With the Milwaukee Bucks embarking on the second half of the season, now is the perfect time to take a review of the first half of the season.

Dynasties don’t happen too much in sports these days, whether winning or losing dynasties. The state of Wisconsin has three professional sports teams and each has gone to the playoffs in the last decade. Plenty of other states have had worse luck. The Milwaukee Bucks have been one of the bigger enigmas in local sports, sandwiching two exciting playoffs around a decade of miserable seasons. The current 2010-11 season hasn’t yet been classified as exciting or miserable, but a grade of “incomplete” could be given at the halfway mark of a season marred by injury and inconsistency.

It’s certain that the Milwaukee Bucks have a team building for the near future. General Manager John Hammond has a track record that speaks for itself . With the amount of financial trouble the team had been in, John Hammond has fielded a competitive organization while still working towards a long-term plan. His method of using a “plug-and-play” roster is a gamble. Between Hammond and head coach Scott Skiles, there is a list of prototype players that fit well in their defense-first system, and there is a longer list of players that have potential to fit in. While still cleaning up the Bucks’ salary cap troubles, Hammond has rotated in and out a stream of “potential players.” Some have worked well, such as a half year of John Salmons, and others just haven’t played out, such as Richard Jefferson. It won’t be until the end of the season when the verdict comes in on “plug-and-play” players Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden. They could become good-fitting cogs for the future, or they could be shipped off for better-fitting pieces. While they hope that their gambles will play off short-term, the long-term vision is to have a clean salary situation and have a roster of all prototype players.

While the long-term results remain a mystery, and Hammond, the reigning NBA Executive of the Year, no doubt has tricks up his sleeve for the next few years, the current season has had its share of up and down moments. Andrew Bogut is still working toward full recovery of last season’s arm injury and has tacked on a lingering viral infection to his troubles. Second year point guard Brandon Jennings has been absent following foot surgery and guard Carlos Delfino missed 2 months due to serious concussion symptoms that nearly ended his season. The pace of the team suffered heavily because of those three players and the time they have missed. All the way back through training camp, the Milwaukee Bucks have not had a full, healthy roster all season. Both Chris Douglas-Roberts and Drew Gooden are getting accustomed to the rhythm of the team. There have been flashes of success, and the team has some of the right pieces in place. They just haven’t been sustaining.

Basketball is a game of style. From individual players, team patterns, hairstyles, uniquely-colored shoes, flashy dunks and the like, everything has a method to it. The Bucks team has a style of its own, shifting from an offensive-first to a defensive-first franchise under coach Skiles. 5 seasons ago, Milwaukee ranked near the top-10 in the NBA in offensive points per game (10 th out of 30), field goal percentage (9 th ), and assists per game (12 th ). They were also near dead-last in those same defensive categories, points per game (26 th ), field goal % (29 th ) and assists per game allowed (30 th ). Those numbers have completely flipped around for today’s squad, and at the halfway point this year they rank 30 th , 29 th and 30 th respectfully on the offensive end, and 4 th , 9 th and 6 th on the defensive side, in relation to the rest of the league. Hammond has constructed the team around the style of defensive play that Skiles demands. Plug-and-play players that don’t fit are shipped out as quickly as they were shipped in. Minutes on the court are directly tied into defensive effort. And the old adage that “defense wins championships” is alive and well in their development.

Defense may be a main focus for the Milwaukee Bucks, but their sharp drop-off on the offensive side of the ball has been alarming. The team has been most plagued by the lack of movement on the offense. Players spend too much time standing around off the ball and don’t often pass well when they have the ball. In the games the Bucks have won, players move well, cut to the basket, set screens and keep the defense moving. During their losses, players get “feet glued to the floor” syndrome and do none of those things correctly. When they aren’t moving the ball well, they aren’t taking high-percentage shots. Milwaukee has 5 players shooting 40% or less from the field, which is borderline unacceptable. Brandon Jennings, John Salmons and Keyon Dooling all sit at 39% while Ersan Ilyasova and Larry Sanders hover right at 40%. The team in its current state cannot get by on defense alone. Luc Mbah a Moute has been called the toughest defender in the league by All-Star Kevin Durant. Yet while he only averages 24 minutes a game, the team is giving up a net -68 points to the other team when he is on the floor. Salmons is actually the worst in that same category, -81, while occasional starters Dooling (+61) and Ilyasova (+41) are the best on the team. For these players, it’s not always about the shots they take, but the pace of the game they generate.

