When people define excruciating losses, it seems like more often than not, they’re referring to incredibly close games, swung one way or the other. Or games in which a team seems to have victory all but locked up, only to let it slip away with some sort of meltdown at the end. The reasoning there makes sense, the gamut of emotions is run and it hurts a lot to go from incredibly happy to incredibly sad so quickly.
I’m not sold completely though. Not after Milwaukee’s 90-79 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night. The previously 2-10 Sixers, I might add. The guys who had lost five in a row coming in and were without their best player. Those Philadelphia 76ers. Milwaukee’s listless effort, once again full of remarkably inaccurate shooting, resulted in a game in which they were virtually out of it seven minutes into the second quarter. The deficit wasn’t anything impossible to overcome for a typical team, but, for a team so woefully inept offensively, being down eight points in the second quarter is akin to being down 20 in the fourth. Just the life of a team that is capable of shooting 33.8%, as the Bucks did Friday night.
Doesn’t that sound excruciating?
But why are the Bucks so bad offensively right now? I’ll illustrate one significant reason by way of a comparison to a Bucks player of yore.
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Who is who? Player A, that’s the 1995-96 version of former Bucks draft bust Shawn Respert. And Player B is this season’s John Salmons. So, yeah, Salmons is pretty much Shawn Respert right now. This, may I remind you, is the guy who played a significant role in rescuing a lost Bucks offense last season. If he keeps Resperting it up, Milwaukee’s chances at putting things together get considerably lower. Salmons was three of nine Friday night, en route to 11 points and eight rebounds. His numbers don’t sound awful, but he’s done very little to get anything going for Milwaukee’s team offense when he’s on the court.
Of course, it would be easier for Salmons, and every other player on the Bucks, to operate on offense if Andrew Bogut were able to score in the paint. Bogut was just two of seven against a less-than-imposing Sixers front line of Elton Brand and Spencer Hawes. Only one of his attempts was outside of five feet, and he missed five shots. Obviously, Bogut is kind of a disaster on offense right now. That begs the question then: should the Bucks continue to use him as a primary option? Last year Bogut had an array down low, different hooks and quick turns that resulted in good shots he was making regularly. Now, though he made one right-handed hook Friday, he looks incapable of finishing much at all outside of layups.
Milwaukee didn’t get Bogut a shot in the second half Friday and it didn’t change things for the better or the worse for the rest of the offense. If Bogut’s playing well, it results in double teams and more open looks for other players, which, in theory, they’ll make. But we haven’t seen much success in this regard even when Bogut has played well. Right now, it’s difficult to even envision him playing well (I’m sure he’ll go out and drop 30 on the Thunder now that I’ve written this), largely because he seems to be experiencing more pain than he expected in his elbow. John Schuhmann of NBA.com tweeted after the game that Bogut may have his elbow looked at again. Not good news.
Beyond the struggles of Salmons and Bogut and Brandon Jennings (3-13 FG, 0-5 3FG), the Milwaukee bench was once again out-produced by their counterparts. Corey Maggette had 20 points and shot a bunch of free throws in the fourth quarter (11 to be exact) that kept the game close, but aside from him, the Bucks got virtually nothing out of their backups. Keyon Dooling, Larry Sanders, Earl Boykins, Ersan Ilyasova and Jon Brockman finished a paltry four of 19 from the field, including a zero for five effort that nearly matched the starters’ zero for seven showing from three. Each of the reserves seems to have their own issues they are struggling with. Boykins is still incredibly small and his act only works in limited minutes, but he’s done the best of the non-Maggette bench guys. Dooling is now shooting 23% from 3-point range. His failure as a backup point guard thus far has been the most notable slippage between this season’s Milwaukee Bucks and last season’s, as Luke Ridnour did everything short of making half-court shots blind folded last year.
The player whose struggles have been most difficult to understand though, is Ilyasova. He was the best player on Turkey’s silver medal squad this off-season. He’s only 23 and his rebound and usage rates have been virtually identical. Apparently, when he traveled back from Europe this off-season, he just forgot to pack his jumper.
One has to wonder how much playing with Maggette is impacting the rest of the bench. A pattern has emerged over the years with Maggette, he destroys everyone in sight on offense, but his teammates suffer because he’s using so many possessions. Are the results of Maggette’s bull-in-a-China-shop offense teammates that stand around and play significantly worse than they ever have before? Can this be fixed? These are questions I cannot answer. I just know I’m glad that I’m not the one charged with finding their answers right now.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan of Bucksketball on Facebook (to the right).