Earlier this year, I wrote an article addressing the concerns of Milwaukee Bucks fans coming into the 2008-2009 season. Ten games may not be an adequate sample size to assess how the team has answered the questions, but I think that first impressions are important.
These are my first impressions of the 2008-2009 Milwaukee Bucks
1. Can the new John Hammond-Scott Skiles regime save the franchise?
So far, the answer is yes. The Bucks have played with much more vigor on the defensive end compared to last season and are doing a better job of hustling.
I know it sounds easy to hustle, but it was a big problem for the Bucks last season and a big reason why they only won seven road games all of last season.
This year, they are rotating well on defense, challenging every jump shot, diving for loose balls, and chasing down offensive rebounds. Just tonight against Memphis, the Bucks had 23 offensive boards. Certainly, this improvement can be credited to Scott Skiles no-nonsense approach to basketball.
So far, this new regime has shown competence that the old one could only dream about, and suddenly the future looks like a more hopeful place for the Milwaukee Bucks and their fans.
2. Will Andrew Bogut live up to the monster contract he signed this summer?
In the first article, I predicted that Bogut could be a center who averages 20 points and 12 rebound per game. So far, he is only averaging ten of each, but he is still an integral part of the team.
The offense runs through Bogut. When he gets the ball in the post, he'll wait for a double team to come at him and he'll make a pass back out accordingly, oftentimes leading to good shots for his teammates.
His numbers on the court may not quite justify the numbers he's making off of it, but every night he's showing that he is a much better player than many outsiders think he is.
3. What will the rookie forwards contribute this season?
Coming into the season, I thought first-round pick Joe Alexander would get more minutes than Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, simply because of his superior offensive ability.
However, Mbah a Moute had gotten a lot of playing time off the bench early in the season, impressed coach Skiles, and after Charlie Villanueva went down with an injury, the prince stepped in.
Before tonight's game against Memphis, he was averaging only nine points per game and six rebounds. Against the Grizzlies, he scored 19 points and brought down 17 rebounds. And ever since he first set foot on the NBA court, he has shown that he could become a top-tier defensive player in the league.
Alexander has gotten more playing time recently, and has taken advantage of the opportunity to show off his athleticism and his jump shot.
4. What about the bench?
The aforementioned Mbah a Moute had been a great player off the bench for the Bucks when Villanueva is healthy, but the most important reserve player is clearly Ramon Sessions, a backup point guard who has shown a knack for hitting the big shot in his short NBA career.
Tonight against Memphis, he scored 20 points, including a three-pointer at the end of regulation to tie the score and send the game into overtime.
Against San Antonio, he was a big part of a 21-4 run that sparked a Bucks comeback and ultimately led to a hard-fought 82-78 win.
The Bucks do have problems, however, when Bogut gets into foul trouble, simply because they have to go to a smaller lineup with either Villanueva or Dan Gadzuric picking up the slack. The acquisition of veteran Austin Croshere should help the front-line rotation as the season progresses.
5. How will the Bucks finish the season?
Through 10 games, Milwaukee is 5-5. I predicted a 34-48 finish for the Bucks in the preseason. I'm going to increase my initial win prediction for a few important reasons.
First, Milwaukee has played six out of their 10 games without Olympic gold medalist Michael Redd. Look for team scoring to improve once he returns.
Second, Richard Jefferson is starting to become the player he has been throughout his career. In his first few games with the Bucks, Jefferson shot a lot of jump shots instead of slashing to the basket. That has started to change and it has helped pick up the slack left by Redd's injured ankle.
Third, the schedule gets much easier for Milwaukee once they get through November. Six games out of 10 have been on the road, and the Bucks only play three home games for the rest of this month, leaving a lot of home games for March and April.
Taking this all into consideration, I think the Bucks can go 42-42 this season, and hopefully, the friendly confines of the Bradley Center down the stretch will help the Bucks in their potential battle for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.