We’ve talked before about the Milwaukee Bucks and the glut of four and fives that developed this off-season. It was a popular conversation after Samuel Dalembert arrived via trade, after John Henson was drafted and most of all after Ersan Ilyasova resigned. By the time the off-season ended Sunday, Milwaukee was up to seven guys to fit into two positions.
Of course, depth is hardly a big problem in this organizations eyes. In fact, Bucks players spoke optimistically about finding a balance between all those bodies on media day. Drew Gooden said he was ready to sacrifice minutes for wins at this point in his career. Joel Przybilla’s cared less about minutes than he did about his wife not wanting him fighting anymore. Larry Sanders said he’ll do whatever is necessary for the team.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Skiles said of the front court balance. “We talk about it every day. We got seven big guys who have played, or are capable of playing well in an NBA game. The way the game is played now, some games it’s hard to get three of them out there…It’s something we’ve talked to them about. It’s going to be a challenge.”
“We don’t want to be in a position where guys are looking over their shoulder every night and wondering when they’re going to play. We have to keep an open line of communication. But the reality is there’s going to be nights where there may be three guys that deserved to play in the game and didn’t play at all or didn’t get the minutes they wanted.”
Surely it will be much easier explaining to Sanders that there aren’t any minutes available than it was to Stephen Jackson or Corey Maggette. Those were established veterans who felt like they had a lot to give. Jackson and Maggette ignored either eroding skill or inability to defend/fit in. Sanders is likely young and unproven enough to accept a smaller or non-existent role.
It’s going to be guys like Gooden and Ilyasova that may require a bit of extra attention from Skiles and his staff. Both are on big contracts and likely expect, all media day niceties aside, to be playing big contract minutes. Rumors of unhappiness with an undefined role constantly surrounded Ilyasova over the past few years. It seems fair to wonder now if, given the amount of money he was paid this off-season, he expects a more consistent role going forward. The pecking order in the Bucks front court likely starts with Ilyasova, then Dalembert with the rest fairly interchangeable.
Milwaukee’s always stood behind Gooden, who’s been injured and put into some pretty tough situations over the past few years and handled them all without complaint or excuse. It’s tough to envision him not getting at least 25 minutes a night for most of the season. With Ilyasova, Dalembert and Gooden handling the majority of the minutes and Pryzbilla likely the most accepting and obvious choice for DNP-CDs, where does that leave the Bucks young bigs?
Udoh, Henson and Sanders will have to battle it out to for remaining minutes. It’s almost academic that each of them will have a few moments in the sun this season. Sanders will probably have the least and if last season is any indication, Udoh the most. But it’s tough to predict just what sort of impact John Henson will have on the Bucks this year.
He’s already got a leg up on his rookie classmate Doron Lamb, he of the arm in a sling (per this video) and non-existent training camp prospects. And he’ll likely be further along come the season opener than last year’s rookies, Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer. Neither of the them had the benefit of either Summer League or training camp, plus Henson had a couple more years of college seasoning than Harris. We’ve been hearing rave reviews about Henson’s defensive presence since day on and no one seemed ready to back off any of those remarks on media day.
Henson’s the wild card. In a perfect world, he’ll be everything the Bucks hoped a fully developed Larry Sanders would be by now. If that’s the case, he could firmly grasp the fourth rotation spot in the Bucks front court. But he’s a rookie and the world isn’t perfect. It’s far more likely that Henson will have some of the typical rookie ups and downs we’ve seen recently with Brandon Jennings, Sanders, Harris and Leuer. During his downs, Udoh or Sanders will be there to give the Bucks some cushion.
The guys who are playing the best are going to play. That’s one thing we’ve seen throughout Skiles run as coach of the Bucks. If everyone else can accept that, we’ve seen how smooth things can go (2009-10). If that’s going to be an issue, well, we’ve seen that too (2010-11).