Welcome to another week of “State of the Bucks.” Hope you all survived your St. Patrick’s Day weekend.

The Milwaukee Bucks sure did. Since we last spoke, the Bucks pushed their season-high win streak to 6 games and are looking like a brand new team after last week’s franchise-shifting trade.

After horrendous offensive numbers last season (hint: dead last), Milwaukee is slowly creeping up the ranks as one of the top-10 scoring teams in the league. While still in the bottom half in shooting percentage, the Bucks are 9th in points per game and 3rd in assists per game. Those numbers are directly correlated; last year’s Bucks were a team with no identity and too many moving parts jammed together. This year the Bucks move well on and off the ball, attack the hoop, and function as one, solid unit.

So what’s different? Stephen Jackson being gone has helped. Instead of trying to rebrand himself with a new team, he sunk into his usual frustrating ways and ended up in coach Scott Skiles’ doghouse. Some team averages to highlight:

With Stephen Jackson in the roster rotation (season’s first 31 games) :
PPG: 94.8
FG%: 42.4%
Asst: 21.2
TO: 14.2
With Jackson permanently assigned to the bench (the following 12 games) :
PPG: 102.8
FG%: 44.7%
Asst: 25.9
TO: 12.9
After the Bogut/Jackson trade for Ellis and Udoh (the last 2 games) :
PPG: 118.0
FG%: 52.8%
Asst: 34.0
TO: 10.5

So the Bucks are clearly a better team without Jackson. What else? Milwaukee was incredibly aggressive against Portland, which is scary. When they play confident, they’ll excel in the paint, they’ll make the extra effort for that rebound, they make that extra pass. It truly becomes a team effort. And while that seems like a no-brainer in a team sport like basketball, it hasn’t always come easy for the Bucks in the last few seasons.

On the defensive side, the initial thought after the Golden State trade was that the Bucks would lose a lot of their ability. They sacrifice height with Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis as the guards and neither are known as defensive specialists. How that relationship continues is still TBD. But the guys behind them have been busting some ass in the paint, and are finally getting some recognition for it. In back-to-back weeks, Ersan Ilyasova and Drew Gooden were named Eastern Conference Players of the Week. For their respective weeks, Ilyasova averaged 25 points and 10.8 boards while Gooden put up 18 points, 9.7 rebounds and 8 assists. The two players are averaging a combined 56.4% shooting during the current 6-game winning streak.

The Bucks are definitely playing like a faster team since the trade, and they’ve found themselves a surprising new strength in the transition game. The million dollar question: can they sustain this style of play? If they are thinking playoffs, they must take care of business tonight against Boston. They begin a stretch of 3 games in 3 days, and after that the schedule will continue to fall in their favor. They aren’t just fighting for the playoffs this year but are fighting to establish an identity for next year. That means that Jennings and Ellis must build a strong guard tandem. There is only one basketball and the two must share it. Getting assists will have to be as much a priority as points. If their post play can continue at this pace, they’ll have a lot to build upon.

 

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