Andrew Bogut played in 65 games last season, but in the other 17 Milwaukee cobbled together starting lineups that included Jon Brockman, Larry Sanders or Drew Gooden in the center position.
Since Bogut’s injury and then eventual trade, Gooden’s assumed the majority of the center minutes this season. When he’s been out, Milwaukee’s been forced into some tougher positions again, using Sanders, Ekpe Udoh and even at times Ersan Ilyasova at the five.
So yeah, the Milwaukee Bucks lack size inside.
Flirtations over the past two seasons with Erick Dampier, Joel Przybilla and Kyrylo Fesenko haven’t result in the backup, and probably now starting, center Milwaukee’s seemed to need. But speaking with reporters before a recent game, Scott Skiles made it sound like the Bucks got all the backup big they wanted when Gooden was signed.
“One of the primary reasons of signing Drew was to be the backup five to Bouges,” Skiles said. “Not that he wouldn’t also start at the four, we didn’t rule that out or anything. We thought because he’s done it before, that in a pinch, he could swing to the backup five and pick and pop and shoot the ball like he has and things like that.
“This year it’s just worked out that that has been his primary role. That’s just what’s happened. Drew is a four/five, he’s not a five/four. But for us right now he’s a five. Strictly a five.”
Gooden hasn’t rebounded as well this year as he has previously in his career – the 6.4 rebounds per game he’s averaging would be his lowest season total of his career – possibly because he’s dealing with a different kind of player defensively.
To his credit, Gooden has responded with one of his more productive seasons offensively. At times he’s been consistent with a mid-range jumper shot that’s helped open things up offensive for the Bucks. His assist rate of 16.3% his more than twice his career rate of 7.6%. Plus, he’s admirably fought for position and ground defensively with the league’s largest players all season.
“He causes problems on the other end of the floor for the other team’s center, so there’s a bit of a trade off there,” Skiles said. “We’ve asked him to do some things this year that are, on paper, unfair. Getting out there and battling with Dwight Howard and then still getting out there on guards and trying to trap on pick and rolls. We feel in total he’s been very, very positive.”
But the Bucks realize they are losing something defensively without a true center.
“We’re trying to go out there and hurt teams on the other end and make up for anything on the defensive end,” Skiles said.
How the Bucks have gone on so long without addressing the center position remains a bit of a mystery though. Granted, the options were pretty slim once this season commenced. Fesenko has played just two games since signing with the Indiana Pacers. The aforementioned Dampier never was relevant in Miami, another size starved team. The Heat even gave Eddy Curry a chance, with predictable results. If the Heat couldn’t find a center, what chance did the Bucks ever have?
So Milwaukee continues to move forward with its barrage of power forwards trying to make do as the playoff race heats up. The Sixers lost again last night to a Magic team without Dwight Howard. You’d think the Sixers might have been able to take advantage of Magic center Daniel Orton in one of his first starts since his high school state championship game. But they couldn’t.
Why not? It probably had something to do with the power forward, Elton Brand, they started at the five.
Bucks fans, you are not alone in your search for size.
Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball.com. He’d love it if you stopped by every time you wanted to buy something on Amazon and gave him some click-through love on the banner up on the top right. Also –Twitter.