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:
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.
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.