Bucksketball Podcast

A tough year gets no easier for Luc Mbah a Moute as the playoffs approach

| April 19, 2013

Category: ROTATIONS!

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An off-season spent unable to workout. Absences in both training camp and the early part of the regular season. Turf toe in March. A virus that’s left him hampered. Career low numbers in shooting percentage, free throw percentage, minutes per game, rebounds per game and pretty much everything else.

It’s been a tough  year for Luc Mbah a Moute.

Milwaukee’s defensive ace didn’t play his first game this season until December 1 after a May knee surgery to repair tendinitis that hampered him last season. After four games, I was optimistic about a very positive offensive start. He seemed pessimistic though when I approached him after he scored nine points and dominated rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in a 15 point win over Charlotte.

“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.”

“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.”

It turns out that Luc was right. It turns out he knows himself better than I do. He finished December reasonably strong, averaging 9.3 points and 5.4 rebounds on 46% shooting for the month. Those numbers weren’t totally out of line with his typical production. But he slumped in the following months, playing through pain and conditioning issues. Mbah a Moute shot just 37% in January and February. He was a mess in back-to-backs, making just 26% of his shots. Within five feet, typically a spot where he excels, Mbah a Moute made just 45% of his shots. His shot chart wasn’t pretty:

via NBA.com

And then things got worse. He went down with turf toe in the middle of March. He sat out eight games, returned for three and then missed a game with an illness. And now, he’s apparently dealing with further illness, though there’s no word if this is related to the one that caused him to miss an April 1 game against Charlotte:

“The last couple days I’ve been really under the weather,” Mbah a Moute said. “I don’t know where it’s coming from. I saw the team doctor on Monday and he said it was a virus. He gave me some medicine for my sinus and all that stuff.”

Given the struggles he’s had on the offensive side of the ball it’s reasonable to assume he hasn’t been his normal self defensively either. The numbers here are conflicting, but the eye test indicates he hasn’t been quite as sharp. According to Basketball-Reference, Mbah a Moute’s defensive rating this season is a career high 107 (meaning the Bucks allow 107 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor), three points higher than last season. But according to MySynergySports, he’s actually been better than ever, ranked 68 in the league in defensive points per possession after spending the last two years in the 140s.

But watching Mbah a Moute can be a bit sad this season. He doesn’t seem to have the same explosion or foot speed that’s made him such a versatile defender. It’s evident when he barely clears the rim when trying to dunk. It’s evident on missed layups. It isn’t so obvious when he’s defending, but how could it affect him on one end and not the other?

Naturally, this is all very troubling for the Milwaukee Bucks. A hampered Mbah a Moute could hardly come at a worse time than when the team is about to take on the Miami Heat in what should be a very difficult playoff series. Lebron James has been running through the league for years now and the Bucks haven’t been an exception. He’s torched them on a number of occasions, including a 107-94 victory for the Heat in Milwaukee in March. Mbah a Moute missed that game and it was evident how ill-prepared the Bucks are to deal with James if Mbah a Moute is out.

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Milwaukee tried a number of defenders on James, both by choice and necessity. Marquis Daniels started on the superstar and gave the Bucks their best chance. But physically, he was no match. While Daniels can still really bother a Kobe Bryant or a Paul Pierce, at this stage in his career, James is just too smart to not use his strength and size to perfect advantage over Daniels. Even when Daniels was well positioned, James simply out-muscled or out-smarted him with a series of fakes to get clean looks for himself.

When Milwaukee would counter with more strength and use Ekpe Udoh (and in one case, because of a switch, John Henson) to defend James, he’d take him out on the perimeter and drive to the basket.

Mbah a Moute has long been relied on to guard James whenever he’s played the Bucks. It gives the Bucks options, flexibility and, most basically, a chance. He can’t stop James, but he has the chance to bother him. Few other players on Milwaukee do. So as bad as Mbah a Moute has been on offense this season, as sick as he is, believe that he’ll be out there for extended minutes against the Heat.

Just another tough task for Luc Mbah a Moute. I guess it’s the perfect way for him to close out this season.

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About the Author ()

Jeremy Schmidt writes the Milwaukee Bucks blog Bucksketball. He founded it in January of 2009 because he hated his job. It’s like basketball, but with Bucks instead of basket. I know ... I’m sorry. He might come off as a bit negative, but I'm really not so bad. He just wants the Bucks to succeed, so he points out areas where they are coming up short. Someone has got to do it and he's ornery and opinionated enough to take on that task. He isn't sure if this should be in third person or not. Contact him at Jeremy@Bucksketball.com if you must use e-mail.

Comments (5)

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  1. josh says:

    If mbah a moute is 80% he is still the best defensive option on Lbj. If he plays him well and henson n sanders control the boards we have a chance game by game.But will henson play 20 mins a game. will sanders fout out or get ejected twice in the series. will jennings have more fga than points. will dunleavy collapse on a driving Lbj EVERY SINGLE TIME leaving shooters WIIIDE open?!?!?! Too many question marks to overcome in this series. as an optimistic Bucks fan i got the Heat in 5 games. let jennings walk or sign n trade him for rondo. resign ellis for the 4 yr 32 mil. start henson Ers and larry a whole season and draft a defensive guard to come off the bench and see what we have.

    • Ross says:

      I would love it if everything you said ended up happening, but I think getting Rondo for Jennings is an upgrade, so it won’t happen.

  2. Justin says:

    three points:

    Prince vs. LeBron- LeBron is LeBron.. you aren’t going to stop him, we all know that.. but we also know he can get frustrated

    Super Trio or Duper Trio- not enough is said about keeping offensive pressure contributing in limiting the opposition’s offensive effectiveness.. Rip Hamilton has made a career off making his defender work so hard chasing him around they are too tired to be their best offensive self.. Wade is rolling on bum wheels, so making him work on defense is key.. if we are just standing around we’ve failed

    Box the F out- simple rule I know, but Miami is good enough without giving them multiple opportunities.. and the frontcourt of Sanders/Ilya definitely has lapses in putting a body on someone

  3. John Proctor says:

    Jeremy, I was listening to Ollie Burrows (or whatever his name is) on the radio today and he said he talked to you about the Bucks last week? You should have (if you hadn’t already) mentioned you were going to be on radio, I missed it! I live in Wausau btw.

  4. Sfisch says:

    This article by Jeremy came at a good time for me,
    because I was so frustrated by the way Luc played
    Monday against the Nuggets on offense — it was
    embarrassing! Now I understand that there may be
    good reasons to cause much of that poor performance.

    Unfortunately, it seems like Luc has been slow to
    develop his offensive game even before this season
    (although it says above he was hampered last season,
    too, because of knee tendinitis). It seems like Luc
    has some decent offensive skills, but that they’re
    underdeveloped and inconsistent. Maybe there’s a
    confidence issue as well.

    What would be great is if Luc (and other Bucks players)
    could work with Sidney Moncrief in the offseason to
    learn how to operate inside in traffic against the
    shotblockers. According to my memory, Sidney was so
    fantastic at that, making shots at the hoop against
    bigger defenders. Also, later in his career, Sidney
    developed a good outside shot, so maybe he can help
    Luc with that as well. (By the way, I think Sidney
    is my favorite Bucks player of all time.)

    In closing, I think that it’s critical time in Luc’s
    career to develop at least a decent offensive game.
    He seems like such a good guy to have on our team
    that I’m really rooting for him to put it together,
    starting with a big improvement for next season.