Is it time to wonder if the Bucks are even playing poorly anymore? Bad is a relative term. Compared to last season, Milwaukee is certainly playing bad. But what if these sub-40% shooting games are just as good as these players can play together?
We know that individually, a lot of these players have some specific talents and can do some things on a basketball court. Collectively though, they don’t appear capable of much. Perhaps they are playing as well as they can. It’s a terrifying thought, but one that’s difficult not to entertain at this point. Teams shouldn’t take this long to come together. Strong defensive teams don’t just fold up to the Detroit Pistons and roll over for a 103-89 loss. This loss to the Pistons was a code-red moment if there wasn’t already one.
With Chris Douglas-Roberts hopefully returning to the lineup Saturday night, a shakeup appears in order in the coming days. Can John Salmons really continue to trot out there and appear so over-matched and helpless? New lineups must be experimented with and Bogut’s health must be prayed for.
Because as is, Milwaukee simply doesn’t have a prayer right now.
It was cool that Brandon Jennings was able to effectively penetrate and get to the rim against the Pistons, but not as cool that he finished just 6-14 at the rim. That’s not going to cut it. That is last year’s Jennings, not this year’s. His problems Friday night weren’t all that different than the rest of the team’s struggles: Milwaukee shot just 19-39 at the rim. Despite taking 13 more shots at the rim than the Pistons, they made just two more shots at the rim. And that’s been an issue for these Bucks, just like it was last year. Despite all the added muscle and size this off-season, Milwaukee is second to last in the league in field goal percentage at the rim at just 56.7%.
- Jennings was by far the best Buck on Friday, but even he couldn’t hit a three. He finished without a make in three attempts and the Bucks as a team hit just two of their 14 3-point shots. If Milwaukee were able to keep defenses honest and space the floor a little more with the 3-point shot, things could look a lot different right now, but it doesn’t look like that will be happening until Carlos Delfino returns. Former 3-point shooters Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova 32.9% and 26.7% respectively. Those aren’t the kind of numbers that will have defenders closing out hard.
- I wasn’t real stoked about Keyon Dooling’s strong performance against the Cavs, primarily because I didn’t assume it meant anything in the long run. There’s beginning to be a large enough body of work here now that we can take the majority of games over one or two good ones as who these players are going to be in this system, this season, with this team. Dooling returned to form against the Pistons, hitting one of his seven shots and missing all four of his 3-point attempts.
- Ilyasova managed to post a double-double, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, while blocking two shots and getting two steals, all while finishing the night with a -16. That partly illustrates why a single game plus/minus isn’t a great stat, but it also illustrates how the Bucks played defensively against one of the worst offenses in the league. But look who is talking.
Everything finally came crashing down on the other end. One of the toughest things in the NBA is playing good defense while struggling on offense. It takes an enormous amount of commitment, discipline and mental toughness, all traits the Bucks had been showing before arriving in Detroit. Without Andrew Bogut and still unable to make a shot, the defense finally caved in.
- Detroit shot 56.2% from the field, thanks in large part to a number of easy dunks. Jason Maxiell was a benefactor early, helping Detroit bust out to a 29-18 first quarter lead by dunking the ball thunderously twice, setting the tone for the evening.
- A sign of Detroit’s offensive prowess on Friday was 13 of their 17 made shots at the rim coming on assists. They found players by the hoop or hit cutters going to the basket over and over. Milwaukee was often slow to react and without Bogut, had no one to clean up the mess. On the other hand, the Bucks assisted on just seven of 19 makes at the rim. This is nothing new, as the Bucks rarely ever assist teammates in scoring.
- If nothing else, at least Larry Sanders has tossed up a couple strong games in these last two efforts. The rookie showed a little rebounding prowess again, grabbing 10 boards in 31 minutes, though three of them came on the same offensive possession. He blocked two shots and grabbed a steal, using his length and speed in positive ways once again. He still isn’t always boxing out and he’s certainly got his rough spots, but the effort is there and some positive results have come.
This is officially ugly. Lats in the division, blown away by the once lowly Pistons and still unable to conquer the 40% shooting barrier. Last season, a lack of talent seemed an obvious problem when the Bucks were struggling on offense. Once those players were shipped out and some new ones were shipped in, everything would take care of itself. But what is the obvious problem now? That they “just can’t make shots?” There are no easy solutions right now, and that’s what has everyone worried. Problems don’t just fix themselves. There are no answers on the horizon for the Bucks, just a very difficult stretch of games that is now looking significantly more challenging than it did at the start of the year.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a an on Facebook (to the right).