A Daily Babble Production
We're about to learn a lot about the internal make-up of Scott Skiles' Milwaukee Bucks.
The Bucks' hopes for 2008-09 took a bad blow on Sunday when they found out leading scorer Michael Redd is done for the year. Redd tore his left ACL and MCL in Saturday's win over Sacramento. The injury-plagued Redd will fall short of 60 games played for the second time in three years. The Bucks will miss his 21 points per game and their go-to scorer in the clutch.
But there is some good news for the Bucks, and it is twofold: The bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff picture has a lot of bad teams, and this team's defense has become a big part of what success it has experienced this season.
Going under the ever-dangerous presumption that after totaling 54 wins in two seasons, the Bucks are interested in playing postseason basketball (rather than following the growing-in-popularity tanking model), they aren't in any danger of anyone running away from them for the East's final spot. We've said all year that the Sixers, currently sitting in seventh, are likely to get stronger as the year goes on, and they seem to be in the midst of doing that. After that, it's a toss-up between everyone else in the conference save for Washington (New Jersey, New York, Charlotte, Chicago, Toronto, Indy and Milwaukee). Even at full health, it's hard to be too excited about any of those teams (though the Pacers are a lot of fun to watch) making a run at this point.
Only three of those seven teams rank in the league's top 20 in defensive efficiency. The Bucks sit second in the group at 13th in the Association. While being middle-of-the-road defensively isn't much to brag about, it is a praiseworthy achievement for this team. A year ago, this was the worst defensive team in basketball, allowing 112.8 points per 100 possessions. Noted defensive wizard Skiles has come in and forced his players to commit to that end of the floor. The results are showing in the form of a six-point improvement in efficiency rating. Andrew Bogut is becoming a more impressive stopper in the pivot by the day. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute has stepped right in and done a nice job in his debut season. Richard Jefferson isn't a bad defender at the three. Mo Williams is now playing in one of the league's top defenses in Cleveland, but his reputation for his work at that end of the floor wasn't anything to write home about when he was in town. Mostly, this team just seems more interested on the defensive side this season, which tends to be a symptom of Skiles' presence.
Losing Redd shouldn't hurt this team's ability to defend. He has been known as a liability at that end for most of his career, and the Bucks should be at least as good defensively with the likes of Charlie Bell in the game at the two.
Offensively, the Bucks are going to struggle. They were only 17th in offensive efficiency with Redd, and losing him will be a major hit. But this team is clearly more balanced than last year's Bucks squad. Five non-Redd Bucks are averaging in double figures this season, and at least three of them could be okay with taking on an added offensive role. Andrew Bogut is shooting nearly 58 percent from the field and becoming increasingly dangerous offensively. Charlie Villanueva has provided several huge scoring efforts coming off the bench this season, and he has put up at least 23 points in four of six games since returning to the starting lineup.
Richard Jefferson is posting a 53.4 percent true shooting mark, his lowest since his rookie season, and he is still putting up more than 17 points per game. RJ averaged more than 20 points per game twice during his tenure in New Jersey, and he has been slow to get comfortable in the Milwaukee offense. But he can get to the rim and is capable of putting up points in bunches when he gets hot. Jefferson was a number one option at times in his Nets days, and he has had seasons upwards of 16 field goal attempts per game. At 13.8 attempts per night this season, RJ's touches may get the biggest boost with Redd out, and while he will get more defensive attention, there is always a chance that he will have his comfort level increase in his stint as the alpha dog offensively.
All that said, the Bucks still have an uphill climb ahead of them. They head out to defend their tenuous hold on the eighth seed in the East without their leading scorer, and one has to imagine that we will see several unwatchable offensive performances from here on out. But the Bucks have played just 20 of their 47 games in the friendly confines of the Bradley Center thus far (they are 13-7 at home), and they are playing defense for the first time in years. Scott Skiles has a way of getting effort out of his players (at least at the beginning), and it should at least be intriguing to see how he keeps this team fighting without its captain.