2008-09: Average defense, below average offense.
2009-10: Great defense, below average offense (For half the year, but a good offense in the second half. Until Andrew Bogut was hurt again at least.)
2010-11: Great defense, one of the worst offenses of all time.
2011-12: Fairly good offense … but a below average defense.
They just can’t quite seem to figure out this balance, eh?
We’re not in a place that’s very unfamiliar as fans of the Milwaukee Bucks. Things aren’t all that different than they were after that glorious 2009-10 season. The expectations are of course. But again, we have a Bucks team that feels like it’s established what it wants to do on one side of the ball and has to figure that other side out. No, this isn’t exactly unexplored territory. Of course, who ever would have expected, under Scott Skiles, that it’d be defense they need to grasp?
But the players know it. The organization knows it and Skiles knows it. He talked about Milwaukee’s 180 degree turn on media day:
“We felt like going into last season, one of the things we talked about with the guys was could we keep our defense similar to the year before and get better offensively, and if we could do that, we’d have a very good year,” Skiles said on Monday at the Bucks’ media day. “Well, we got a lot better offensively and got a lot worse defensively. Now, it’s flipped.”
The organization and the players sure seem confident that the right steps have been taken to correct the defensive problems that plagued the team last year though. There was gushing praise of the five to seven shot-blockers the team would have waiting at the rim this season, for anyone that got past Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis.
Of course it isn’t just one or two shot-blockers that makes a defense. They sure don’t hurt, but alone they can’t do much. It takes a commitment from the perimeter into the paint and all the way back to the rim. Most importantly, it takes some stellar communication and trust when you’re dealing with athletes as talented as the ones in the NBA. Monta Ellis seems to get this if today was any indication.
There’s some optimism that surrounds this group. People think there’s enough talent to do some pretty good things. Potential was a big buzzword on the Bucks.com live stream. When pressed on what the team needed to do to live up to its potential, not just defensively, but overall, Ellis didn’t focus on what he and Jennings, the de-facto leaders had to do. He focused on what everyone had to do.
“We just need one common goal and we’ll be all right,” Ellis told Jim Paschke as he sat down for an interview on the Bucks.com live stream. “It’s not Brandon Jennings and the Milwaukee Bucks, it’s not Monta Ellis and Milwaukee Bucks. It’s the Milwaukee Bucks. We all fall under one umbrella.”
“We have to trust one another,” Ellis went on. “We have to trust Scott and his system and how he wants us to play. If we get everybody on the same page we gonna win and everyone is gonna look good. If we losin’, everybody is going to look bad, not just one of us.”
It seemed like trust was what unlocked the Bucks offensive rhythm last season. When the ball started to move and guys started trusting that their teammates would knock down some shots, suddenly the Bucks were a lot more difficult to defend. Obviously that was a team that had upgraded talent at a few key spots on the perimeter and that made it a lot easier to trust, but the trust still had to be earned.
Maybe this is a team that feels like it had upgraded inside defensively and is ready to trust each other on that side too. We knew last year that the Bucks didn’t have the greatest one-on-one offensive talent. So they worked around the idea of using each other. And this year we know there aren’t obvious defensive stoppers everywhere, but there are some capable players. He’s out for training camp, but we know Luc Richard Mbah a Moute can defend. We know Samuel Dalembert has defended well in the NBA for quite a while. We know just a few years ago that Jennings was more than capable of holding his ground on defense with Bogut behind him.
It seemed like a massive task before last season for the Bucks to figure out the offensive piece. But they did that. For some reason, it doesn’t seem as daunting that they start defending more like every other Scott Skiles team ever. If they can do that and maintain that teamwork that made them a pretty passable scoring team last year, it’ll be interesting.
How interesting? I’m not ready to make top six proclamations the way Ellis and many others were today, but they might finally be able to crack that top-eight again.