10 Thoughts on the Milwaukee Bucks in 2011-2012 (NBA Season Preview)

1.        As important as new acquisitions are, the main impetus for the Bucks success remains Andrew Bogut.  Bogut is the second best center in the league when healthy, a true defensive force second only to Dwight Howard.  He’s the rare center that blocks, takes charges and gets steals.  He’s truly a shutdown player and while the Bucks defense is good with him hobbled, it’s elite near the Chicago/Boston/Miami level with him.  If he regains any confidence offensively after his freak injury two years back, his skill alone makes the Bucks a playoff team.


2.       Without Bogut really being an offensive threat, last year’s offense was a disaster.  Steps were taken to prevent that this year with Stephen Jackson and Mike Dunleavy brought in at the wings.  Jackson has always been able to score and defend, and though age has slowed him, he remains a viable scoring option for a balanced team.  Dunleavy offers less defense and durability, but more scoring, with some underrated passing. 


3.       The Bucks also return 2 incumbent wing players and a rookie.  The first and most important of these is Luc Richard Mbah a Moute.  As a wing defender, he might be the very best in basketball, but, sadly, he has no offense and so ends up playing a lot of 4, where he’s merely good, and doesn’t start.  When he does at the wing, with Bogut as center, watch out.  The starter is likely to be Carlos Delfino, a strong defender and 3-point shooter, but not much else.  Finally, we have newcomer Tobias Harris.  At 19, he’s among the youngest players in the league, but he already shows a great refinement of skills.  Sure, he’s a tweener who needs to be in better shape, but with maturity and a hard working team, he could end up the steal of the draft.


4.       Starting Mbah a Moute and Bogut means that there need to be scorers rounding out the team.  None of these are more important than starting 1 Brandon Jennings.  After an electric start to his career, Jennings has been quite average.   He’s an inconsistent shooter, passer and finisher.  When he’s on he seems all world, but he’s not always on.  If he truly develops, he could essentially cure all the team’s needs, but that’s a big if.


5.       Since Jennings is primarily a scorer, the team seems to be stockpiling big point guards so he can play some 2 guard. Beno Udrih is a crafty combo card who can create shots for others and himself.  And he’s joined by Shaun Livingston, finally healthy after years of injury trouble, Shaun is huge, an excellent defender at the 1 or 2, a good passer, and has a developing midrange game.  If either push Jennings to the 2 for long stretches and get Jackson to the 3, there are huge mismatch problems for any defense.  Better, if Jackson’s minutes are limited, Livingston, Jennings, Mbah a Moute, Larry Sanders and Bogut can be a true lockdown unit that can score.


6.       Larry Sanders, last year’s #1 pick, is a huge variable for this squad.  If Sanders continues to develop into a deadly defender, and he’s already a great shot blocker, he could be wonderful as the first 4/5 off the bench – a weapon few teams can match defensively.  If he remains as raw as he was, however, the frontcourt suddenly looks thin.


7.       It’s thin, however, despite the presence of Ersan Ilyasova, who remains the rare pick and pop 4 who can play physical and rebound.  He’s an average defender, but likes physical play, struggling with more versatile players.  With Mbah a Moute around, that’s less of an issue, and he provides decidedly needed floor spacing otherwise. 


8.       Drew Gooden remains the starter at the 4, but it remains to be seen how much he has left in the tank. After a bad year, the formerly perennially dependable Gooden might be done.  Gooden is a solid rebounder and very good midrange shooter, which gets him time, but given the youthful talent behind him, we’ll see how long he starts.


9.       This is a make-or-break year for Coach Scott Skiles.  Skiles is a great defensive coach, but really needs something line an offensive coordinater, as even a moderately good offense makes this team likely better than the Hawks and Magic since they’re incredible defensively.  Barring that, though, this still looks like a low seeded playoff team in the East, likely taking Philadelphia’s spot.


10.   The most-underrated defensive team in the league has a few too many variables to really compete.  The talent is there, but between Bogut’s tentative play, steps backward for Jackson, Dunleavy and Gooden, plus development being needed from Mbah a Moute, Ilywasva, Sanders and, most of all, Jennings, there’s as much potential for it all to fall apart as there is for success.  I still have this team pegged as a good one, but only first round playoff loss good.

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