Fact vs. Fiction from Milwaukee Bucks' NBA Playoffs Performance
Losing to the defending champions is nothing to get overly upset about.
But regardless of the outcome, the series provided several young players with playoff experience and could prove to be very beneficial in the near future.
And despite not winning a game, there are some positive things that the Bucks can take away from the short four-game series.
On the other hand, there were some negatives mixed in the pile.
Separating the two from one another is not always easy, but during the offseason that's exactly what the front office must do.
Fact: Larry Sanders Is More Than Just a Shot-Blocker
Throughout the regular season, Larry Sanders emerged as a great shot-blocker and provided the Bucks with much-needed interior defense.
And even though he averaged 9.8 points per game on the season, he was incredibly raw at times from an offensive standpoint.
Consistency is the biggest thing preventing him from being a legitimate double-double threat, but he showed in the first-round series against the Heat that he can score when he wants.
In Game 2, Sanders scored 14 points on 6-of-7 shooting. Game 3 saw him put together a similar performance, as he scored 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. In that game, he also hauled in 11 rebounds—four of them offensive.
Scoring efficiently like that against elite competition is a big step forward for the big man out of Virginia Commonwealth.
If there was any question that his solid play offensively in two of the four games against the Heat was a fluke, a look at his final 10 regular-season games would tell a different story.
Down the stretch, Sanders averaged 13.2 points per game on 52.3 percent shooting.
With a summer dedicated strictly to improving on offense, he could continue to make major strides and become a complete big man.
Sanders is more than just a shot-blocker and perhaps with a visit to Hakeem Olajuwon will be a force to reckon with offensively as well.
Fiction: J.J. Redick Was Exposed as a Defender
J.J. Redick was traded to the Bucks in February in hopes of providing the team with shooting and consistent scoring.
That didn't work out as the team had hoped, as Redick's numbers dropped when he arrived in Milwaukee.
And in the first-round series against the Heat, Redick played just a total of 69 minutes, scoring 7.3 points per game over the four games.
One reason for the limited playing time might have been his perceived liability as a defender.
Much of the time he was on the court, Redick was tasked with the tough job of defending Ray Allen, who had a great series.
Allen averaged 16.5 points per game while shooting a fantastic 46.4 percent from three-point range.
There's no denying that Allen beat Redick off the dribble several times throughout the four-game stretch, but Allen's ability to score at a high rate said more about Milwaukee's defense as a whole than it did about Redick.
Over the course of the series—and regular season—the Bucks failed to grasp the concept of rotation and more often than not didn't operate as a unit on defense.
During his time in Orlando, Redick proved himself to be an adequate defender because head coach Stan Van Gundy stressed those very concepts.
Despite what was seen on the court, the series against the Heat didn't reveal anything new about Redick as a defender.
With the right coach in place and committed players around him, Redick's defense will be fine. The Bucks have nothing to worry about when trying to re-sign him.
Fact: The Bucks Need to Emphasize Defense as a Top Priority
If there was one area in their first-round series in which the Bucks were consistent with the numbers they posted during the regular season, it was their defensive—or lack thereof—effort.
Throughout the year, the Bucks allowed opponents to drop 100.4 points per game on them, which ranked 20th in the league.
They weren't much better against the Heat, allowing the defending champions to score 100 points per game over the course of the four-game series.
Perhaps, though, that could be considered a small victory, as that number was down slightly from Miami's 102.9 points per game average.
Still, if this series told the front office anything, it's that the team needs players that are willing to play 48 minutes of defense.
Not only that, but it should signal that the entire mentality of the team needs to change focus.
When the Bucks traded for Monta Ellis during the 2011-12 season and paired him with Jennings, they essentially committed to an uptempo offense and had to know the defense would suffer in the process.
Despite those teams being a little challenged on offense, a good defense always should be a top priority.
It'd be shocking if the Bucks didn't add a piece or two defensively during the summer.
Fiction: The Bucks Need a Player-Friendly Coach
As they search for their next coach, one has to wonder what direction the Bucks will decide to go in when it comes to personality.
Scott Skiles was a hard-nosed coach that demanded the most out of his players and didn't let them get away with any sort of shenanigans.
And while some could say that he was too tough, the approach Skiles took was one that a team like the Bucks needed.
Jennings had a lot of trouble with Jim Boylan during the second half of this season—a fourth-quarter benching in Game 4 being the latest. But Jennings apparently respected Skiles as evidenced by a tweet shortly after Skiles' departure:
Coach skiles love the way he Approached the game. Believed in me since I was a rookie, gave me the rock since day one. Thanks for everything
— BRANDON JENNINGS (@BrandonJennings) January 8, 2013
That's a stark contrast from Jennings calling out Boylan on Twitter back in March (h/t USA Today).
Only the players know what happened in the locker room when Boylan took over, but judging from the on-court results there probably wasn't a positive vibe.
Perhaps they just didn't respect his coaching ability—he's twice replaced Skiles as head coach—or maybe they felt a sense of loyalty to Skiles himself.
Either way, it seemed as though Boylan never connected with his team.
The notion that they need a "player-friendly" coach—whatever that means—is a farce, though. They're in need of a leader who can coach and connect on a basketball level. Anything else is secondary.
During the offseason, the front office will consider Boylan's personality when continuing the search.
Fact: The Jennings and Ellis Backcourt Experiment Was a Failure
It's hard to blame the Bucks for trying on this one because it was an exciting thought.
But in the end, the backcourt combination of Ellis and Jennings failed to live up to the high expectations.
Both players are undersized for their positions and both are too similar in their skill sets.
There were times when the move looked like a brilliant one, but those moments were few and far between and, more often than not, it looked like a mess.
With Ellis averaging 19.2 points per game and Jennings contributing 17.5, it still looks reasonable on paper.
And while they are respectable numbers, they came at the expense of the rest of the roster.
The two guards combined to take 37.2 percent of Milwaukee's shots on the year and a lot of the time they weren't good shots.
It didn't get any better against the Heat either, with Ellis averaging 14.3 points per game on 43.6 percent shooting and Jennings posting 13.3 points per game on an abysmal 29.8 percent shooting.
And during the summer, it's probable that one of the two won't return.
Ellis, set to get $11 million, has an early-termination option, while the Bucks can match whatever Jennings—a restricted free agent—gets on the market.
Jennings might be back, but the backcourt duo can now—especially after the playoffs—be written in ink as a failed experiment.
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