Oct. 1, 2012; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks general manager John Hammond responds to a question during Milwaukee Bucks media day at the Bucks Training Center in Milwaukee. Mandatory Credit: Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

GroupThink: Five Quick Questions about the Bucks

Dec 14, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Milwaukee Bucks point guard Monta Ellis (11) celebrates with point guard Brandon Jennings (3) in the fourth quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

With the Bucks owning (and I mean owning) a 19-17 record and the current eighth seed in the East, it is difficult to get a read on them other than ‘average’.

It’s that way with all average teams, isn’t it?  Are they good? Are they bad?  The line of demarcation is so thin. Bipolar performances leave fans dizzy with confusion over what to expect from this team.

That leaves a great deal of questions open for consideration.  Here are five of them, and as you might guess, the answers fall all over the map.

1) Should Brandon Jennings make the East All-Star team?

Alex Skov:  He would have no chance in the West, but being in the East gives Jennings some hope. He can put on a steals clinic, but defense is under-appreciated by the casual basketball fan, who make up the majority of voters. Will he? No. But should he? No. He’s a top-20 scorer and assists leader, as well, but there are at least six more deserving guards, even in down years.

Preston Schmitt:  No.

(Editor’s note: Gee, Preston, tell me how you really feel. All I get is a word and a hyperlink?)

Zach Hicks:  His numbers are down from last season, but his team is winning. I say yes. If he was in a bigger market, he definitely would.

Cole Brown:  No. While Jennings has had a productive year for the Bucks, he has been faced with the brutal challenge of stealing All-Star votes away from big market point guards like Deron Williams and Rajon Rondo. He’s also competing with Kyrie Irving, who’s putting up ridiculous numbers in Cleveland. Jennings has had a great season thus far, but the big market stars will always get the nod.

KL Chouinard:  He’s a two-time Player of the Week.  A TWO-TIME PLAYER OF THE WEEK, I tell you.

Yes, but only because the quality guard depth in the East is sorely lacking.

2) Should Monta Ellis make the East All-Star team?

Alex Skov:  Yes, but only if turnovers count for points, in which case several of the vote leaders do deserve to be All-Stars. Ellis is a high-volume shooter and that’s great when he’s making shots. Oftentimes that’s not the case, though. He and Jennings could both still be fringe picks because of the Bucks’ conference.

Preston Schmitt:  Absolutely not.  (See, for example, this and this.)

(Another editor’s note: Since Preston is rather mum today, let me simply say that Monta Ellis have all your bottom place spots in rankings of 18+ PPG players.)

Zach Hicks:  Definitely not. Ellis seems to be more of a hindrance  to the team. His reckless style of play is fun to watch at first, but when turnovers and missed shots accumulate, it’s just frustrating. Couple that with the fact that the 2 position is pretty deep in the East and I figure he’ll be watching the game from his couch…or at least the stands.

Cole Brown:  Yes. The shooting guard depth in the Eastern Conference this season is brutally weak. Even though Ellis’ points per game and shooting percentage numbers this year are below is career average, he still have it all, and will be the backup SG for the East behind Dwyane Wade (who also have it all).

KL Chouinard:  Judging from the foot-stomping-on-my-chest feeling that goes away when Beno Udrih comes into a game, I’m going to have to say ‘no’.

3) Fill in the blank: The Bucks should trade Samuel Dalembert for ____ .  

Jan 11, 2013; Milwaukee, WI, USA; Milwaukee Bucks center Samuel Dalembert (21) shoots a layup against Detroit Pistons forward Austin Daye (5) at the Bradley Center. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Alex Skov:  Alec Burks. He’s been playing more minutes for the Jazz lately due to injuries and is flashing his potential. A straight-up deal is not possible, but incorporating a third team to facilitate such a move would allow others to dump contracts and get value back while the Bucks add needed young depth to the back court. Try it. Go crazy.

Preston Schmitt:  The Bucks should make it a priority to clear out their frontcourt logjam while adding some guard depth at the trade deadline. A player like J.J. Redick would be ideal to further space the floor and provide another outside shooting threat aside Mike Dunleavy.

For better or worse, Redick is what Monta Ellis is not at the shooting guard position. Although Redick lacks Ellis’ impressive athleticism and explosiveness, he scores at a much more efficient rate (58.2 TS% this season vs. Ellis’ 47.5; 37.7 3P% vs. Ellis’ 25.4%) and requires significantly less usage (18.6% career vs. Ellis’ 25.8%) to get his points.

Zach Hicks:  Dalembert for Daniel Gibson. Bucks need shooting on the wing and Gibson can play the 1 or the 2.

Unfortunately, both Redick and Dalembert have nearly identical expiring contracts and the rebuilding Magic have no incentive to add a veteran center. Thus, there’s little chance a direct swap would work – a third team would have to get involved.

Cole Brown:  J.J. Redick. With Orlando in rebuilding mode, they would happily swap expiring contracts with the Bucks if Hammond threw in a protected second-round pick. The Bucks have desperately need a backup SG behind Ellis, and any team could always use more sharpshooters to spread the floor. Plus, just imagine the offense with both Dunleavy and Redick on the floor! *drools*

KL Chouinard:  My opinion is that getting Redick on the cheap is overly optimistic.  So I’ll agree with Zach here and say Gibson.

