The Milwaukee Bucks are not going to catch the Miami Heat, New York Knicks or the Indiana Pacers in the standings. It’s just reality. Those three teams have begun to slowly pull away from the pack and are the top three seeds in the East. However, sitting in the No.4 seed are the Brooklyn Nets. While the Bucks sitin the No.8 spot, they are just 5.5 games behind the No.4 seeded Nets.
Bucks GM John Hammond hopes that his newest acquisition can help his team make that playoff push. After acquiring J.J. Redick Thursday, many fans weren’t happy with the deal their team made. Giving up Tobias Harris was unpopular and although I agree he has great upside, it seems as if the Bucks felt differently. Harris didn’t play significantly under Skiles, nor did he receive a playing time bump like John Henson and Ersan Ilyasova when the coaching change occurred. It’s very possible that it isn’t just Boylan and Skiles who were unimpressed by the lack of lateral quickness Harris showed, but also the front office.
Regardless of whether or not the deal was good for the Bucks long term, the team has a legitimate option off of the bench in J.J. Redick for the remainder of this season. Redick’s ability to play off of the ball will result in more minutes than Monta Ellis at the shooting guard position by season’s end. That does not necessarily mean Ellis’ playing time will be cut. Without Beno Udrih, expect one of Jennings or Ellis to be manning the point guard position at all times. With the addition of Redick, the Bucks are suddenly a matchup problem for teams. Jennings and Ellis can use their quickness to create mismatches, while players like Mike Dunleavy Jr., Redick and Ilyasova will knock down shots from the perimeter.
The Bucks made their splash on deadline day. Whether it was as big as they were hoping for, is another question. Atlanta’s Josh Smith was being shopped hard by the Hawks. The Hawks pulled out of a deal last minute that would have sent Smith to Milwaukee. Tonight, fans will see what could have been–Smith makes his return to Milwaukee, but not in a Bucks uniform. Here are three things to watch in tonight’s key game against two squads jockeying for playoff positioning.
1. Shot Selection
If you’ve watched a Bucks game this season, you know that the shot selection of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings can be frustrating. For Jennings, we see streaks of brilliance. His first two games after the All-Star Break has seen him average 32.5 points and 9 assists per game. When Jennings is hot, he’s hot.But sometimes he forces shots and looks like a scrub. It’s a rung of the maturation ladder that many fans had expected he’d be at by now, but Jennings is still inconsistent.
As for Ellis, he views himself as a Dwyane Wade-esque shooting guard. Ellis’ thirst for long range 2′s and the occasional 3-pointer is what can shoot the team out of games. His PER has dipped under 15 and he is shooting below 40 percent from the field this year and only 22 percent from 3. Ellis is an elite penetrator and can get by his defender and to the rim at will. For whatever reason, he settles for jumpers that thunk off the glass. If the team wants to be anything more than a fringe 8 seed, more responsible shot selection needs to occur from these two guards. Will it happen? Unlikely, but my fingers are crossed.
2. Redick in the Rotation
With Redick’s addition, the Bucks will be able to do some interesting things with their rotation. Who will he play with? Redick will probably benefit most when Ellis has the ball and Jennings is sitting. Ellis’ ability to penetrate can help draw the defense out and kick to Redick. Because Redick moves so well without the ball, he should be in good position when Ellis passes it to the perimeter. If he passes, that is.
As noted before, Redick paired with Dunleavy could be a lethal combination. Unfortunately, as good as this combo would be offensively, it’d be rough defensively. Check on who Boylan pairs Redick with and how they mesh on both sides of the court.
3. Stop Smith
It’s easier said than done. Smith’s athleticism will be difficult for Ilyasova to handle and Henson’s lack of strength will be a glaring disadvantage. It might be wise to put Ilyasova on Al Horford, a much less mobile player who has the ability to step out, and put defensive guru Larry Sanders on Smith. If Smith is on Sanders, keep an eye on the match up. Sanders isn’t afraid to get chippy with anyone and Smith is no stranger to such activity. If the Bucks hold Smith in check, the rest of the Hawks will feel the pressure to make more shots–possibly forcing ill advised possessions and creating turnovers.
With three new players in town (Gustavo Ayon and Ish Smith in addition to Redick), the Bucks are looking for a shot in the arm to help them ascend the playoff ladder. However, even with the addition of Redick, the most glaring problem remains: Ellis and Jennings must begin to mesh as a unit.
This might mean they can’t share the court as much. It might mean Ellis has to pass up those appetizing 3-pointers that he only makes in one in five attempts. It might mean that even though Redick is aboard, the Bucks will have the same results they had pre-trade.
But that’s why they play the games.