Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Milwaukee Bucks: What To Look For In 2010-11

2009-10 Regular Season: 46-36
2009-10 Playoffs: #6 seed; lost in Round 1 to the Atlanta Hawks in seven games
Additions: Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders, Keyon Dooling, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Earl Boykins, Jon Brockman
Key Losses: Luke Ridnour, Charlie Bell, Dan Gadzuric, Kurt Thomas
Projected Rotation Players: Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings, John Salmons, Corey Maggette, Drew Gooden, Ersan Ilyasova, Carlos Delfino, Luc Mbah a Moute, Larry Sanders, Keyon Dooling

Look for Corey Maggette’s commitment to defense and rebounding to serve as a catalyst for the 2010-11 Milwaukee Bucks. 

Make no mistake- the primary drivers of any success for the Bucks in 2010-11 will be stud big man Andrew Bogut and 2009-10 star rookie PG Brandon Jennings. However, the difference between another decent season ending in a first round exit and legitimately challenging for a top-four playoff seed will be newly acquired Corey Maggette’s ability (he’s coming off of ankle surgery) and willingness to play Scott Skiles brand of ball.

This season, Maggette will be asked to not only lead the Bucks’ second unit, but essentially play starter’s minutes off of the bench, in a role similar to Jason Terry’s Dallas. While the primary reason for his acquisition was to give the Bucks a spark on offense through hard drives to the basket and ability to earn trips to the free throw line. While Maggette is the most talented veteran on a young, defensive-minded team, he’s at risk of becoming a grossly overpaid, one-dimensional slasher. As such, and because he’s being paid a star’s salary ($30+ million over the next three years) and occupying a star’s spot on the payroll, he’s got to bring more to the table on the defensive end of the floor.

Maggette’s just too great a physical specimen and too gifted an athlete to go through his entire career as a mediocre defensive rebounder and a subpar defender. Given the recent deterioration in his outside shot (from 38.4% on 3-pointers in 2007-08 to 25.3% and 26% the last two seasons), he will want to focus on improving other aspects of his game.

This Bucks’ squad is probably the most ambitious of any team that Maggette’s been a part of during his career, which should be sufficient motivation for a guy who’s taken part in all of 12 postseason games in 11 pro seasons- all of them in the spring of 2006. If it’s not, the idea of Skiles- who’s not the type to tolerate guys neglaecting defense- dramatically limiting his role ought to do the trick.

Turning quickly to the rest of this squad, we see a starting lineup that returns four of five members (Jennings, Bogut, Carlos Delfino and John Salmons) from a year ago.

Bogut is coming off of a horrific injury to his arm (he suffered a broken index finger, broken wrist and a severely dislocated elbow after losing his grip on the rim after a dunk), and while he’s expected to suffer some discomfort early in the season, looks to be reasonably close to his previous form. He’s grabbed 11 rpg and blocked 2.7 shots per game in his first three meaningful post-injury games. However, on the offensive end it looks as though his return to All-Star form could take a bit of time, as he’s scored just 12.3 ppg and, in perhaps the most obvious after-effect of the injury, made just five of 12 free throw attempts (at ~60% for his career, he’s not a great free throw shooter, but he’s better than this). Even at less than 100%, Bogut’s one of NBA’s better big men, but when he’s healthy, he’s easily in the uppermost tier. He’s got a great arsenal of post moves and is an excellent passer out of the post.

Meanwhile, in second-year PG Brandon Jennings, the Bucks look to have a budding superstar. Despite being an inefficient scorer (~37% from the field and an inconsistent 37% on 3s as a rookie), Jennings is just a damn good basketball player and has all the tools needed to develop into a top-five lead guard. While he does look for his shot, Jennings is more of a pass-first (or at least, passing is tied for first!) guard who protected the ball well as rookie (9 apg, v. 1.7 TO/game) and is an outstanding ballhandler. Additionally, and no less importantly, he’s a willing and extremely capable rebounder (5 rpg at 6’1”? Not bad!) and an excellent perimeter defender.

Rounding out the starting five are John Salmons, Carlos Delfino and Drew Gooden. Salmons, who was acquired from Chicago at the deadline last season, is a bit one-dimensional but is a strong two-guard that can get to the line (and shoots well when he’s there, with a career 81% FT) and shoots the ball well from the perimeter (38% from 3 each of the past two seasons). Delfino is a better-than-average supporting player than can shoot from the perimeter (~37% from 3 the last two years) and is a good rebounder and defender- just a solid NBA rotation guy. Milwaukee also added the WELL-traveled Drew Gooden (his ninth team in nine years!) at PF. Gooden is little more than an average but serviceable “4,” but his addition adds defensive depth to the second unit, in the form of Luc Mbah a Moute.

If Maggette lives up to his promise as a super-sub and Bogut’s recovery doesn’t hit any snags, the Bucks’ top six will be among the 10 best in the NBA.

Bottom line: Heading into the season, Vegas had the over-under on regular seasons wins for the Bucks at 45.5, in line with the team's performance a year ago. There's no reason to expect a drop-off from this team, considering the only loss from last season's rotation is Luke Ridnour, who will be replaced by Keyon Dooling (good shooter and perimeter defender) and Earl Boykins (high-energy, instant offense). Add Corey Maggette to the mix, and if Bogut's back to 100% of his old self, the Bucks should be right around this number. This will be a dangerous team again- depending on how they fare with health and the random bounces that sometime decide games, look for the 2010-11 Bucks to win 44-48 games and wind up as a #5 or #6 seed in the playoffs.

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