*Note: Most of this article was put together before Monday’s win. All of the statistics, charts etc. have been updated. I still decided to publish because one win means little.*
After getting off to a hot 6-2 start, the Bucks have dropped three of their last four to Chicago, Miami and – get this, the Charlotte Bobcats. With twelve games in the books, the Bucks stand at 7-5 and have shown a lot of heart in both their wins and their losses. They have been playing HARD for forty-eight minutes every night so far this season. A prime example of that grit was showcased in overcoming a 27-point deficit against Chicago on Monday.
The Bucks have shown that they can compete against some of the best in close losses against Boston, Miami and Chicago. Without a doubt, they are improving and I still expect them to be in the playoff bracket somewhere when that time comes. They are young and they are experiencing some early growing pains. As a blogger and a lifetime fan of this organization, these losses have been very deflating for me, I can only imagine the frustrations that are brewing in the locker room.
But there have been some early season issues that need specific addressing.
1. Ersan Ilyasova’s struggles
Ersan Ilyasova, the man who received that four-year, $32 million (guaranteed) deal over the summer is not looking good at all thus far. In Saturday’s game against Chicago, he didn’t box out, making Carlos Boozer look like Dennis Rodman on the boards. He looked out of place, lost, scared to shoot, all of that. The (not so) silver lining about his performance on Saturday is that he scored what he averages… six points.
I know all about Ersan’s 18-point, six-rebound effort off of the bench on Monday. It was great. It really was. Perhaps, a sixth-man role will suit both him and the team better. John Henson was pretty solid in his first start.
Prior to Monday, it was eleven rough games for Ilyasova and now he has the ever-so-improving Larry Sanders, Epke Udoh and Henson all breathing down his neck for minutes. Minutes are being split and it’s clear that this isn’t the same Ersan Ilyasova that we saw at the end of last year. Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently took a look at Ersan’s recent struggles and this is what Ersan said about Scott Skiles‘ allocation of minutes between this and last year.
“We had just three or four guys last year and we knew our minutes. It was kind of stable.”
Unstable minutes or not, Ilyasova needs to make shots when he’s open. Perhaps Monday was the confidence boost that he needed.
When it comes to shooting from the field, the confidence issue has again plagued him. Last year, Ersan netted a new deal while shooting 49 percent from the field and an incredible 45 percent from three. That sort of percentage from deep was insane and we shouldn’t expect that efficiency but his current levels should be as difficult to expect to continue going forward. This year, his field goal percentage had dipped to a pedestrian 35 percent overall and 22 percent from three. Here is a look at Ilyasova’s shooting this season.
2. Late game situations FAILS
This team isn’t doing well in late game situations against quality opponents. Milwaukee used some late game heroics to top the Cavs in the home opener and out-executed the Hornets not so long ago, but quality teams have given the Bucks fits when the game has been close late. Over the three-game losing streak, Milwaukee has shot roughly 37 percent in the fourth quarter.
Against Charlotte, Milwaukee led by as much as eleven late but struggled to hit shots. Down two, on the Bucks final possession Monta Ellis took a twenty-seven foot shot with five seconds left. He missed and the Bucks lost.
Against Miami, Milwaukee overcame an 18-point deficit and even built a late, 7-point lead of their own. Eventually Miami came back to tie the game and then… Ellis took a twenty-three foot shot with the score tied at 98.
Notice a trend here? There has to be another way than just chucking up long jumpers out of pick and roll or isolations late. This team plays way too hard to lose on these horrid, live-or-die long jumpers. Surely you noticed some of Milwaukee’s biggest baskets against the Bulls on Monday came right at the hoop. An “and-1” layup from Ilyasova. A difficult fake and finish off a pick and roll from Udoh. Those were 23-footers, they were 2-footers that the Bulls didn’t see coming.
Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings are the unquestioned leaders of this team and they are the go-to scorers in the clutch. A big part of the Bucks’ fourth quarter failures falls on their shoulders. Ellis went 1 for 10 total in those fourth quarter “clutch situations” over those three games. (Clutch situation: The final 5 minutes or under, when the score is within five either way.) This doesn’t really say TOO much considering these shooting percentages are spread over three different games which had three entirely different scenarios. Even with that however, this is pretty inefficient shooting in crucial moments of games, especially for a scorer like Ellis.
Jennings has been even worse in these situations, going 0-4 down the stretch in these three games. As the team’s leader, Jennings needs to be more assertive in the clutch, whether it’s orchestrating more off pick and rolls or finding a way to get to the rim himself. Letting the offense bog down into 20-foot chuck mode isn’t great point guard play.
In Monday’s Bulls rematch, notice that both Ellis and Jennings sat as the Bucks took that win. (GO DORON LAMB!) From a non-statistical angle for a second, I think that it was great seeing the stars cheer the bench guys on to victory. That was amazing and shows the character of this team.
Lets talk about Monday
It was great seeing the Bucks climb out from that 27-point hole and win a big division rematch. During the game, Jim Paschke pointed out that the Bucks scoring drop-off from the first to the second half is second to last in the league, only ahead of the Brooklyn Nets.
While coming back from down 27 is great and all, THE BUCKS WERE DOWN 27 IN THE FIRST PLACE!
It was a very slow start but they really got it together, obviously, with the win and all. The depth of this roster is one of the strengths of this team and they showed it on Monday. It was a great night for depth but against a Chicago Bulls team without Derrick Rose, a one-point win and a combined 16 points from Jennings and Ellis isn’t going to sustain. Don’t get me wrong, they are doing fine and their stats look nice at surface-level. We need to see more out of these two when it counts. To the defense of Jennings, his ankle hurts. He gets a pass.
The Bucks will be tested this week as they face Carmelo Anthony and the red-hot New York Knicks at home, followed by a quick stop to Minnesota and another home game against Boston.