Well, the Bucks are certainly the biggest surprise thus far.
As a lifelong Bucks fan, I'm not used to being in this position of guarded optimism. We started great, winning our first eight out of 11, and have a great rookie class along with some unearthed gems that, in reality, were castoffs from second-rate rosters. Despite this good news, I'm still skeptical, and I'll outline a few reasons why along with a few suggestions on making the team better.
For the Bucks, it all starts with upside. We've had a roster of possibilities for years now. So far things have turned out poorly, as we trade away emerging talent for cap-relief or invest in the wrong players who happen to have a few big games out of necessity (when no one else on the team can score, expect Redd to get a few 30 point games).
But this year we grabbed two players which look like long-term solutions.
Everyone knows about Brandon Jennings by now, and here is why he is great. He can move the ball. This is something the Bucks have missed for a long time. Our roster has been completely comatose, and it takes half the shot clock to get our plays set, just in time to throw a brick with two seconds left.
Jennings is super-quick, and this means other point guards have a tough time staying in front of him, and this causes a lot of help defense and open opportunities for Bucks players. If a defense tries to play Jennings one on one, he simply drops shots from the outside.
As long as he continues to break traps and make shots, this offense will roll. Two very underrated facets of his game are his court vision and his ability to complete good passes.
As long as he is drawing more than his fair share of the defensive coverage, he will make his teammates shine; NBA players are simply too talented to miss open jumpers. This is the part of his game that is most polished, and surely the best thing about playing overseas. He runs the floor and sets up players for open shots.
Jennings is the best thing to ever happen to Carlos Delfino and Ersan Ilyasova, and both of them are looking like top roll players on contending teams.
An annual problem for the Bucks is injuries. We have yet to see a lineup with a healthy Redd and Bogut playing with Jennings, and it's possible that this will never happen on a consistent basis.
It's a real possibility that Redd is simply done as far as his old ability to play is concerned. We saw what happened to Jermaine O'Neal with his knees, and Redd is looking like he will be missing time the entire season.
Bogut is a big man with a good build, and since he is relatively young, his leg problems could clear up. We've been patient with him, but now it's starting to pay off. If he can develop into a consistent post player, look for the entire offense to begin spinning circles around the opposition. He is one of the best post passing players in the entire NBA, and with Jennings's constant fifth gear motor we should see him drop a lot of wide open shots.
If Bogut is healthy, that is.
Jodie Meeks and Joe Alexander (when he gets healthy again) need to see more minutes. With the always present possibility of Redd hitting the hot tub, we can't keep putting Charlie Bell and Luke Ridnour next to Jennings. Bell makes a lot of dumb mistakes if he plays too much and is better putting in 20 minutes off the bench. Ridnour is a great passer, but good guards can shoot right over him or outright run through him.
Meeks has a great shot that could possibly replace Redd's deep bombs. He is already better on defense than Redd, and could be a long-term solution at the two.
Joe Alexander is bit of a mystery, but it's one that needs to be solved. He can shoot pretty well and his defense is almost as impressive as Mbah a Moute's. He could be the most athletic player in the league right now, but injuries and mistakes are keeping him a prospect for the time being.
But as Mbah a Moute continues to be a disappointment and a liability on the offensive side of the ball (we literally play with four people on the other side of the court), expect Alexander to see some more time. He isn't a huge drop in quality on defense, and he can take any player to the hoop and throw it down. He is the strongest player on the team, has great size and speed, and has a vertical that makes Josh Smith look like a WNBA player.
On the other hand, the Bucks may be looking to make a trade once he is healthy again. They want to inspire a little fire in Joe and turned down his option so they can make the decision if they want to resign him at a later point. This is what leads me to believe he'll see significant time in the rotation once his hamstring heals. If that doesn't work out, this is a glaring hole in the roster.
I can't decide what to make of the PF/C situation right now. Warrick hasn't exactly inspired hope, and Kurt Thomas can't play this much an entire season on those old legs. But somehow they are getting defensive stops (look at how well they did against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph).
I have to think that if this season continues to outpace expectations, they will start to look for trade partners to bring in some big-man talent.
Unfortunately, there is a little stickiness here.
The Bucks are stuck with some big contracts past this next season that will scare off a lot of teams. Charlie Bell has a stupid big three-year deal, and Redd will make a ton of money next season when he inevitably picks up his option.
If they can somehow talk Redd out of the option, or maybe get him packing to another desperate team looking for a part-time shooter (Cleveland, you listening?), they'll have some money to burn and could pick up an under-performing teams big man looking to jettison salary for the upcoming free-agent spree which Milwaukee will have no part in.
Lastly, I have to express a little pessimism. Jennings is certainly our bright spot, but there is no way he continues to average 25 points a game while shooting 50 percent. It just won't happen.
So this means Redd is going to have to be healthy, and Bogut is going to have to score 18 points a game. I sincerely doubt that will happen, so I see the Bucks taking two more years before they are second-round contenders (everyone gets into the first round of the playoffs).
But still, no one thought we'd get more than 32 wins this season after giving away RJ, and we could make some noise in the East by beating up preseason favorites like the Bulls and Wizards and Raptors.
As long as we can finish above those teams, this season will have been a success.