I told a friend last year that I’d received an e-mail from a noted, yet controversial, member of the basketball community. He replied by asking me if the e-mail was written in wingdings. That’s the sort of crazy some people are, that you’d expect them to write exclusively in wingdings, because they are speaking a language few of us understand anyway.
I kind of think the remainder of this post should be written in wingdings. Yeah, that’s where I’m heading.
Because the more I think about it, the more I start to justify this Bucks season as one that simply got away early and couldn’t be reigned in. When I write that, I’m speaking to the power of Milwaukee’s defense and how much leeway it gives a problematic offense. But it seems fair to ask if an offense could ever become more problematic than the one the Bucks trotted out this season. With that in mind, I wonder if this season was a fluke.
The more I think about it, the more I think this team, almost as presently constructed, isn’t very far from being way better than average.
The “special” brand of basketball Milwaukee has played on offense this season has produced some maddening numbers. The Bucks rank as the NBA’s worst in the following categories: field goal percentage, points per game, offensive efficiency, fastbreak points and effective field goal percentage. If the Suns of the past five seasons have taken our breath away with their beautiful brand of fastbreak basketball, the Bucks have held down fans and forced air back into their lungs against their will.
But it’s not like the Bucks set the world on fire throughout their 46-36 run last season. The Bucks were 23 in offensive rating and 29 in field goal percentage just a season ago. Sure, they out performed both those numbers when John Salmons tore through opponents like a hungry eagle with a fresh fish, but they still weren’t exactly the Doug Moe Denver Nuggets.
The key has always been the Bucks defense. Despite struggles scoring under Scott Skiles they have always played the type of defense that could win a team more than one playoff series. In games in which the Bucks have scored more than 90 points this season, they are 30-12. In games in which the Bucks have shot 45% or better, they are 21-6. Both those numbers are promising, because it’s not completely unrealistic to expect the Bucks to approach those numbers more frequently next season.
Early season injuries robbed the Bucks the opportunity to have even one practice at full strength all season long. We’ve all been told since we were just children that practice makes perfect, Allen Iverson be damned. Now I don’t know that a handful of practices cure all that ails a team that’s shooting 42.8% this season, but it couldn’t hurt, could it? Milwaukee’s problems have largely been shots that haven’t fallen, as we’ve been told over and over this season, but there has been quite a few miscommunications along the way as well.
The Bucks added eight new faces before this season started and 78 games in, they still haven’t gotten the chance to feel each other out thanks to injures that have plagued virtually everyone on the roster. Combined, Bucks players have missed 267 games (prior to the Miami Heat game) this season, with maladies ranging from intercostal muscle strains to prolonged bouts of plantar fasciitis. Surely these injuries haven’t just turned on and off like lights when Bucks have returned to active duty or gone to the injured list. Many of these issues have plagued players for a while before they missed games and once they returned.
But I don’t want to sound like a complete Bucks apologist. There have been many problems this season that were carry overs from last. Milwaukee still often runs sets to end up with some of the worst shots possible. And, as presently constructed, the team lacks much in the way of athleticism. Without that athleticism, Milwaukee fails to get to the rim for easy layups and dunks.
Ultimately the keys for the Bucks next season will be getting more production from the shooting guard spot (reasonable to assume they will), a healthier Andrew Bogut (semi-reasonable to expect) and an improved Brandon Jennings (the wildest wildcard). Will all that fall into place this off-season and lead into next season? It’s far too early to tell — honestly, we won’t know until next October, this past summer has proven that much.
There’s reason for hope though. As frustrating at this season has been, it’s still too early to toss the entire organization overboard and completely blow things up. No one wants to wait and see, but that’s where we’re at with the Bucks right now. Wait and see.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter. Become a fan on Facebook (right sidebar).