The Bucks used to be known as a defensive team. They took a step back last year in that department (while taking a step forward in offense). Is that the new norm? Maybe not.
What happened to the Milwaukee Bucks' defense between 2010-11 and 2011-12? It fell from No. 4 to No. 16. The obvious answer: Andrew Bogut played 65 of 82 games in '10-11, and he played 12 of 66 in '11-12. He was, of course, traded for Monta Ellis at midseason. So you would think the defensive slide would be made permanent or continue. But that doesn't account for Ekpe Udoh. The 2010 draft product, who came over with Ellis from Golden State, is chronically reputed by advocates of adjusted plus-minus as an elite defender. The figures at BasketballValue.com back that up; 82games.com's unadjusted numbers show the Bucks were 5.2 points per 100 possessions better on defense when Udoh was on the court.
It's debatable whether sneaking into the playoffs for a first round drubbing represents real progress, but it's no secret that a postseason berth will be owner Herb Kohl's first measuring stick for the season. Moreover, the East has improved to the point that a team backing into the playoffs is fairly unlikely; it stands to reason that the eighth seed will have to win at least half their games in order to play past mid-April. And as cynical as many Bucks fans have become after years of mediocrity, that would probably be enough to get many people excited about NBA basketball in Milwaukee. For all the talk about wanting to build a "real" contender, the formula for winning over most fans isn't that complicated: play an entertaining brand of basketball, have a good group of guys, and win a decent chunk of your games. With new arena talk beginning to percolate, it's more important than ever that the Bucks move beyond the false starts of the past two seasons.
The dilemma with Ilyasova is that he very well could improve his game and still not produce like he did last year. His career season was fueled by some absurd shooting percentages, especially in the second half of the season. Coming into this season, Ilyasova was a career 33-percent shooter from three-point range. He shot nearly 46 percent from there last year, including 51 percent (!) in the second half of the season. So much of his value stemmed from that hot shooting, but no reasonable person can expect him to keep it up at that level for the next five years. Nobody can. If the Bucks think he can replicate that kind of production, they will be sorely disappointed.