center Kurt Thomas. Milwaukee was undermanned and undersized in the paint. Per 36 minutes last season, Ilyasova averaged 4.8 fouls and Thomas averaged 5.5. A lot was made of Milwaukee’s inability to get to the free throw line last season, but their propensity for helping set up camp for the other teams at the stripe was as much of a problem. The Bucks were 4th in the league at season’s end in free throws allowed.
Gooden could be part of the Bucks solution there. For his career, Gooden averages just 3.5 fouls per 36 minutes and at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds, he beefs up Milwaukee’s front line considerably. While he’s nothing special as a shot-blocker, just .7 per game in his career and only four in six games this pre-season, Gooden should be able to stick with any power forward in the league. I’m not saying he’s going to suddenly be an All-NBA defender, but Gooden will have a lot of room for error with Bogut behind him and, in addition to his strength, has the quickness Ilyasova lacks. Not too many power forwards in the league will be able to blow by or over power Gooden with ease.
Coach Scott Skiles has indicated that he wants this group to be among the top three in the NBA defensively. What exactly he’s referring to is a mystery, as the Bucks were second in the league in defensive rating last season at 103.1. He surely wants to see fewer points allowed than last season (96.0 per game) and opponents shooting a lower percentage than last season’s 45.1%.
There is room for improvement in Milwaukee and they acquired the players they did with these ideas in mind. Gooden should be a help defensively and it would not be surprising to see the Bucks lead the NBA in defensive rating this season and succeed in improving on opponents points per game and shooting percentage.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan of Bucksketball on Facebook (click in the sidebar).