4) Who should the starting forwards be?

Alex Skov:  Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. When on the court with Jennings, Ellis and Larry Sanders, they comprise one of the Bucks’ top five-man units, locking down defense and keeping opponents away from the hoop. This line-up sacrifices some offense, but allows Mike Dunleavy to retain his sixth-man role and John Henson to keep developing.

Preston Schmitt:  I think Jim Boylan has this one right. He’s started Luc Mbah a Moute and Ersan Ilyasova since taking over as interim head coach. Brew Hoop’s Frank Madden calls it the “common sense” starting lineup, and I tend to agree. Mbah a Moute’s jump shooting (40.5 eFG% on jump shots this season) and relative inability to space the floor isn’t ideal at the small forward spot, but that’s where Ilyasova comes in. I touched on this predicament in August and still think it has some merit:

Mbah a Moute hit just 22.8 percent (21-92) of his jump shots last season, and 109 of his 133 made field goals last season came at the rim. Milwaukee might want a better outside shooter at small forward, to keep teams from constantly sagging into the paint. The Bucks could potentially avert this problem – as well as hide Mbah a Moute’s inability to spread the floor – by swapping his role on offense with Ilyasova. While Mbah a Moute would play the 3 position on defense, he could occupy the conventional 4 position on offense, and vice-versa with Ersan. That could be logistically tough to pull off, especially with different lineups, but it could prove to be an answer to the starting lineup question.

Zach Hicks:  Henson and Harris. Harris looked promising early in the season but his lack of lock down defense put him in Skiles’ dog house. With Skiles gone, Harris’ slashing ability is something the Bucks need. He could have a bright future with this team but needs to play.

Cole Brown:  Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova. Larry, for obvious reasons, has earned the right to be starting and should be seeing big minutes every game. Though Ilyasova hasn’t been playing at the level we know he’s capable of, Jim Boylan has said that he is absolutely crucial to the Bucks’ success. Milwaukee can be a very good team if Ersan gets it rolling like he did in the 2011-12 campaign.

KL Chouinard:  Tobias Harris and Ersan Ilyasova.  Harris has to work on his defense, to be sure, but consider this:  The Bucks started the season with a frontcourt of Harris, Ilyasova, and Dalembert.   Dalembert was below average at best, and Ilyasova was completely spooked by his new contract.  And Harris was still pretty good, giving the Bucks a scoring threat they needed in two places — the paint and the corners.

Fast forward to now. Dalembert has been supplanted by the much more effective Larry Sanders, who will better atone for Harris’ numerous defensive sins, and the Ersan Ilyasova who shot 21% on threes in November has been taken hostage and replaced with an Ersan who has made 48% of his threes in December and January.  Can we give Harris a chance to play with him? Please?

5) If the Bucks give GM John Hammond an extension, is that the right move for the future of the team?

Alex Skov:  What John Hammond has going for him is that he tried. Stephen Jackson, Andrew Bogut and Monta Ellis are the biggest names to come and/or go in Milwaukee. Many of the contracts are atrocious, particularly those of Drew Gooden and Ersan Ilyasova, but the intent is good. Yes, I think he should get extended, but sensibly. He’s no Gooden, you know?

Preston Schmitt:  No. I think it’s time to start fresh and begin a legitimate rebuild after this season.

Hammond has done an underwhelming job maximizing assets and has a borderline tragic track record with trades (see: Maggette, Corey and Jackson, Stephen). His activity in free agency has been largely hit or miss – for every (the only?) diamond in the rough like Mike Dunleavy, there were head-scratching, lucrative handouts to journeymen players, such as Keyon Dooling, Drew Gooden and John Salmons.

Perhaps his only redeeming quality has been drafting relatively well in the late lottery – generally selecting high-risk, high-potential players. Is that enough to keep his job? Not for me, but we’ll see what owner Herb Kohl thinks soon enough.

Zach Hicks:  Hammond should be extended. He’s hit on Henson, Sanders, Jennings, Mbah A Moute, Meeks, Lamb (maybe?) and Harris. He brought back Illyasova from overseas, which wasn’t that popular of a move at the time. He has had trouble locating a scorer. Richard Jefferson, Corey Maggette, Stephen Jackson and Monta Ellis have all been failures. However, he’s quick to fix his mistakes.

Cole Brown:  Yes. In his tenure as GM, Hammond has eliminated some terrible contracts and created a core of young talent that has shown signs of a promising future for Milwaukee. Not to mention absolutely robbing the Warriors in the trade for Ellis and Udoh last season (assuming Andrew Bogut doesn’t play at an all-star level when he returns). Hammond deserves a few more years to finish the product he’s started.

KL Chouinard:   I suppose so. (Can you feel the enthusiasm?!?)

In all seriousness, though, Hammond knows what he is doing.  The one trap he has to avoid, though, is feeling like he needs to be a player in free agency.  The top-tier free agents aren’t coming to Milwaukee, and his only chance at getting the next-level guys requires him to overpay them.  Been there, done that.

In the draft, Hammond has been shrewd.  And that’s what the Bucks’ best chance of fielding a contender lies. So bring him back and let him try his hand at it.

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Tags: Brandon Jennings Milwaukee Bucks Monta Ellis Samuel Dalembert

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