So … what’s going on?
Once a disappointing pre-season ended, many (or maybe just one person: me) thought the Bucks would be able to flip the switch and become the team everyone expected them to be this season. Pre-seasons aren’t very important they would say (I would say) and the Bucks didn’t have their roster. Once they are healthy, they’ll be fine. Only now they are healthy and they are anything but fine.
A 96-85 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves made sure of that.
For now, everyone’s riding this “the guys need to gel and get into shape” line like it’s a mechanical bull at a country bar. And maybe it’s true. Maybe the Bucks will be fine in two weeks when John Salmons has five games under his belt, the Bucks regulars all have some experience together and Scott Skiles figures out what lineups work best together. Right now though, alarms are going off throughout Bucksland. It’s hard not to panic, even if it is ridiculously early for panicking.
At this point, two concerns stand out for the Bucks.
Early on in the Bucks pre-season I wrote this: The Bucks should have as good a rebounding team as any in the NBA. I promise you they will be among the league’s top five. The October 29th Jeremy wishes he could go back and time and inform October 5th Jeremy that things would be looking a lot different here at the end of the month. The Milwaukee-Minnesota rebounding battle Friday night turned out the way most rebounding battles between a 7-year-old and his former athlete father turn out: one-sided. The Wolves grabbed 62 total rebounds to Milwaukee’s 39. Milwaukee shot 35.6%, so there were plenty of defensive boards for the taking, but Minnesota snatched 20 of their own shots back too, leading to 26 second chance points.
Some of this had to do with Andrew Bogut’s first half foul trouble. He was limited to nine first half minutes and Milwaukee was out-rebounded 30-20 before intermission. Of course, the Wolves grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in both halves, so even with Bogut on the court, Milwaukee struggled mightily controlling the glass. The undersized John Brockman, known for his incredible prowess on the boards, failed to grab a rebound in 14 minutes.
Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden were brought to Milwaukee for their seperate reasons, but both were expected to bolster the Bucks often stalling offense. So far so good for Maggette. He had another strong game on Friday, scoring 23 points on 7-16 shooting (1-2 3FG 8-8 FT). Maggette took a few more jump shots than anyone would like to see, but he mainly stuck to what he does well, driving. Gooden, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well. In just 19 minutes, Gooden attempted 13 shots, a number of them difficult and the majority of them unsuccessful. He finished just 4-13 and was just 1-6 inside the paint. Milwaukee was looking for consistency in their power forward spot when they brought aboard Gooden, so a 12 point, four rebound effort in which he earns himself a spot on the bench for the majority of the second half was not really what they had in mind.
Beyond Maggette and Bogut, the Bucks offense in general was putrid. As noted earlier, Milwaukee shot just 35.6% and made only 3-20 3-point attempts (15%). Brandon Jennings effort from deep was particularly anemic, as he missed every one of the six threes he attempted. Ersan Ilyasova’s struggles continued, as he missed each of the four shots he attempted in 8 unproductive minutes. In addition to his misses, he was the victim of a gorgeous jab step and attack move by Michael Beasley. Beasley finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds in a very effective performance.
Back to the Bucks offense though. The Timberwolves threw doubled teams at Bogut very often when he’d catch in the post and he often found open players, but the problem was simply that they didn’t connect on any of their shots. Bogut only attempted seven shots and at times was relegated to the role of garbage man around the rim thanks to the Wolves focus on him and his passiveness once his fouls started to add up. Milwaukee’s best bet every night is to focus their offensive efforts around him and hope the shots fall once he’s established.
The shots certainly didn’t fall Friday night. And if they did, perhaps no one panics. If Jennings makes two more threes and that leads to one or two more breaks going the Bucks way, maybe everyone’s feeling good about a team that just split two road games and is heading towards their home opener. It’s funny how a win or a loss this early can change perceptions so much. Yes, the Bucks are 0-2, but that doesn’t mean the sky is falling or the season’s over or contraction is coming. It just means the Bucks haven’t gotten themselves where they need to be after two games. The good part is that there are 80 left for the Bucks to figure out.
Hopefully they can do that before it’s too late.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan of Bucksketball on Facebook (to the right).