Point Guards:
Brandon Jennings Jennings claims Allen Iverson as his hero growing up. It clearly shows in the approach Jennings takes to the game. The Bucks haven’t had a solid assist-first point guard in a long time. Ramon Sessions before him just wasn’t good enough and Mo Williams was also shoot-first. With coach Skiles, a former point guard who holds the NBA record for most assists in a game (30), it could be a clash of personalities at times, but Jennings needs to be steered in the direction of Steve Nash and Jason Kidd.
Keyon Dooling Dooling is a good backup. He’s reliable when taking some minutes off the bench or if he is working in-tandem with Jennings. But as the injury starter, Dooling doesn’t command the same attention from the defense as Jennings does. He’s not as quick or flashy and doesn’t cut to the basket as well. He is a smart veteran and brings that to the table. But the pace of the offense suffers when he is the star point guard.
Earl Boykins Boykins is afraid of nothing and has had to overcome a lot in his 13 year career. He’s learned to get around his 5’5” frame on the offensive end, shoots well, and has that lobbing shot that always makes its way over taller defenders. He unfortunately is a huge liability on defense and that’s just the way it is, no matter how hard he tries.
Shooting Guards:
John Salmons Salmons started the season off in a huge slump, leading fans to pull hair over the large contract he was given. While his shooting, especially his shot selection, has gotten better recently, it still hasn’t been outstanding by any means. Defensively he fits well into the scheme and matches up with taller shooting guards in the league.
Carlos Delfino His impact is difficult to judge because of the head and neck injury that sidelined him for 2 months. After a terrific summer playing in the Worlds, his performance was strong before the injuries. While he is just getting back on the court it will take some time to fit in with the team.
Chris Douglas-Roberts Douglas-Roberts is still finding his role on the team. After missing the first few weeks because of an eye surgery, it took a while to get comfortable. Douglas-Roberts was criticized on his previous team, though he often blamed the losing culture of the team and its staff. In the first half with the Bucks he has improved well on defense and shown off the athletic abilities he possessed in college.
Small Forwards:
Corey Maggette Maggette followed right along with Skiles’ philosophy from the start, and stated that he knew defense equaled playing time. Talking the talk is not walking the walk, and Maggette found himself losing playing time fast in the first quarter of the season. When the offense began to suffer, Skiles was forced to put Maggette back in. The Bucks paid a few million dollars to relieve themselves of two bench spots while gaining Maggette’s offensive ability. He attacks the basket better than anyone on the team and is a relatively smart, though sometimes selfish, basketball player. With the current state of the team’s offense, it’s worth the risk of some defensive liability.
Ersan Ilyasova Ilyasova is truly the most hot and cold player on the team. His big games only come in spurts, and he has plenty of work to do to be able to contribute on a regular basis.
Luc Mbah a Moute What else can you say about one of the league’s best defenders who struggles to find an offensive rhythm? Being only in his third year, it’s something the team must wait out. If Mbah a Moute can develop a reliable shot, he’d be a perennial All-Star.
Power Forwards:
Drew Gooden Gooden is another player who has suffered from the injury bug. All his numbers are below career averages, but he’s also been forced to be the go-to guy as a backup center, something that limits him. He works well with Bogut, but both aren’t always healthy at the same time. The jury is still out on Gooden.
Jon Brockman Brockman does what coaches love best: diving for loose balls and taking charges. His statistical input is nothing to brag about, but the team is effective when he plays. The one stat that stands out is the net point difference between teams when he is on the court, and Brockman is one of only 3 Bucks who are positive in this category. He doesn’t slow the pace of the game and makes the plays that don’t get noticed on the stat sheet.
Larry Sanders Here is a work in progress. Sanders has terrific athleticism and a high IQ for the game. During the upcoming summer he will probably be asked to bulk up a bit. Some more weight to his frame and his natural ability at defense will make Sanders a key player in the Bucks’ future.
Center:
Andrew Bogut Bogut could be an All-Star every year if he could stay healthy. There is always something else setting him back, and he hasn’t often looked like the same player that helped last season’s charge to the playoffs. While Bogut leads the league in blocks per game, he often plays timid and hasn’t taken advantage of the other centers in the league, most of which are inferior to him. Most fans dream of what could come if Jennings and Bogut become the future Stockton/Malone duo. That would depend on Bogut’s health and Jennings’ ability to pass the ball more effectively.

