It’s almost annual at this time of year. When we talk about Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, we hear about how many hours he spent working on his jumper over the summer. We hope this will be the year he can finally expand his range and start to hit threes, at least from the corner. And if not, we at least hope we’ll see him be dangerous enough offensively to keep teams honest.
But the conversation regarding Mbah a Moute may be different this year. It may be more focused on his right knee. In May we learned Mbah a Moute had surgery on that knee to repair tendinitis that had bothered him throughout the lockout season. He was supposed to be ready when training camp opened. Instead, he missed Milwaukee’s first 14 games. He’s back now, but he doesn’t sound like a guy who feels great.
Mbah a Moute sat at his locker after Saturday’s big win over the Bobcats, but didn’t seem in the celebratory mood. While some of his teammates shouted and hollered about a big victory, Mbah a Moute was quick to dismiss some of my questions about what seems to have been an aggressive start to his season in the post.
“Just four games man,” he said.
Yeah, it’s only been four games, but we were coming off a game in which Mbah a Moute attacked Michael Kidd-Gilchrist like he was a fifth grader in a eighth grade pickup game. The Bobcats rookie found himself defending Milwaukee’s forward in the post on three separate occasions in the second quarter. The first time, Mbah a Moute stepped towards the middle, faked once, faked again and when he got both Kidd-Gilchrist and another defender in the air, went underneath for a layup.
On the next possession, he air balled a hook shot, sure, but minutes later he posted, faced up, posted again and got Gilchrist in the air for the second time. Again, Mbah a Moute stepped underneath and finished, this time drawing a foul as well for a 3-point play.
He wasn’t done. Milwaukee would go back to the mismatch in the fourth. On this final post possession, Mbah a Moute took one dribble, knocking the rookie wing back a step. With him on his toes, Mbah a Moute drop stepped again, right into the defender, went up for a shot and drew another foul. This looked like a guy who feels pretty comfortable with his back to the basket and wants to take advantage of his opportunities.
This was only one game, but Mbah a Moute has looked terrific in the post since returning. In 11 post-up possessions (per MySynergySports.com), he’s made 4-of-7 shots and drawn four fouls resulting in seven free throws.
“I’ve always had a post game,” Mbah a Moute said. “The good thing is that coach is trusting me with that now. It’s good. I feel like I can take advantage of some small guys down there, use my size and score against them. I can go down there, get someone in foul trouble or get a basket or have a mismatch.”
But he’s still quick to point out that he has a long way to go before he feels like himself out on the court.
“I’m just figuring it out man,” he said. “I haven’t played basketball in eight months. I haven’t practiced, anything. I’ve just been playing games. I’ve played basketball four times in eight months. I got a long way to go.”
The signs of rust are evident. Typically one of Milwaukee’s strongest finishers, Mbah a Moute has made just 8-of-18 (44%) shots from inside five feet. And with just over 100 minutes played, his defensive rating of 105 rests between Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, not exactly known as his defensive peers. The knee may be the culprit here.
“It’s not where I’d like it to be yet,” he said as he shook his head. “I can play. The hardest thing is the conditioning and my knee. I’m just happy to be out there contributing, however I can.”