Positional Reviews: The Guards

It is the dawn of a new era at Bucksketball.  Today’s post is the very first from one of two new contributors, Ian Segovia.  Ian was once one of the finest 12-year-old spellers Wisconsin has ever known, and has turned that innate ability to spell words like “Parallel” into the ability to construct sentences about his favorite basketball team, the Milwaukee Bucks. As he hopes and prays Brandon Jennings can turn into some sort of Kevin Johnson clone, he’ll deliver his Bucks related thoughts here at Bucksketball.

We’re rolling out a three part series today reviewing Milwaukee’s pluses and minuses this season at guard forward and center.  Ian starts today with guards.  Up first, the positives.  Later, the negatives.  Next week we’ll look forward to the off-season and figure where the Bucks most pressing needs will be.

- Jeremy Schmidt

It was a tough year for the Bucks guards. Since the Bucks are such a perimeter-oriented offense, the guards deserve much of the blame for the team’s offensive struggles. Plus, it isn’t clear how much credit they deserve for the team’s stellar defense. The defensive standouts for the team were located in center and forward spots. And often the best defense against a great opposing guard was to funnel them to Andrew Bogut. Yet, the guards still had their silver lining.

  • Boykins off the bench

John Hollinger’s PER rankings has Earl Boykins at 17.62, best among the bucks and good for fourteenth among all point guards. Obviously, this is ridiculous, but what PER does show is that Boykins was the perfect deep bench role player.

He dropped thirteen in the fourth quarter against the Lakers. He rang in the New Year with twenty-six against the Mavericks and then ran around like a chicken with its head cut off to drop in the game-tying bucket against the Heat. I haven’t kept track of anyone else’s third-string point guards, but I highly doubt any can boast as much.

When his playing time was cut short, he kept his turnovers limited, hustled and never complained. Sure, he could get lit up on defense. But everyone and their mother could spot-up on Earl, this is nothing new. As the oldest Buck, one could accuse him of not providing enough veteran leadership. But Boykins doesn’t exude that aura of “I’ve forgotten more about basketball than you’ll ever know,” that fondly remembered former Buck Kurt Thomas does. And I wouldn’t want Boykins to impart any wisdom of the game to Brandon Jennings.

Because he plays a giant game that only someone of his stature could, his every shot looks more likely to go into the rafters than the basket. Every fast break of his is a thrill, especially when Boykins is ten feet ahead of everyone, but LeBron James is taking two steps for every Boykins’ one. Will he make it to the basket? I don’t know, but I have a feeling something awesome is going to happen.

When he got his time out there, Boykins was always the most exciting Buck on the floor for both good and bad.  He is guile incarnate. And best of all, he pulled a Dream Shake on Tim Duncan.

  • Baby Steps for Brandon
  • At some point during the legendary 2007 Warriors-Mavericks playoff series, Don Nelson told Baron Davis, “Be dominant.” Far be it from me that I should decode the Zen of Don, but I like to interpret his words as such: “We are not good enough for you to not go out there and be dominant. Do not overexert, do not over think and most important of all, do not try to dominate.” I may have completely over thought this. But remember, a big reason for why the Warriors won that series was Baron Davis being simply sublime and making it all look effortless.

    That is what Jennings needs to be for the Bucks. And he has been that, yet still only in flashes. However those flashes came more and more this past season. He had the first triple-double of his career, threw down four 30 point games and had six double-doubles. In his rookie year, with nineteen more regular season games and a playoff series, Jennings recorded just three 30 point games and two double-doubles in addition to his 55 points against Golden State. More importantly, he hit his lows far less often this year. In his rookie season he had 22 games with nine points or less. This year he had 14 games with nine points or less.

    His worse stretch of the last season was his week after returning from injury. He scored six points or less five times that week and if you can’t give a basketball player a break for at a least a week after returning from foot surgery, then I don’t know what to tell you.

    There is still a big difference between what Brandon Jennings is and what the Bucks need him to be. But he’s getting there. His most notable improvement is that he’s finishing better at the rim: Hoopdata has him finishing at 51.4 percent, not spectacular, but much better than last year’s 42.7 percent. His turnover rate is down, he’s shooting fewer jumpers from inside the arc and in general his stats show small, but positive steps. There are concerns. He’s not a great three-point shooter and he needs to make better decisions.   But I don’t know a single 21 year old who can’t say the same.

    When watching Jennings play defense, one will see him getting beat off the dribble a lot. This is calculated. There are so many great point guards in the league and none of them can stay in front of each other. Jennings tries to cheat the guard in a direction so the bigs can provide him help defense. For isolations and pick and rolls, Jennings is only allowing 0.79 points per possession.

    Keyon Dooling, John Salmons and the rest of the guards do a much better job of keeping their men in front of them and putting a hand up.  Salmons is his own defender: he’s solidly built and long. He’s been able to effectively check other wings for a while now. The other guards that have filled in for the Bucks follow the Dooling model. They pressure the ball relentlessly and if they get into a mess, hopefully they can funnel their man toward Bogut.

    They handle spot-ups, isos and pick and rolls as well as anyone. As a group, mySynergySports has the Bucks ranked as first in the league against spot-ups, second versus isos and sixth against ball handlers in the pick and roll.

    Ian Segovia writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).

    I watch the Milwaukee Bucks often and write about what I see…