Grades? Grades were no problem on Wednesday night. The Milwaukee Bucks made the grading process I go through incredibly easy.
That was about the only thing the Bucks were successful at on Wednesday. Fs all around! The defense of Milwaukee’s guards? Absent. Help from Bucks bigs? Non-existent. Shooting? Stayed in Milwaukee. Energy? Spent searching for the best cheesesteaks in Philly I presume.
The Bucks have been turning out lackluster defensive efforts for the better part of two months now, but Milwaukee has often found itself in the win column, simply because offensively, the Bucks have been working with quite a bit of firepower. But when Brandon Jennings plays so poorly on both ends that his coach can’t even go to him in the fourth quarter and J.J. Redick makes fewer than 25% of his shots, suddenly the defensive problems the Bucks have had look quite a bit worse.
Jennings struggles early on both ends of the court, were apparently severe enough for Coach Jim Boylan to go in another direction, opting for Monta Ellis at the point guard spot along side Redick and Mike Dunleavy on the wings in the fourth quarter as the Bucks attempted to rally. Jennings, predictably, was not thrilled according to Charles Gardner:
“This is the third time I’ve been benched in the second half and it hasn’t been under (former coach Scott) Skiles,” Jennings said after the game. “You always want to be out there to help your team.
“I don’t see any all-stars in this locker room so I think everybody should be held accountable, like anybody else. There’s no maxed-out players in this locker room; there’s no all-stars. So don’t try to put me on a pedestal and just give everybody else the freedom to do whatever they want.”
Jennings said he feels he is being singled out.
At the conclusion of that excerpt, the world of Bucks fans has likely divided into two halves. One half feels Jennings has a point. He HAS been benched a number of times, for reasons that are less clear to the masses. Sure, his shooting has suffered and his defense has been sketchy in those games, but there have been plenty of games where Jennings was inaccurate and equally as bad defensively in which he played 40 minutes. I’m thinking it may be generous to place an entire half of people in this camp. More like a quarter.
The other segment feels Jennings is complaining unjustly once again. This group feels like he’s placing blame elsewhere and not taking it upon himself to get better defensively and keep himself in games.
As always, neither side is “right” per say. There’s validity in both arguments. It is weird that Jennings seems to take the brunt of the wrath of Boylan. Monta Ellis is equally as poor a defender as Jennings and he was no better last night. In pick and roll situations, both of them have a habit of falling behind, struggling to get back after the big helps and then trailing the play, guarding neither the ball-handler or the roll man, leaving someone wide open. Both of them ball watch and lose their man defensively too. Why does Jennings get punished while Monta skates by?
Offensive productivity is probably the answer, at least of late. Jennings has had more bad shooting games than Ellis over the second half. Therefore, he’s seen more minutes on the bench. But that’s no way to teach accountability. If players feel different guys have different sets of rules, but don’t have different levels of talent, that’s when things start to get a bit messy. Notice how Jennings said he “didn’t see any all-stars in this locker room.” That’s an important signifier in the league. A player will likely allow preferential treatment if they feel a guy has earned it. I’m sure it would wound Jennings if he felt other guys were getting better treatment than him in Milwaukee where he has some years and some success that others don’t.
But I digress. Let’s take this back to accountability, which I mentioned a moment ago. That’s where the Bucks seem to be having some issues lately, specifically with regards to effort and defense. The one thing a coach can control over everything else is minutes. And one thing that will hold players accountable seems to be playing time. Notice how the Bucks, for all their faults under Scott Skiles, rarely had any issues defensively? Those Bucks, especially the Bucks from earlier this season, were running the same pick and roll defensive schemes that the Bucks are running under Jim Boylan right now, yet they had more success. Why?
Scott Skiles would pull the plug on anyone, at any moment. It surely created some tense moments for him and we know he didn’t always handle communication very well, but he would play the guys that he felt were most capable and willing defensively. It’s not enough to just trot Marquis Daniels or Luc Mbah a Moute out there for 15 minutes a night, there has to be a real threat of waning playing time to anyone who isn’t committed on defense.
The Jennings’ and Ellis’ of the world will respond to losing minutes for a lack of effort defensively. It seems like the only thing they will respond to. I think Jim Boylan knows this. That’s why we’ve seen these sporadic sittings of Jennings. But he has to be prepared to take it to the next level and be willing to sit Ellis for his many defensive miscues. If he doesn’t, he could be facing an increasingly divided locker room.