Expectations always determine how we react to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Beat the Los Angeles Kobe Bryants, and the NBA world at-large snaps to attention, because the Lakers’ name is much bigger than their receding hairlines and growing crow’s feet.
Beat the Detroit Pistons 103-82, and SportsCenter passes you up for NHL highlights. Even with a record below .500, the Bucks should blow lesser cohorts out of the water. Save for a rough end to the second quarter, Milwaukee dismantled Detroit as expected on Monday night.
Other than a late first half 17-4 run that reduced the Detroit deficit to 47-41 entering the third, the Bucks had the Pistons by their crankshaft for most of the night. Milwaukee responded with another strong 28-19 third quarter (26.5 points over the past four games), and closed the win with a 56-41 advantage in the second half.
Drew Gooden (16 pts, 7-9 FG, 5 rbs, 1 chg) again showcased non-traditional center skills away from the basket (1-1 at the rim, 6-7 between 10-23 feet). Gooden, and the Bucks’ collective interior defense, continued to show cracks against the aggressive Greg Monroe (16 pts, 8-12 FG, 6-8 FG at the rim, 10 rbs) and always-driving Rodney Stuckey (19 pts, 6-14 FG, 4-8 FG at the rim, 7-7 FT, 6 rbs)
MVP: Mike Dunleavy
From ‘blah’ to ‘bargain’; that was the essence of my evolutionary reactions to the Bucks’ acquisition of Mike Dunleavy (20 pts, 8-10 FG, 2-2 3FG, 3 asts, 3 rbs).
Since returning from his groin injury, Dunleavy has fit like that perfect corner piece into the Bucks offensive puzzle, always hustling, always setting his feet, and (almost) always embracing what the defense gives him. Dunleavy was especially effective as a spot up shooter against Detroit, and buried a couple second-half daggers that put the game out of reach for good.
Dunleavy was Brandon Jennings’ best friend during the preseason, and after a regular season injury hiatus, it looks like he’s filling the role vacated by Stephen Jackson in a much quieter, smarter way. Speaking of Captain Jack…
LVP: Stephen Jackson
I have a Milwaukee Bucks 2012 calendar (courtesy of the Bucks’ first win over the Pistons) hanging on the left side of my cubicle at work. Stephen Jackson, with the phrase “be impactful” on a downwards slant to his right, graces the month of January, and I can’t help but feel a twinge of irony every time I check the date.
The Bucks are 3-0 with Jackson riding the bench, he’s smart enough to be cryptically ambiguous when addressing the issue, and there are multiple reports outside of Milwaukee reporting both parties’ discontent with the relationship.
Once again, Milwaukee reallocated Jackson’s 12 shots per game wisely amongst 12 players, moving the ball effectively (21 assts on 36 baskets) and lighting the net on fire from deep (10-17 3FG). In a couple weeks, it’s plausible Jackson will be playing elsewhere, and the Bucks’ 2012 wall calendar will forever be cloaked in unintentional irony.
This should delight you…: The Swish Of A Ripper
Dare I say it? The Bucks can *gulp* score points.
Milwaukee has topped the 100 point mark in all of their last four games (3-1), with an average offensive efficiency of 109. Detroit isn’t known for their defense, or offense, or much of anything really, but shooting 51.5% overall, 58.9% on threes, and 48.2% from 16-23 feet requires more than an inferior opponent.
Brandon Jennings (21 pts, 8-15 FG, 4-8 3FG, 5 asts, 4 rbs) is thriving playing next to a natural passers (Shaun Livingston) and a do-anything point guard (Beno Udrih). Likewise, Mike Dunleavy is finding his stroke and the rest of the team is moving the ball patiently until the floor opens up.
…And this should concern you: That Pesky Painted Area
Alex Boeder already pointed out the Bucks’ monolithic tumble in rebounding efficiency, despite Scott Skiles’ history coaching solid teams on the boards. However, unless the current crop of rotating big men grow in size and defensive awareness, or the Bucks bring in someone capable of playing 30+ minutes in the middle every game, this is going to be an ongoing issue.
The Pistons were also effective where the Lakers were not, forcing the Bucks to play around the perimeter (40-18 points in the paint advantage) and limiting them to just 17 shots within 9 feet of the cup (9-17 overall). Converting on mid-range shots (17-36 between 10-23 feet) makes it easy to overlook the lack of high percentage opportunities, but that can’t last all season.
Final verdict: A Good January Close Out
Milwaukee ended the first month of the season (including December) with a 9-11 record, which is about what you might expect from a team filled with so many questions and new faces. The manner in which they compiled those 11 losses (at Charlotte, at Sacramento, at Phoenix) and 9 wins (at Miami, at Houston, at New York) looks like something that exists in a parallel NBA dimension.
Milwaukee is in a good spot to start February, where the schedule lightens up and features eight games at the Bradley Center and seven on the road. The Bucks still have some 7’-tall questions and disgruntled issues in need of answers, but the team’s rotation is starting to figure out itself out. Given all of the early adversity the Milwaukee Bucks have faced, that should be encouraging.