Through seven games under rest of the season coach Jim Boylan, the Milwaukee Bucks have gone 5-2 and impressively finished a four game road trip a little bit to the East and a lot of bit to the West at 3-1. After losing their last four games under ex-coach Scott Skiles, it’s been a refreshing change.
Kudos to Boylan for coming in and shaking things up. Making big changes. Altering the face of the team to fit the players he has. He’s made some huge changes. Changes like … like …
Playing Sam Dalembert a few times?
Truth be told, it’s pretty bizarre how much these new Bucks are the same as the old Bucks. Yes, Luc Mbah a Moute is spending more time at the three, Ersan Ilyasova is starting and Dalembert has actually played in real live NBA games, but for the most part, the Bucks on the court have been the same Bucks we’ve seen on the court all season long. They just have a different guy yelling at them.
It’s funny how a different voice can change things though.
The most common perception of Skiles’ exit was that he believed he’d done all he could with the team he had. Maybe he didn’t hate them, as people or as players, as was initially rumored in the wake of his departure. But it was pretty clear he wasn’t having the time of his life running this squad. He didn’t really seem on board with the belief that they could be something more than their roster would indicate.
Did the players know how he felt? We’ll never know. But if most of us could see it, it stands to reason that they could feel it. There’s probably a ceiling on what this team can do, but there’s definitely a ceiling on what any team can do with a coach aware of what the ceiling is. In the Bucks last four games with Skiles, they defended like a team not playing for much.
The calling card of Milwaukee’s early season success this year and any of the success it had over the past few, was defense. And in Skiles last four games, there was none. Opponents, quality ones but not always adept offensive ones, ran roughshod over the Bucks.
After only allowing one team to break a 100 offensive rating in its previous 10 games, the streaking Los Angeles Clippers, Milwaukee watched Detroit, San Antonio, Houston and tragically inept this season offensively Indiana crack 100 in consecutive games. The defense that had carried them had departed them.
Under Jim Boylan, the commitment has returned. And more than anything, defense is about commitment. It’s tough to find the energy to defend at a really high team level every night in the NBA. It takes a great amount of discipline and effort. With the exception of a very poor performance against the Lakers, Milwaukee has had that combination that makes a defense great.
In the four games prior to Skiles exit: 110.6 defensive rating. In the seven games since: 100.4. 100.4 is the exact number HoopData.com (all stats used are from there today) has the Bucks at for the season, good enough for seventh in the league. That’s the kind of defense the Bucks have to have on a nightly basis to win, because this offense hasn’t been all that different under Boylan.
The biggest development offensively under Boylan has been the occasional renaissance of Brandon Jennings’ 3-point shot, though it’s hard to give a coach too much credit for a streaky player getting hot. Jennings has shot 38% from three over his past seven games and three times scored more than 29 points.
Equally as crucial for Jennings: Four of his eight highest free throw attempt games have come over the past seven, including a 15 attempt game against the Blazers. He’s gone 40-for-46 from the line over his past seven. If Jennings were a 38% shooter from three who averaged almost seven free throws nightly, the Bucks offense would look quite a bit different and he wouldn’t be “in the discussion” for an All-Star birth, he’d just be an All-Star.
That’s been the point guard controlling the Bucks during the Jim Boylan Era. He’s a good guy to have around. Especially with a defense that’s been stingy as it needs to be. If Jim Boylan’s doing something to inspire both he and that defense, then good on him. If this is just another peak in a season full of them followed shortly by valleys, we shouldn’t be surprised. But we will be.
Because it’s way more fun to believe that this is a different team now.