The A.V. Club’s semi-timely, lockout-shortened Milwaukee Bucks season preview
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With the lockout-shortened NBA season having begun during the holidays, The A.V. Club decided to delay its annual Milwaukee Bucks season outlook/reminder that the Bucks are still a professional basketball team located in Milwaukee. But following a 4-9 start, the team’s biggest star taking a five-game leave of absence, a coach on the hot seat, and a veteran on the verge of mutiny, it appears we may have missed the brief window in which to write optimistically about the Bucks.
With 53 games remaining, the Deer are faced with a difficult (but not impossible) climb back up the hill of semi-respectability. For those of you not paying attention to the Bucks’ young season (that’s you, everyone!), allow us to get you up to speed on the basketball-like travesties—and the handful of bright spots that have occurred thus far in the 2011-12 Milwaukee Bucks season.
The Road Woe-rriors
Following an encouraging 2-1 record in December, Milwaukee hit a rough patch when the team dropped five straight roadies, including a loss to Sacramento (the Bucks of the Western Conference). To make things worse, Milwaukee played without default-star center Andrew Bogut during the stretch, as he tended to personal matters back in his native Australia. Bogut met the team back in Milwaukee last week and helped them to a pair of wins, but was unable to lead them to the elusive first visiting win in the two road games since his return.
Things will probably only get worse on the road, as the Bucks are set to play the role of visitor four times in the next seven days, including games against powerhouses Miami and Chicago.
While Bogut was down under, the keys to Milwaukee’s offense were left in the hands of amateur rapper/professional malcontent Stephen Jackson. In that span, the outspoken veteran’s PPG numbers hovered right around his career average of 16, while the rest of the team failed to secure any wins. But the distraction Bogut brought the opposing defense in his first game back helped Jackson explode for a game-high 34 points in an upset of the Spurs. He chased that two days later with a respectable 25 in a win over the Pistons.
But during the past three games, Jackson has been cold-shooting and hot-tempered. After scoring a combined 18 points over that stretch and being benched for the entire second half of Tuesday’s massacre at the hands of Denver, Jackson was critical of coach Scott Skiles, and sarcastically designated himself as the sole source of blame for the squad’s dreadful start.
Some of the season’s few pleasant surprises have come as a result of the impressive play of Milwaukee’s two rookies, Jon Leuer and Tobias Harris. Leuer, an immediate fan favorite due to his Badgers affiliation, Midwestern roots, and try-hard white guy-ness, has transitioned well to the NBA. To this point, he’s tallied 7.6 PPG and 3.9 RPG averages in limited minutes (19.2 MPG). He’s played in every game so far, even earning a few starts.
Tobias Harris, who was drafted by Charlotte and immediately sent to Milwaukee as part of the Stephen Jackson deal last June, has also fared quite well in his limited role. The first-round selection has averaged just over eight points in each of his seven games, and is shooting around 50 percent from the field. His only real mistake so far is tweeting about God and Storage Wars way too often.
That said, the fact that these rookies are already relied upon this much serves to highlight the shortcomings and injuries of more experienced players such as Carlos Delfino, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Larry Sanders, and something called Beno Udrih, among others.
Oh, and Brandon Jennings…
Call it a sophomore slump or blame it on inflation. Either way, Brandon “Young Money” Jennings wasn’t worth as much last year as he was during his impressive rookie run in 2009-10. However, the 22-year-old (Christ, we’re old!) has quietly reverted to his old ways, to the tune of nearly 19 points per contest, and 5.1 dishes per, too. Those solid stats are even more impressive when considering well below half of Jennings’ shots are falling, many of them forced during losing efforts. When he gets hot, look out.
In the hunt?
Even with Milwaukee’s ugly version of the already heinous, defense-focused basketball Skiles prefers, having most of a season left AND belonging to the perennial weak Eastern Conference makes a playoff appearance possible. More probable, though, is a coaching change, internal bickering, and a losing record. The Bucks will be lucky in either scenario, either as a playoff team or as a draft lottery participant.