Having gone 6-4 while facing the league’s most difficult schedule over their previous 10 games, the Milwaukee Bucks earned their Christmas break this season.
Most of them did at least.
While Milwaukee prepares for back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday against the Hawks and Bulls, two teams ahead of them in the East that Milwaukee would love to gain some ground on, let’s take stock and see who has been naughty and nice for the Bucks this season. Since this is my blog, we’ll get thematic and use my favorite Christmas movie for a barometer.
Terry Zwigoff’s Bad Santa holds a special place in my heart ’round this time of year. The ratings that follow will be presented as such: Brett Kelly (the kid Billy Bob lives with) means great, Billy Bob Thornton means good and Tony Cox (the elf) means that player has been bad. Incomplete will be John Ritter, as he was a fairly small part of the movie. Let the rating begin.
Andrew Bogut - This one goes without saying. Bogut means everything to the success of the Bucks. His DeMarcus Cousins sequence was such a vivid illustration of how good he is. Bogut tosses a dunk from one of the league’s most promising rookies (talent wise at least) and then gathers and is able to take a charge from him seconds later. Sick. He also helped carry the Bucks offense down the stretch, something he isn’t always capable of. Perhaps that’s a sign of things to come, even if it’s not, it’s nice to see at the very least that he is capable of it to some degree.
Earl Boykins - I know what you’re thinking. “Hey, Earl Boykins is small, he’s like an elf, give him the guy who played the elf!” I can’t do it though. Earl has had a small role on this Bucks team, but has been a fairly reliable offensive performer when called upon. That’s not easy to do. I’d argue that Boykins has been a better offensive player this season than Jerry Stackhouse was last, even if he hasn’t made the same locker room impact. The last two games, just the Laker game alone even really, sealed the good rating for Boykins.
Jon Brockman - He’s been better of late, but really Brockman hasn’t had much of a role on this team. Backup center is a position he wasn’t born for, but he’s showed admirable effort and energy in the opportunities he’s received. A guy who works hard and has a good attitude will always be appreciated and kept around. Incomplete for Brockman, but closer to good than bad were he up for a full grade. Extra credit for his 14 for 16 free throw performance this year too.
Carlos Delfino – When will Delfino return? Impossible to predict. All Bucks nation can do is hope he feels well enough to return at some point this season, as he won’t be allowed to play until all his post-concussion symptoms are gone. This is an easy one, but I’ll note Delfino was playing very well before his injury.
Keyon Dooling – It’s been the story of two season’s for Dooling. His November left most wondering if Milwaukee would be forced to play Brandon Jennings a positively ludicrous amount of minutes to compete, but Dooling has righted the ship in December. He’s looking like a capable fill in for Jennings while the point guard recovers from his foot injury and seems like he’ll be an above average backup when Jennings returns. Plus, he’s emerged as a key positive force in Milwaukee’s locker room, helping along younger players, specifically Larry Sanders.
Chris Douglas-Roberts - It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Bucks have gone 7-6 since CD-R’s return. He hasn’t been consistent as an offensive spark the entire time, but he’s typically been good for at least something positive at some point in every game. CD-R is young and getting his first consistent minutes as a key figure for a would-be playoff team, so there will be growing pains experienced throughout the year, but his shooting and finishing has stood out. His play at the three has helped take a load off Salmons and allowed Mbah a Moute to return to a utility role as well, two important factors in the Bucks mini-resurgence of late.
Drew Gooden -Probably no player on this current Bucks roster has as many detractors and supporters as Gooden. He can be very good when he’s good: 16 fourth quarter points in San Antonio. And very bad when he’s bad: four for 13 in just 19 minutes in an early season loss to Minnesota. Slowly but surely though, Gooden seems to be coming around. He’s a tenacious offensive rebounder, a useful quality for a team that’s as unpredictable offensively as Milwaukee. I have faith and I’ve liked him more than I’ve hated him.
Ersan Ilyasova – He was supposed to figure heavy into the Bucks plan as an outside shooter, but that hasn’t happened. Maybe it’s all of the arc on his shot, maybe it’s all of the pump-faking or maybe it’s all the pressure, whatever the cause, Ilyasova’s 3-point shooting has fallen off the map this season. He’s hitting just under 29% of his threes and continues to frustrate from outside. Despite those struggles, he’s still been productive, very productive at times, and is generally doing positive things when he’s on the court. Rarely will Ilyasova be found forcing offense when he doesn’t have anything. Still, Milwaukee needs Ilyasova to hit open threes when he’s got the opportunities. So far, that’s kept him from breaking out.
Brandon Jennings – It’s actually kind of amazing when one looks at Jennings through the perception of what Jennings was expected to be this season and when his season is simply looked at as a comparison to last season. He’s improved in most facets of the game while continuing to limit his turnovers and hit a good percentage of his threes. He’s become reliable, if not a star. And for a second year, 21-year-old point guard, there’s not a thing wrong with that. Between Milwaukee’s undying need for a basketball star and Jennings’ double digit assist average talk, expectations were a bit high before the season. They should be corrected and everyone should feel pretty good about where Jennings is at in his second-year. He’s not free of deficiencies, but he’s not saddled with so many that he’ll never be able to overcome them.
Corey Maggette – Oh Maggs.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute – It’s not his fault he was left to take the final shot for the Bucks in San Antonio. The man simply struggles to fill the small forward role on offense. On defense, Mbah a Moute has been his usual stingy self this season, often locking up with the stars and always making them work hard. He’s come up on the short end a few times – Manu Ginobili comes to mind – but it’s never for lack of effort or good positioning. Mbah a Moute is one of those unlikely cogs that keeps a team going, not unlike Michael Curry so many years ago for those Bucks teams in the late 90s that were on the verge of playoff success. His performance isn’t always pretty, but it’s good more often than not.
John Salmons – He appears to be coming around finally, but it’s been a long journey for Salmons this season. Sure, he had some shots rattle in and out, but Salmons looked like a shell of the player he was last season and that’s not just bad luck. His confidence and drive and kick game have both reappeared as of late and the Bucks need both those things intact if they are looking to make any sort of upward move in the East.
Larry Sanders – When Sanders’ performance is looked at through the context of the expectations that could have been had for him coming into the season, he’s been pretty amazing. Sanders gets a special picture meaning very good, but not great. He’s honestly been a pretty average player, but has had flashes of being capable of so much more and is the only Bucks player aside from Bogut capable of executing a really fun alley-oop. For Sanders, a really fun picture.
Brian Skinner - The incompleteiest incomplete there could be.
Hope everyone had a terrific holiday season.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).