The Milwaukee Bucks are at the dreaded NBA crossroads. After barely missing the playoffs last season, many around the league expect the Bucks to contend for a spot in the NBA’s season once again. The last two seasons ended with the team finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference.
Can the Bucks get over the hump?
The making for a solid team is there, and their current talent suggests that they could end the season as a seventh or eighth seed. Their depth chart is filled with some intriguing players. I will grade their depth chart, two players deep and offer a look at their potential.
The Bucks are well-coached team offensively and they share the ball. They ranked fifth (99.0 PPG) in scoring and third (23.5) in assists.
Their problems were on defense. The Bucks gave 98.7 PPG, good for 22nd in the NBA.
Do the Bucks have the answer to their defensive woes on their depth chart? It is time to find out.
Head coach Scott Skiles will look to change things this season. Enter Samuel Dalembert, a defensive-minded center who can become an anchor in the Bucks one true trouble spot. Dalembert will be the Bucks starting center and he will backed up by Ekpe Udoh, another solid defender.
Both players bring energy and toughness, what they lack is scoring ability.
Nothing is better for a NBA team than having a center that can play on both ends of the court. Neither Dalembert nor Udoh can provide that luxury. This is why rookie John Henson will make a push for Udoh’s place on the depth chart once he proves he can play the NBA game.
If that happens, the grade improves one letter.
Drew Gooden is a scorer capable of averaging 18 points this season. After adding a three-point shot to his arsenal, he is a complete player offensively.
Gooden’s struggles are with his consistency and shot selection. He shooting percentage should be higher than .437. If he can get his shooting average around the .465 mark, he will have a successful season.
The other knock on Gooden is his defense. He plays too slow on his rotations and is not a shot-blocker.
Behind Gooden on the depth chart for now is Ersan Ilyasova. Ilyasova is more of a small forward with power forward size and he should be the Bucks starter at that position.
Ilyasova caught fire late last season with six double-doubles in his last 11 games. A Jack-of-all-trades player, Ilyasova is good at many things, yet he is not great at anything. He is a better player than advertised.
When healthy, Mike Dunleavy is a talented player.
The 6’9” swingman can pass, shoot, rebound and defend but he is oftentimes out with injuries. In 11 seasons, Dunleavy has missed no fewer than five games in only four years. Injuries affected his development and now he is nearing the declining years of his playing career.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a pure energy player who is a terrific defender but he offers little else to a Bucks team that needs some production from the small forward position. Mbah a Moute is a great player to have at the end of the rotation but unless he has worked on his shooting, he is energy or bust.
It would not be surprising to see Ilyasova side over to this spot. Ilyasova would be more productive and give the Bucks starting lineup more balance. The grade improves if this development does happen.
The Bucks shooting guards can score but they are small.
Starting 2-guard Monta Ellis is listed at 6’3” but on offense he plays bigger than his height would suggest. Ellis, a volume shooter, can score from anywhere on the basketball court. He uses his athleticism to get past defenders for drives to the lane and his outside shooting draw consistent double-teams.
Bucks coach Skiles gushed over Ellis' ability on October 6th. Via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"He (Ellis) can do a lot of different things out there," Skiles said. "He's got some toughness. Of course he's quick. He can get to the rim. He has a nice pull-up game.
"He passes the ball. He's a good teammate. He's been easy to coach. We really like him a lot."
On defense, Ellis’ size disadvantage leaves him susceptible to the post-up games of the NBA’s bigger guards. The Bucks can live with this liability as long as they are winning.
The backup shooting guard position belongs to Doron Lamb, rookie from the Kentucky Wildcats. Lamb reminds many people of Michael Redd, the question is—will he have similar production?
Lamb does have decent size for the position at 6’5". If Lamb can catch on the same way that Redd did, the Bucks will have to decide if they should trade Ellis for assets.
Brandon Jennings is a top-flight NBA point guard. If he played in a larger market for a team such as the New York Knicks or the Dallas Mavericks, he would have greater fanfare behind him. Jennings is also a small guard at 6’1” but the Compton, California native is fearless.
What Jennings struggles with is his identity. Is he a shoot-first point guard or a passer? Jennings has the versatility to do both.
Jennings on what he has to do to get the Bucks to the playoffs. Via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
"At the end of the day it's going to start from me and Monta (Ellis) because we're the guards," Jennings said. "We're just trying to bring a defensive mentality to the team because that is what's going to get us to the playoffs."
He thrives in the drive-and-kick offense of the Bucks and he knows how use screens to get space for jump shots. His assist numbers should be better than the 5.5 he averaged last season. Jennings’ assists totals could increase by having Ellis around for a full year. The time has finally come for the Bucks to have a two-headed offensive attack.
Beno Udrih, a steady backup, can start for a few NBA teams that do not require scoring from the point guard spot. His reliability will allow Coach Skiles to rest Jennings for stretches during games.
Having Udrih at backup point guard is a luxury as he makes any transition for the Bucks easier. He completes a solid guard rotation that has the potential to be the catalyst to a playoff berth.