Momma said the Milwaukee Bucks are like a box of chocolates every night; you just don’t know what you’re going to get.
A Boris Diaw-led Charlotte Bobcats front court can make the Bucks look like assistants to the regional manager one night, and just 24 hours later, Milwaukee colors their office black (for intimidation purposes) and beats a Minnesota Timberwolves team overflowing with the athleticism that usually gives the Bucks fits.
By the end of the first quarter, the Bucks had a two point lead they would never relinquish, despite poor shooting throughout a second half in which they were outscored 47-38. A late three-point play from Jon Leuer and his ensuing rebound off an errant Kevin Love three point attempt sealed the 98-95 victory in Milwaukee’s home opener.
Teamwork, or lack thereof, was a common theme throughout, as the Bucks nearly doubled the Timberwolves’ total points in the paint (48-28), scored 29 points off an incredible 26 Minnesota turnovers, and effectively snuffed out the Wolves’ speedy transition game that often gave the Bucks problems in the preseason (just 12 fast break points, to Milwaukee’s 16). The Bucks also tallied 24 assists, often coming off multiple passes in the flow of their offensive rhythm.
Players of note:
24 pts, 7-14 fg, 9-10 ft, 7 asts, 3 rbs, 2 TOs
With the ball in his hands, the Bucks up 94-92, and facing the pressure of a dying shot clock, Brandon Jennings cut into the lane, jumped, and found Jon Leuer waiting patiently under the basket. Leuer converted the lay-in and drew a foul, all-but sealing the first win of the Bucks 2011-12 season.
That sequence of pressure-cooked events is exactly what you want to see from a point guard looking to find the easiest shot on the floor. An efficient point guard limits turnovers, shares the rock accordingly, and can consistently find ways to score outside of jump shots.
Jennings’ final line reflects maturity and confidence in his ability to get to the rim (4-4 inside nine feet). We can only hope this is a new standard rather than the outlier.
20 mins., 14 pts, 5-7 fg, 4-4 ft, 8 rbs, 2 blks, 2 stls, 1 TO
Say what you want about Bo Ryan’s Ishtar-paced style of basketball, but he only spends his time on players with high basketball IQs, sound fundamentals, and the ability to work unselfishly within a system. Jon Leuer utilized every one of those Wisconsin Badgery skills to become a major contributor in the absence of Luc Mbah a Moute and Drew Gooden.
Leuer used his spot up jumper wisely (2-4 between 10-23 feet), and added a couple three point plays just for good measure. The Bucks’ 2011 second round pick boxed out the larger Timberwolves front court regularly, and led the team in total rebounding rate (19.4) as a result.
Read into Leuer’s success with cautious optimism (he was a second rounder in a weak draft for a reason), but Scott Skiles won’t be afraid to play him as long as he is producing and limiting turnovers at a position in need of a spark.
15 pts, 7-20 fg, 9 rbs, 3 asts, 2 stls
Today’s Andrew Bogut fun fact: The Milwaukee Aussie hit as many long range jumpers (2-2 between 16-23 feet) as he did shots at close range (2-12 between 3-9 feet). The Bucks had no problem feeding Bogut the rock, a formula that typically yields full crops as long as Bogut is healthy, and he did have a few shining moments of quickness moving towards the rim.
However, the same hook shot-dominant post game that limited Bogut’s offensive contributions before and after his arm injury is still there. Granted, he was playing against a big of equal, if not bigger, size (Darko Milicic), and most teams don’t have a traditional, defensive-minded center capable of going toe-to-toe with Bogut.
Stephen Jackson/Mike Dunleavy
21 pts, 9-29 fg, 1-9 3fg, 10 rbs, 10 asts, 5 stls, 2 charges
Those are the combined statistics of Stephen Jackson and Mike Dunleavy, the Bucks’ only active wings to play against the Wolves. Neither player was particularly successful at directly putting points on the board, but both Dunleavy and Jackson personified the unselfish things that set Milwaukee up for victory.
Dunleavy alone led the team with 8 assists (four leading to shots at the rim) along with two steals and two charges that surely got Scott Skiles to crack whatever it is that he calls a smile.
Jackson showed great defensive awareness by grabbing three steals, including a creeping swipe of Luke Ridnour along the perimeter, and making two impressive passes inside that led to easy lay-ins.
If the shots aren’t falling consistently, Jackson and Dunleavy are smart enough to find ways to contribute elsewhere. That’s certainly a refreshing change from the John Salmons/Corey Maggette experiment a season ago.
Luc Mbah a Moute
Luc Mbah a Moute is a walking defensive cliché, but his regular work against Kevin Love deserves a quick note. There’s little doubt that, had Mbah a Moute played 20-30 minutes, the Bucks’ offense may not have reached two below 100, but Love wouldn’t have put up 31 points and 20 rebounds.
Love wasn’t exactly on fire from the field (6-18 FG, 33%), and 19 of his points came from the foul line. However, a seasoned defender like Mbah a Moute would’ve certainly reduced Love’s 24 total free throw attempts, most of which came from his physical nature around the hoop against over-matched players like Larry Sanders and Jon Brockman.
When Mbah a Moute was on the court with Love in their two matchups last season, Love scored 10.4 fewer points on 5.1 more shots, experienced a drop from 46% FG to 30% FG, and plummeted to 6.9 free throw attempts from 15.7attempts. Mbah a Moute also made a noticeable difference in the teams’ preseason tilts, almost shutting Love down completely at times in the second game.
In Tuesday’s win, the Bucks’ collective defense shut down the Wolves’ secondary options (Derrick Williams, Michael Beasley) and made them lean solely on Kevin Love and Luke Ridnour for offense. Had Mbah a Moute been active, it’s highly likely the NBA’s reigning rebound king would have had his way all over the court.
All the answers to our preseason questions won’t come after two games, but then again, no one really expects that from a team with an enigmatic reputation. However, the 2011-12 Milwaukee Bucks have one thing last year’s squad lacked: chemistry. That alone makes this team more enjoyable to watch.