I am not a sports journalist, ESPN columnist or NBA executive or scout. I can offer my predictions and opinions on the Milwaukee Bucks based solely on being a fan. And as a Milwaukee Bucks fan, I endured a lot of bad. It is about time there is some good.
So I will give my humble opinion on the Bucks' season. For background, last year (as a self-admitted and proud Duke Blue Devil fan) I correctly predicted Duke would win the NCAA Championship. On the reverse side, as a Packer fan I predicted the Green Bay Packers would win this year's Superbowl. Yea, I bought the Kool-Aid and am now asking for a refund.
My prediction, which I don't think is too bold, is a final record of 48-34. I base that upon the return of Andrew Bogut and the continuing maturation of Brandon Jennings. Add in Corey Maggette and Drew Gooden with the return of John Salmons, and there is no reason to expect not to have a slight improvement from last year. This tempers the excitement I have for the season. I could easily predict to have 55 wins or more.
As for playoffs, the Bucks will progress like they should. While every team strives to make the Championship, we all have to be honest: Will the Bucks make the Finals? No, not this year. You have to follow a progression. You can't go from one year making the playoffs to the next year winning it all. With Wade, Bosh and James in Miami, they aren't positively a lock for the Finals (although let's not kid ourselves, it isn't a stretch in the least to predict Finals). With how we played last year without Bogut, I can predict we lose to the Orlando Magic in the second round in six games.
One of the keys to a successful season goes without saying: that is the health of Andrew Bogut. Bogut needs to stay healthy and be available for all 82 games of the regular season. He went out with a horrible injury last year before the playoffs arrived, and he still has a nagging back situation to deal with. I expect Scott Skiles will feature Bogut heavily in offensive schemes. We all know what to expect from Bogut, and the area of improvement I can expect from him is his mid-range jumper and just staying healthy.
The real Rookie of the Year, Brandon Jennings
I could write an entire article on Brandon Jennings and what he means to the Bucks and to me as a fan. I'll leave that lovefest for ESPN to expand on the Miami Heat and Lebron James. Suffice it to say, in my opinion, Jennings never hit the rookie wall. And I don't expect his play to fall short of realistic expectations this year.
He does need to improve his shot, even if he won't be expected to be a scorer for the team. We need to count on him when it matters. As with any player, his defense also needs to improve. I fully expect that the has a firm understanding of what Skiles wants and leads this team accordingly. I've seen him mature and expect that he'll be a consistent leader on and off the court. He led this team to the playoffs last year, and there is no reason to expect less this year.
John Salmons and Carlos Delfino
With both John Salmons and Carlos Delfino, I expect consistent three point threats on the floor. Salmons isn't the savior of this team but has replaced Michael Redd more than I thought he would. Sorry to any Redd fans, but it is now more evident than ever he is no longer needed, or perhaps even wanted, in Milwaukee anymore. I won't further any more Redd bashing, but Salmons fills his role on the team much better.
The thing Salmons also brought to the court was better defensive pressure. Now he is no Bruce Bowen or Ron Artest and there is always room for improvement in the defensive area, but that spreads like wildfire on a team that commits itself. Salmons did catch on and provided a scoring spark in a short amount of time. Now that the Bucks showed commitment by bringing him back, he'll reward that in his play this season. That at least is my expectation of him.
As for Delfino, another year in the Bucks system should settle him and allow him to be more consistent on the scoring end.
As a Duke fan, I am happy to have Corey Maggette on the Bucks roster. What I am most happy about in this addition is that we finally have a player that will drive to the hoop and draw contact and the foul. Thank you, Coach K. I may have these stats wrong, but 17 made shots in the last preseason game, all coming from the free throw line? I could care less if that stat is wrong—watching the game, it was refreshing to see a Bucks player drive to the basket and draw the foul. If it only happens two times in a game, so be it.
We need that mentality and strength. We can't just settle for jumpshots, especially when they aren't going in the basket. Drew Gooden also is a nice pick-up for this reason. Both can play defense which contributes to the overall effectiveness of the team's defense. And Gooden should improve our rebounding as well.
Why all others? I will never pretend to be an expert. I can pretend to write and go on and look up stats to satisfy stat-lovers all I want. I am writing this as my opinion as a fan and nothing else. It could mean absolutely diddly squat to anyone at all. And everyone is entitled to their opinions.
Having said that, I like the additions of Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins to the team. They both bring veteran leadership for Brandon Jennings to rely upon. And for any fan in the Bradley Center, listen to the response Boykins receives when he enters a game: Milwaukee loves him. He may be small in stature, but he has a huge presence on the court. Another player I am interested in seeing develop is Ersan Ilysova. I can see progress in his decision-making, though it isn't quite there yet. He tends to over-think at the three point line and on some of his entry passes, but he is very active on the court. He also seems to learn quickly. I also like his shooting form. It isn't what I would necessarily teach, and every time he shoots the ball I expect it to fall way short because there is so much air to it, but they sure are pretty to watch when he makes them.
The rookie Larry Sanders is still raw which is to be expected. But I see good things to come from him. He has a good mid-range jumper and is a hustle type player. His armspan and what he does with that might initially get him into trouble on the defensive end, but he can be coached to use his arms the correct way defensively.
I really like the coach we have in Scott Skiles. He is very results-orientated. He doesn't care who you are and what you mean to the team: if you screw up, you sit on the bench. There is no doubt he runs this team as he pleases or else.
But he isn't (always) stubborn to a fault. I didn't expect him to allow Brandon Jennings, as a rookie point guard, to play as many minutes last year or have the freedom to run the team at will on the court. But Skiles did. Credit Skiles with that. He saw the talent in Jennings and let him go to work. When Jennings had lapses on the defensive end or was getting too full of himself as a young player, Skiles benched him. Watch during free throws or timeouts, Skiles is constantly coaching Jennings. And as a former point guard, a great one at that, he can develop Jennings' skills to their fullest potential.
Skiles also is using Bogut as he should be. I love the passion and intensity that Skiles shows. If, as a player, you screw up, you are going to hear about it. But he also shows praise and appreciation when needed as well.
And I can't end without giving credit to John Hammond. GM of the year? That definitely would be well deserved. Most likely Miami will win that honor for the Big Three this year. I don't think anyone stands a chance. But what Hammond has done with this team is a complete turn around from what "Snake in the grass" did (and I use that term lovingly).
I picked Brandon as the photo for "Final Thoughts" for a reason. The Bucks start and end with him. He is the face of the franchise (one Redd never could be embraced as). The only final thought I have is that once everyone gets on the same page, and that shouldn't take long, the Bucks will be contenders in the Central Division and win it. We will be more experienced for a stronger playoff run. There will be reason to FEAR THE DEER.