Jim Boylan has been handed the reins in Milwaukee.
Last week, the Milwaukee Bucks let go of Scott Skiles as their coach. Despite having a record around .500, they decided to end Skiles' tenure in Milwaukee and veteran assistant Jim Boylan will coach the team for the rest of the season.
Boylan and the new Bucks coaching staff inherit a team with some talented pieces, but there are a plethora of issues they must solve.
One of the prominent issues is their consistency. They've rattled off some impressive wins this season, such as two victories on the road against the rival Chicago Bulls and three victories over the Boston Celtics. They even spanked the reigning champion Miami Heat by 19 points in late December.
This provides reason for optimism for Bucks fans, because they are capable of beating quality opponents.
But they're also capable of losing to anybody, as evidenced by their 16-point home loss to the lowly Detroit Pistons last Friday. They simply haven't been able to perform at a high level on a night-in, night-out basis, which is evident when looking at how they've faded after a hot start (began the season 6-2, but are now 19-17).
Boylan and his staff must implement some immediate changes to solve Milwaukee's problems. If these problems aren't addressed, the Bucks may soon find themselves buried in the Central Division beneath Chicago and the Indiana Pacers.
*Stats in this slideshow were as of January 13, 2013.
Henson has shown some promise as a rookie.
This team has a slew of big men and only one—Larry Sanders—has situated himself as a worthy starter.
Sanders is averaging 7.8 points per game, 8.4 rebounds per game and a league-leading 3.3 blocks per outing. This production should keep him in the starting lineup throughout the season.
After him, there's much ambiguity. Ersan Ilyasova, Ekpe Udoh, John Henson, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Samuel Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Joel Przybilla and Tobias Harris are all bigs seeking playing time. A few of these players can function as small forwards (Ilyasova, Mbah a Moute, Harris), but there's undeniably a logjam in the Bucks' frontcourt.
The chief problem is that none of these players have asserted themselves. Dalembert, Gooden and Przybilla are declining veterans. Udoh, Henson and Harris are youngsters who lack maturity and consistency. Mbah a Moute is a hardworking player, but he's better suited as a role player off the bench. And Ilyasova has been a major disappointment after signing a long-term lucrative extension in the offseason.
Boylan must discern whom to give the bulk of the playing time to as the season unfolds.
Do the veterans give them the best chance to win this season?
Should they develop their future and feature their youngsters?
Is there a unique blend that will work most effectively?
At any rate, this problem must be answered quickly because the Bucks are lacking stability in their frontcourt.
Should the play of Jennings and Ellis be more controlled?
When your two featured players have field goal percentages of 40.9 percent and 39.9 percent, it may be time to rethink some offensive strategy.
The Bucks' greatest weapons—Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis—can also be their greatest enemies. They epitomize the types of players who can shoot you into a game and then shoot you right back out of it.
Usually one such player is useful to have on a team (i.e., Nate Robinson on the Bulls), but the Bucks have two and they are both in the starting lineup. Jennings and Ellis each take in the range of 16-17 shots per game, and their low field goal percentages reveal that this squad has some unhealthy offensive habits.
A prime example is when Jennings or Ellis hoists a jumper early in the shot clock, prior to when their bigs are in position to fight for an offensive rebound. These types of shots are the norm in Milwaukee, and Boylan must seek to eliminate some of these patterns.
He must proceed cautiously, however. Jennings and Ellis thrive in the run and gun, so a balance is needed. Their skills in the fast break should still be utilized, but they must be controlled.
If Boylan can chip away at this problem, the Bucks may find a good mesh of fast-break points as well as high-percentage looks in the half court. It could culminate in making Jennings and Ellis all the more lethal.
Where is Ilyasova's confidence?
As mentioned in a previous slide, Ilyasova has been an unfortunate disappointment after inheriting a hefty extension in the offseason.
Last year he averaged 13 points (49.2 percent from the field) and 8.8 rebounds per game in 27.6 minutes per game. He looked like the type of player who would average 15-17 points and 10-plus rebounds if given 35-40 minutes per night. This is why he garnered the extension.
Strangely, Ilyasova appears to have regressed this season. He's at least been in quite a funk. He's averaging just 9.2 points (with a dismal 40.7 percent field goal percentage) and 5.6 rebounds per game.
His shaky play has caused his role in the starting lineup to be a question mark because he's not producing even near the rate they had wished.
Therefore, the role of Ilyasova is a problem and it's very unclear how to handle him. He's now their second-highest-paid player, so it's not like Milwaukee can bury him on the bench. They must hope that he regains confidence and at least performs similarly to what he did in 2011-12.
The ideal scenario is for Ilyasova to establish some rhythm and provide the Bucks with a formidable frontcourt presence to situate next to Sanders. That is the hope, but it seems like it should have happened by now. Until it does happen, Boylan has a problem here that he must solve in a hurry.
Is Ellis the right fit in Milwaukee?
Monta Ellis is certainly exciting to watch because he's one of the quickest guards in the league. His ability to attack the rim and finish despite his height (6'3'') make watching him worth the price of admission.
His exciting plays are still happening this season, but his efficiency is a concern. His field goal percentage is the lowest it has been in his eight-year career, and he's also averaging three turnovers per outing.
His place in the offense has become a subtle problem for Milwaukee. Yes, it's great to have a player with this type of talent, but a player such as Ellis needs a more defined role. Otherwise, he becomes a player who hurts his team as much as he helps it.
That's where the Bucks are right now with Ellis, and they must figure out how to utilize Ellis in a way where he helps them way more than he hurts them. His shot selection, as well as his dribble penetration selection, should be evaluated.
The potential truth here, though, is that Ellis is not going to remain in Milwaukee much longer. He carries a player option for next season, but the Bucks could bid farewell to him prior to this season's trade deadline. If Boylan can't soon figure out a way to make Ellis and Jennings mesh efficiently, then don't be surprised if Ellis trade rumors begin popping up throughout the NBA landscape.
Will Jennings be a Buck next season?
A burning problem for the Bucks this season and their future is the contentment of Brandon Jennings. His future with the team is cloudy.
Jennings failed to receive an extension prior to the October 31 deadline, and he'll now be free to test free agency in the offseason.
The failed negotiations were very troubling news for Bucks fans. Jennings is just 23 years old and figures to be an elite point guard for many years. Milwaukee certainly doesn't want to lose Jennings to free agency in the offseason, and they should thus make his contentment with the coaching staff and organization a distinct priority.
This may already be difficult because Jennings perhaps has already decided that he's leaving. But the Bucks certainly can't go down without a fight in seeking to retain him.
The bottom line is that Jennings is a superstar-caliber player and that is special for a small-market team such as Milwaukee. He's the kind of player who can at least put fans in the stands.
Plus, if they can surround him with supporting pieces in the coming years, the Bucks could soon make noise in the Eastern Conference.
Therefore, Boylan should handle this problem by giving the reins of this team entirely to Jennings. Enable him to create and utilize his abilities to the maximum. If this happens, perhaps Jennings will strongly consider re-signing come the summer of 2013.