The Milwaukee Bucks hadd their most successful season in over a decade last year. The emergence of Brandon Jennings combined with Andrew Bogut establishing himself as an All Star center, and the hard-nosed defensive of coach Scott Skiles catapulted the team from the dregs of the Eastern Conference to almost upsetting the Atlanta Hawks in the playoffs, even without their star center. Looking to build on their success, the Bucks added players in the off-season. Bogut, by all accounts, is returning successfully from his gruesome arm injury. Last year, the Bucks surprised the entire Association. However, this year, they are expected to compete for their division title. Achieving this goal will require a delicate balancing act, as the Bucks try to continue to establish Jennings and Bogut as their one-two punch, while working in new talents, and players that they developed last year.
For now, the Bucks can continue to progress without Michael Redd. Once cast as the franchise player in Milwaukee, an unending string of injuries has put Redd on the shelf, perhaps permanently. His left knee’s ACL, which tore twice within a year, may never be strong enough again for consistent play in the NBA. Redd, to his credit, has been working hard to rehab his knee for yet another comeback. However, no timetable has been set, and even coach Skiles seems skeptical of a return. I’ve criticized Redd thoroughly in the past. The problem is that he simply is not a franchise player. If he does return, the Bucks would be wise to limit him to a spot up shooter role. With the driving of Jennings and the inside play of Bogut, he would be a great outlet. But if the Bucks are going to continue to develop as a team, Redd cannot be a primary focus of the organization.
Bogut, for his part, is practicing with the Bucks and plans to play all eight exhibition games. However, the screw placed in his right hand to keep the thing together is causing him lots of pain during and after practice. Keeping Bogut’s minute down early in the season will be heavily important to allow his hand to heal properly. At the same time, the Bucks will want to establish their inside game early on. Balancing Bogut’s time and pain with the need to get off to a good start will be tricky, and a source of concern for Scott Skiles.
Then there is the addition of Corey Maggette to the roster. The 11 year veteran is known for his hard drives to the rim that often put him at the free throw line. While his offensive ability will be much appreciated by the Bucks (who shot a pathetic amount of FT/G last year), his defensive ability has often been criticized. Balancing the need for his ability to draw fouls with his ability to cover the forward position in the Association will be another key to success.
Maggette is only one of the nine forwards currently on the roster. And while Salmons and Delfino can play guard, the Bucks are going to have a difficult time parsing minutes between Drew Gooden, Corey Maggette, Salmons, Delfino, the explosive and promising Ersan Ilyasova, and defensive stopper extraordinaire Luc Richard M’bah a Mute. The Bucks will need to find a way to incorporate all this talent to be successful. Ilyasova for his part should really spend most of his time playing center behind Bogut. Combining him with Gooden should make up for the rebounding and size left on the bench when Bogut sits. Salmons, Delfino, and Maggette will need to be put into some kind of rotation that will allow Jennings and Boykins to dominate at the point.
The combination of Jennings, backed up by Boykins will apply constant on-the-ball pressure defensively, and constant slashing and driving offensively. They may not be as highly rated (and rightfully so) as division rival and head Bull Derrick Rose. However, the two of them together will apply 48 minutes of pressure on the opposing squad, and on most nights they will be a huge advantage for the Bucks.
The Bucks play their first pre-season game tonight. It’ll be interesting to see how coach Skyles breaks up the minutes and what kind of offense he plans to implement. With all the talent on the Bucks roster, it’s no doubt that these games will be a huge part of establishing their identity. The Bucks will need to successfully balance minutes and players if they plan on meeting expectations placed on them after a very successful 2009-2010 season.