Are these suddenly sweet shooting Bucks for real?

For the Milwaukee Bucks, three straight wins in a season plagued with injuries and inconsistency is cause for celebration.  But with a three game Western Conference road trip beginning Monday, there won’t be time for the Bucks to pat themselves on the back too much.

There is time though, to figure out just how the Bucks strung together three wins.

It helped that Milwaukee played the Raptors and Nets in the last two games no doubt.  And a near collapse in Toronto didn’t leave a great taste in the mouths of any of the Bucks.  But there were some signs of progress over the past week, regardless of who the Bucks showed them against.

Carlos Delfino’s impact on the Bucks wasn’t always very clear, but when Milwaukee was forced to play without the versatile guard/forward for 32 games this season, his importance was made very clear.  His skills and awareness defensively are superior to both Chris Douglas-Roberts and Corey Maggette.  When paired with either of them, he’s able to match-up against the opponents best wing scorer, limiting the damage that can be done to Milwaukee’s weaker defenders.

It’s been his impact on offense that’s really stood out over the past three games though.  In short, Delfino is a very sound decision maker.  He knows when to keep the ball moving, but he’s also not afraid to shoot when he has the opportunity.  And he nearly always believes he has that opportunity.  He’s a rare player that shoots a lot, but completely within the offense.

Over the past three games, Delfino has made 10 of 22 three-point shots, because that’s exactly what Milwaukee needs him to do.  So often this season, Milwaukee’s offense would open up an outside look for a player hesitant to shoot the shot, or incapable of making it.  Delfino made five threes against the Hawks and four more against the Nets.  How bad had Milwaukee’s three-point shooting been without him?  12 times the Bucks failed to make five threes in a game this season in games Delfino hasn’t played in and seven times they failed to make four.

Delfino’s always ready to pull the trigger.  That puts more pressure on the defense to commit to him which has occasionally resulted in him making that one last pass to an open teammate.  Decision making is often chalked up as assists and turnovers, but Delfino’s sense of when to shoot and when to make the extra pass has been helpful in the Bucks recent stretch of positive play.

In addition to Delfino’s strong play, Milwaukee’s been blessed with the presence of last year’s Ersan Ilyasova.  Ilyasova has made 26 of 41 (63.4%) shots over his past four games.  He’s averaged 16 points and five rebounds over that stretch.  Ilyasova’s accuracy from 16-23 feet has been most responsible for his success.  The sometimes sharp-shooting forward has connected on 15 of 22 shots from 16-23 feet over the past four games.  For the season, he’s made just 43% of those shots, while averaging only 2.5 attempts from that distance per game.

Whether or not that type of shooting is sustainable for Ilyasova is always a question.  If he can do it, it makes the Bucks a different and more dangerous offensive team.

So long as we’re on the topic of possibly unsustainable shooting percentages, Maggette has suddenly turned into a bit of a three-point threat.  Relying solely on spot-up attempts, Maggette has connected on six of 10 threes over the past three games.  He’s even hit nine of 23 (39.1%) of his attempts in the entire month of January.  These are outrageously high numbers for Maggette, who made just 37 of 145 attempts (25.5%) over the past two seasons.

If any of these stats hold up, Milwaukee is suddenly a much more diverse offensive group.  It’s equally important for a team without a star scorer that everyone is doing what they can offensively.  Delfino needs to continue to play smart and hit threes, Ilyasova must continue to make jump-shots he spent a large portion of the year missing and Maggette needs to be diverse.  A one-dimensional charge to the basket style of offense is what Maggette displayed earlier this year.  Lately he’s made more jump-shots and again become a very difficult guy to guard.

And, against a shell-shocked Hawks team in the fourth quarter, and bad Raptors and Nets teams, Milwaukee looked like a difficult team to guard in general.  Milwaukee takes their still uncertain on the road this week for more difficult tests to see if this is the real deal or another mirage in a season full of them.

Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog  Follow him on Twitter.  Then become a fan on Facebook (in the sidebar).

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