Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Milwaukee Bucks.
Question: If the Bulls had drafted Michael Jordan twice and played with two iterations of His Airness, would the team have won six championships? Perhaps yes – if some Michael Jordan is good, more should be better. On the other hand, that sounds like it could get ugly. Who do you start at shooting guard? You’d have to start Jordan, but you know the other Jordan wouldn’t accept coming off the bench – and they’d hate sharing the court. Who runs the final play in crunch time? Would both Jordans take the shot simultaneously, with four hands releasing the ball before the buzzer?
The lesson here: Don’t build a team around two identical players. The Milwaukee Bucks, fresh off nearly a decade of building their team around nobody in particular, are instead trying their hand at making this work, albeit with two players nowhere nearly as talented or dedicated as Michael Jordan. Like the Golden State Warriors before them, the Bucks will build around guard Monta Ellis and a guy who is almost exactly like Ellis, the incumbent Brandon Jennings.
The Bucks are pretty much screwed because both of their stars are essentially the same player.
And hey, when those guys go off, it can be fun to watch. They are speedy, nimble scorers who can work wonders on the pick n’ roll and occasionally take over a game. But two good – hell, for argument’s sake let’s call them damn good – players do not a good team make.
Okay – who else they got? Samuel Dalembert, an average center who was past his prime three years ago. And Ersan Ilyasova, a gangly Turk who shot untenably well from three last year and got $45 million for it. There are some draft picks, like the center from UNC made out of twigs and another guy who wasn’t even good enough to be and one-and-done at Kentucky – but they’ll need time to develop and will be unremarkable this year.
The rest of the team falls largely into one of two categories: “Oh, Yeah, That Guy?” in the forms of Marquis Daniels, Larry Sanders and Drew Gooden, and “Many Awkwardly Placed Consonants” with Beno Udrih, Ekpe Udoh and Luc Mbah A Moute.
Indeed, outside of their two point/shooting guards, the Bucks are pretty lame. Some of these guys might even be halfway decent, but it’s difficult to take them seriously unless you live in Wisconsin and the Packers aren’t on. Their Australian fan base will abandon them now they’ve finally cut ties with their talented, oft-injured big man Andrew Bogut (a move that, in their defense, had to be done to avoid frustration headaches that not even a case of “Milwaukee’s Best” could cure). So if the starting backcourt is firing on all cylinders all game, they’ll certainly put up a rousing fight before losing 140-125. Because did we mention that those two speedy, nimble scorers don’t play a minute of defense?
The Bucks have put all their eggs in two awfully similar-looking baskets this year, and these are some deeply flawed, undersized baskets. The team plays in a wide open Central Division, but their greatest strengths (guard play; scoring) are counteracted by the Bulls, Pacers and even Cavaliers (dynamic guards and stingy defenses abound in the Midwest). When either of the team’s overvalued guards is struggling, the options will be limited, and hope for change will be even harder to come by. Thankfully, the team is led by defensive-minded coach Scott Skiles, who is about as patient as a toddler and will undoubtedly shoot himself in the eyeball after a tenth straight game of his players giving up over 100 points. The emotional boost of playing under a new coach midway through the year will provide the traditional bump — perhaps a few extra wins — before the team settles back into mediocrity. This round of microbrews is on us, Milwaukee. You’re gonna need it.
A sliver of hope: By the end of last year, the Bucks were averaging the fifth-highest points per game in the league. Imagine that offense with a full off-season to gel: two elite scorers in the backcourt, a bevy of tall, lean rotation players to bang the boards and get second-chance opportunities, and the possible emergence of Ilyasova as one of the league’s best-shooting European big men since Dirk Nowitzki. If the Bucks can maintain the kind of defensive effort and intensity coach Skiles will require of them, they have a shot at the Central Division — especially if the Bulls struggle without Derrick Rose — and a top-four playoff seeding.
Actual season prediction: The Bucks finished 9th in the East last year, and if they can fight off a slew of improving bottom dwellers they could be looking at a similar outcome this season — though a few falling bastions of the Eastern playoff bloc could help them sneak in as well. But whether they finish a spot in or a spot out of the playoffs is irrelevant. This is going to be another hard-fought but ultimately disappointing year.