I can’t explain how it happened, I can’t say I expected it to happen.
But I can say I’m enjoying it.
Some how, while being the most enjoyable to watch Milwaukee Bucks forward since Toni Kukoc left town, Mike Dunleavy has been one of the best offensive players in the NBA over the past month. He’s kind of playing like Kukoc, if only Kukoc was just leaving his prime rather than a few years past it when he was in Milwaukee. That’s a lofty, lofty compliment coming from as big a Kukoc fan as me.
In the month of March, Dunleavy has averaged 16.1/4.1/4 while shooting better than 50%, one of only three players (as far as I can tell) to do so. The other two? Lebron James and Dwyane Wade. Wow. Dunleavy joins James again as one of the league’s top 10 players in True Shooting Percentage, a measure that takes into account field goals, threes and free throws.
Dunleavy isn’t forcing his athleticism down the throats of opponents in the way that James and Wade are though. Rather he’s using his opponents speed and athleticism against them quite frequently.
If I had a dollar for every occasion this season that Dunleavy has pump faked and watched a defender fly five feet past him trying to block his shot as he calmly took another dribble forward and knocked down his shot I’d be a rich man.
And where James and Wade drive and dish and throw full court lobs to each other, Dunleavy has a more cerebral approach to moving the ball on offense. He’s quick and he’s smart. Never does the ball linger in his hands. He comes off screens and when he pulls up to shoot he often has an eye on the man rolling to the hoop. While he’s in the air he has the ability to use his height and make the pass to the rolling screener or pull-up for a jumper himself. On the wing or on the pick and roll, he makes decisions quickly. Even though he hasn’t fared particularly well as a shooter in pick and roll situations, he’s shown an ability to create for his teammates and find the screener rolling to the hoop.
Offensively he’s really shined in transition and helped the Bucks pick up the pace this season.Last year there were complaints that the Bucks were too slow and needed to run more. For whatever reason, the group Milwaukee had last season really struggled in that area. It’s little things that weren’t getting done. They didn’t inbound the ball quick. The wings didn’t run out looking to catch a pass, and when they did, they weren’t really threats. John Salmons could shoot it some or take it to the rim historically, but last season he wasn’t much of a threat to get to the basket. Dunleavy has been that threat this season.
His versatility has been a key in making Milwaukee a more dangerous transition team. He can catch a pass on the wing, get to the basket and finish in traffic. Or if he catches without a defender near him, he can pull-up and hit a transition three. Defenses have to adjust throughout the game to how they want to deal with him in those situations. Just ask the Knicks. He had 12 points in transition alone in a recent 25 point effort against Milwaukee’s chief final playoff spot competition.
Earlier in the season, Dunleavy struggled to get his 3-pointers to fall. He assured that everything felt okay, that his shot seemed fine to him and it would just be a matter of time until he was hitting. He was right. His 3-point percentage has boomed from making 27% of his shots in January to hitting on 46% in March.
Given his uptick in shooting and bumps in his assist and rebound numbers, it should come as no surprise that Milwaukee’s recent six game winning streak has coincided with heavy minutes from Dunleavy. He’s playing better and more often. He’s averaging 30 minutes per game in the month of March, up from 26.3 mpg in February and 21.1 mpg in January.
Dunleavy has battled some injuries over the past few years and missed time earlier this season, but he looks like he’s finally healthy again. If he can stay that way, he’ll play a big role in Milwaukee’s stretch run. The Bucks are 2-9 in games Dunleavy misses and 19-15 in games he plays in. If those percentages continue to hold up, the Bucks could be in the playoffs and Dunleavy will have been a big factor.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. Follow him on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.