If Brandon Jennings returns, he must fully buy into a better defensive effort.
Despite making the playoffs this past season, the Milwaukee Bucks were far short of being fantastic in several key areas. Most importantly, though, was their lack of effort and ability to play consistent defense. With a new coach on his way in and some roster turnover inevitable, they must fix those woes in time for next season.
But how will they accomplish such a monumental task?
Well, it won't be easy.
Outside of Larry Sanders and his emergence as an elite shot-blocker, the rest of the Bucks team seemed to have trouble buying into the notion of defense, and it was evident most of the time they took the floor.
The Bucks finished the season allowing their opponents to score 100.4 points per game, which ranked 20th in the league.
While that wasn't bad enough to be worst among the playoff teams, it's still nothing the team should be overly proud of, especially when you consider the recent history of success the team has had on defense.
And while those teams may have been a bit challenged offensively, defense comes first.
The lack of effort the team—specifically Brandon Jennings—showed this season was, at times, horrendous to watch, but also demonstrated the lack of cohesion as a unit.
This season, it seemed as though no one was ever on the same page.
In order to begin to solve their defensive woes, everyone must buy into playing gritty defense. Jennings did it during his first few years under Scott Skiles—whom he apparently was fond of—and will need to improve on his effort from this season if the Bucks want to continue to succeed.
In addition to doing something as simple as playing harder on defense, the new head coach will need to help the team understand the concept of defensive rotation.
Far too often the Bucks were caught napping this season and didn't rotate to the open man.
You don't need great one-on-one defenders to have a great defense. Just ask Stan Van Gundy or look at some of the Orlando Magic teams he coached during his tenure there.
Outside of Dwight Howard, they never had too many players who would be considered great defenders. But they understood the concept of team defense and knew where they had to be when the ball was swung.
As a result, Howard was rarely out of position when penetration came his way.
The same cannot be said for the Bucks and Sanders.
A breakdown in rotation often occurs because someone is late getting to his man. This can cause everyone to be out of position and can lead to easy points around the basket.
The lack of effort from Monta Ellis and Jennings combined with the poor understanding of team defense wasn't exactly a positive for the team.
Moving forward, these areas will need to be addressed, and bringing in a coach who's committed to improving the defense will be a big step.
Aside from that, the Bucks can pursue a move in free agency to get that lockdown defender they lacked this season.
Luc Mbah a Moute was expected to fill that role, but he has regressed over the past two seasons, going from 3.3 defensive win shares in 2010-11 to just 1.2 this past season.
It doesn't help that he's owed a pricey $4.5 million next season. For his services, that's a steep price to pay.
The Bucks would be wise to seek the services of free-agent-to-be Tony Allen or go after an even bigger name like Andre Iguodala—should he exercise his early-termination option and leave the Denver Nuggets.
That said, Iguodala is far and away the better offensive player and better overall player.
A free-agent signing isn't absolutely necessary, though.
Through an increased effort and simply embracing defense, the Bucks can crack down on the easy points they allowed this past season and continue to improve their standing in the Eastern Conference.
Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com.