This was all too familiar for the Milwaukee Bucks.
No intimidating bouncer to discourage slashers and big men from finishing at the rim. No long range bomber to spread the floor and contribute a few underrated passes. No competent mid-range shooting point guard that always seems to be moving with or without the ball.
With no visual evidence required, we knew that a Bucks team sans Andrew Bogut, Mike Dunleavy and Beno Udrih would be spending most offensive possessions drifting around the perimeter, unsure of how to proceed without three of their most dangerous weapons. We just didn’t want to know it would be this bad.
The Bucks played in the Utah Jazz’s version of the Thunderdome Tuesday night, a place where they’ve gone winless since October 30, 2001. Unsurprisingly, both teams entered, and the Jazz were the one man that left, with an 85-73 victory that exposed every flaw associated with relying on Drew Gooden to be a primary offensive option as well as the only other “center” on the roster.
What Happened? (In 140 words or less…)
Despite the final score, and all the subsequent issues with the Bucks “depth,” the Jazz did everything in their power to keep Milwaukee’s chances alive. Short of scoring on their own basket.
Utah owns the lowest turnover rate in the NBA (11.88), but managed to cough the ball up a Minnesota Timberwolves-like 24 times, and the Bucks turned nearly half of those into points the other way (20, to be exact). Milwaukee (29-95, 30.6%) ended up taking 29 more shots than Utah (32-66, 48.5%), and had major problems defending any Jazz player in the paint.
Utah converted 17-22 attempts at the rim (77.3%), and really didn’t have to look elsewhere for open shots. Whether it was Al Jefferson (4-7) or Gordon Hayward (3-3), things were coming up Jazz inside.
MVP: Drew Gooden
Drew Gooden (24 pts, 12-20 fg, 12 rbs, 1 blk) strung together his best game as a Buck when the team needed it most. That, of course, is part of the problem. Gooden was very effective down low (5-6 at the rim), and most of his buckets were second chance tip-ins (7 offensive rebounds).
With the exception of one basket coming within 3-9 feet (1-3 on the night), Gooden’s pick-and-pop game was working well, as he connected on 6-9 jumpers between 16-23 feet. That should come as no surprise, but it becomes very hard to work the ball inside for easier shots when the primary center prefers to drift 20 feet from the basket.
Gooden deserves praise for his non-stop hustle and willingness to play an unnatural position, but every time he pulled up for a jumper, you have to think John Hammond glanced at his phone hoping to see Joel Przybilla’s agent calling.
LVP: Stephdon Jennckson
Stephen Jackson averaged 41.1% on 15.8 shots per game in 2010-11. Brandon Jennings shot 39% on 14.7 shots last year. Tuesday night is what happens when their inner George Costanzas come out simultaneously. (There should be a surgeon general warning letting you know the dangers of reading the next paragraph to your health.)
Combined, Jackson and Jennings scored 24 points on 9-36 (25% FG) shooting, including 1-14 on three pointers. They also added 11 assists, 6 steals, and 8 turnovers, and were really at their shooting worst. Worry over how these two alpha dogs were perform together has been brewing for quite some time, and Tuesday night was the first glimpse we’ve had into just how bad things can be.
Stat of concern: Three pointers
Even with Mike Dunleavy and Beno Udrih, the Bucks have not been a very successful team beyond the arc. Other than shooting 8-23 on opening night against the Bobcats and going 8-20 against the Wizards, the Bucks have connected on 9-56 (16%!!) from deep in their other three games (two losses, one win). This includes a very rec league-like 2-21 against the Jazz.
There’s no doubt the team is better suited to create and hit three pointers this season compared to last, and their success is largely dependent on their ability to create shots through a chain of passes instead of pull ups and screens. In their best three point shooting performances, 12 of Milwaukee’s 16 makes were assisted. That’s certainly no coincidence.
The good news is that the law of averages says that there’s no way the team can be this bad at shooting, especially with notorious bombers like Dunleavy and Carlos Delfino. The bad news is that 2010-11 happened.
Stat of praise: 21-19 third quarter advantage
The Bucks have had some major issues in the third frame this season, ranking last in the NBA in third quarter (18.6) and second half scoring (39). However, Milwaukee came out fairly energized after halftime, rattling off a 12-3 run to start on their way to a 21-19 third quarter advantage.
Of course, they were on the other end of a 10-0 run halfway through the third, but it’s hard to find positives when a team scores 73 points. Oh wait…they held the Jazz to 85! That’s good, right?
Overall takeaway: Depth is all relative
When healthy this season (that took all of four games to change), the Bucks have been lauded for a bench that runs nine to 10 players deep at times. That quality bench becomes fairly pedestrian when they are forced into roles far above their capabilities.
The “deep” descriptor only applies to the Bucks, or any other team lacking a true superstar capable of taking over a game, when they are at full strength. A team could have a Mariana’s Trench to delve into, should injuries or ineffectiveness arise, but NBA depth typically means a team has a solid foundation of role players that will bump their heads on a glass ceiling if they’re asked to do too much.
Don’t jump ship too quickly though. It bears reminding that January is easily the toughest month on the Milwaukee Bucks’ schedule, and the Bucks have never fared well in Denver, Utah, or Phoenix. Indeed there are some big issues to address with this team, but looking for those answers in places where they traditional struggle will do no good.