On to the million dollar question: last season the Bucks went 29-12 in the last 41 games. Can they repeat that run? The footnote for the beginning of the 2009-10 season was that fact that so many different pieces were still getting used to playing together. In the second half they gelled together and ran over a number of good teams. The 2010-11 season has had the same excuses and plenty of setbacks, but it’s only tolerable if the team fights past it.

Four Keys to the Second Half of the Season:
Get the Offense Running Quicker: Fix the Holes in the Roster: Passing is Vital to an Offense: The Team That Wins the Rebounding Battle Often Wins the Game:
Brandon Jennings’ return will be a big help With Brian Skinner being non-existent, Carlos Delfino missing most the season, and Michael Redd missing the entire season, they’ve basically had a 12-man roster. The limit is 15 players, so Milwaukee has been putting extra strain on the guys who are healthy. Often times that extra pass sets up a higher-percentage shot. They make those extra passes during the wins but completely fail in the losses. Again, this isn’t just one player’s job. Bogut does his part, but everyone gives up too many offensive rebounds to the opponent.
The second half schedule is immensely easier than the first half, and the Bucks must capitalize on that. Unless GM Hammond has some creative plans before the trade deadline, fill up a complete roster. Assisting has been atrocious. This doesn’t always have to be the point guard’s job, but should start with Brandon Jennings.
The players need to stay fresh so nobody is dragging feet on the offensive side of the ball.

Statistical Comparisons of the Last Five Seasons :

Season 1 st 41 2 nd 41 Final Head Coach Div Conf Playoffs
2010-11 16-25 Scott Skiles —–
2009-10 17-24 29-12 46-36 Scott Skiles 2 6 Lost 1 st round to Atlanta
2008-09 19-22 15-26 34-48 Scott Skiles 5 12 No
2007-08 16-25 10-31 26-56 Larry Krystkowiak 5 13 No
2006-07 17-24 11-30 28-54 Terry Stotts/Larry K. 5 14 No
Statistic Leaders
Season PPG RPG APG
2010-11 Brandon Jennings (17.9) Andrew Bogut (11.4) Brandon Jennings (5.5)
2009-10 John Salmons (19.9) Andrew Bogut (10.2) Brandon Jennings (5.7)
2008-09 Michael Redd (21.2) Andrew Bogut (10.3) Ramon Sessions (5.7)
2007-08 Michael Redd (22.7) Andrew Bogut (9.8) Mo Williams (6.4)
2006-07 Michael Redd (26.7) Andrew Bogut (8.9) Mo Williams (6.1)
Offensive Team Stats Defensive Team Stats
Season PPG FG % RPG APG PPG FG % RPG APG
2010-11 91.2 (30) 42.2 (29) 42.0 (14) 18.0 (30) 92.8 (4) 44.6 (9) 41.6 (16) 20.2 (6)
2009-10 97.7 (22) 43.6 (29) 43.0 (6) 21.2 (14) 96.0 (7) 45.1 (9) 42.8 (24) 19.3 (5)
2008-09 99.3 (15) 44.5 (28) 40.7 (20) 22.0 (7) 100.4 (16) 45.8 (15) 41.0 (14) 21.1 (15)
2007-08 97.0 (20) 44.9 (19) 41.7 (18) 21.5 (14) 103.9 (23) 48.0 (30) 40.7 (8) 23.3 (25)
2006-07 99.7 (10) 46.5 (9) 39.2 (29) 21.6 (12) 104.0 (26) 48.0 (29) 43.4 (28) 25.3 (30)
 

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