“Ers always plays with energy. And now Larry is becoming one of those guys. Ekpe is one of those guys. You need to be bringing it the whole time you’re out there, or the other guys are gonna be in the game. We got enough guys playing with energy now and that’s such a big factor in every NBA game. I know everybody assumes that guys should have energy every night they’re out there but that isn’t’ always the case. That’s one of the reasons Larry’s had so much success. He’s just flat out playing harder.”
– Scott Skiles on Samuel Dalembert – November 7, 2012
“He’s another one of those guys, all he has to do is be active and he has an effect on the game. He can make an open shot. If he dives to the basket with energy, our guards are good at finding him. He can get a couple easy baskets.”
– Scott Skiles on Samuel Dalembert – November 14, 2012
What a difference a week makes.
A week ago, it looked like Dalembert was in peril of losing his starting job to Larry Sanders. The Bucks big offseason acquisition, Dalembert looked winded, lethargic and generally ineffective through the first three games of his Milwaukee Bucks tenure. After struggling in his fourth game against the Wizards it was officially time to start referencing the small sample size of the early season and refrain from panicking, but most of us were openly looking for things Dalembert was doing wrong to explain his struggles.
He wasn’t covering much area when defending pick and rolls. He wasn’t barking out defensive signals the way Andrew Bogut used to. He looked heavy and slow. How long would it be before he was out of the lineup? I began to prepare a piece about the struggles of Sam.
But there’s a reason we’re always cautioned against paying too much attention to a small sample size. And Dalembert’s last three games are that reason. Over his past three games, he’s averaging 12 points, six rebounds and 1.3 blocks in just 19 minutes per game. In the first half of Milwaukee’s destruction of the Pacers on Wednesday, he had 14 points and six rebounds. Skiles said he would have brought him back for more than just three second half minutes, but Milwaukee’s monster lead that Dalembert helped build gave him little reason to bother.
Why the sudden turnaround for Dalembert? Energy and activity seem to be the keys in Skiles’ mind.
The center has been very aggressively diving to the rim ever since Milwaukee’s loss to the Celtics last Saturday. In the first quarter that night, Dalembert had four dunks coming as the roll man in pick and rolls as the Bucks looked to expose something the Celtics defense they noticed on opening night. In his next game Dalembert showed the same sort of energy, at one point early in the first quarter beating the entire Sixer team down the court for a wide open dunk in transition.
And generally when guys starting getting easy baskets, other things start happening for them too. They feel a little better about their game, they get a little more active. Dalembert has started dropping in short fadeaway jumpers with some regularity over the past few games, hitting three against the Pacers off post-ups and two against the Sixers. Suddenly, after attempting just six shots in his first four games, Dalembert is 19-for-26 on the year and shooting 73%.
Defensively, he’s come in handy against both the Celtics and the Pacers. He absorbed quite a bit of contact from the intensely physical Kevin Garnett throughout the Boston game and never flinched. Wednesday, Skiles pointed out at times the Bucks have had to throw Luc Richard Mbah a Moute on Pacers’ center Roy Hibbert over the years and hope for the best. Hibbert averaged 17 points and 9.3 rebounds on 63% shooting against the Bucks last season. Dalembert outplayed the towering Hibbert and stood up to him with a presence the Bucks haven’t often had with Bogut out so frequently. The already struggling Hibbert managed just seven points and eight rebounds on Wednesday. That’s the way they wanted his size to impact their defense. That’s the kind of defensive performance Milwaukee expected out of Dalembert.
After a rough first four games, what the Bucks expected out of Dalembert seems a little more reasonable. And given Sanders’ early season surge, getting what they expected out of Dalembert might leave the Bucks with more front court ability than they could have imagined.