The Milwaukee Bucks‘ Saturday night 87-81 loss to the New Orleans Hornets was one out of Wisconsin Badgers‘ head coach Bo Ryan’s playbook, as both teams rank in the NBA top 10 in defensive efficiency, points allowed, and opponent effective field goal percentage, and played every bit the part of their coaches’ defensive-minded philosophy.
By Jake McCormick
The Hornets are ranked fifth in defensive efficiency (97.9), fourth in points allowed, and sixth in opponent effective field goal percentage (46.79). The Milwaukee Bucks sit at sixth in defensive efficiency, fifth in points allowed, and eighth in opponent effective field goal percentage. But even when the Bucks found openings on the floor, the shots weren’t falling.
“We’re not taking the shots in rhythm when they’re not presenting themselves,” coach Scott Skiles said. “We missed a bunch of open shots in the first half, had several key moments we needed to take advantage of in the first half, and in a close game like this those possessions are magnified.”
Pessimist: I’ll take a perimeter threat for $500, Alex
The Bucks lack of a consistent perimeter shooter was plain as day against the New Orleans Hornets. I had written about forward Carlos Delfino‘s hot hand from the outside being both a good and bad thing, as he is just as prone to slumps as he is to hot streaks.
Before leaving the game at halftime with a neck strain, Delfino had compiled a 2-14 streak from beyond the arc over the course of the last three games. In the first four games of the season, Delfino hit 15 of 31 threes and carried Milwaukee’s perimeter offense.
When Delfino is off, as he has been over the past week, it allows opposing defenses to sag off Milwaukee’s back court and cheat closer to the paint. As a result, the Bucks are confined to mid-range jumpers and tougher than necessary high percentage shots.
Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova can be capable three point shooters, but neither player is consistent enough from long range to force teams to game plan for them when their on the floor. Unless Jennings, Delfino, or Ilyasova
Optimist: The Prince and the price tag
Late in the fourth quarter with the Bucks down 84-79, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute drove hard to the hoop, missed the shot, wrestled for the rebound, and put up another lay-up while drawing a foul. Although he missed the free throw, Mbah a Moute has added a little more offense to his game and could be playing his way into some of starter Drew Gooden‘s minutes.
Mbah a Moute is already known as a defensive specialist, as he went from guarding the 7’2″ Pacers center Roy Hibbert Friday night to staying on Hornets point guard Chris Paul‘s hip through crunch time on Saturday, but he has found some success with his jump shot and athleticism on the offensive glass (2.8 offensive rebounds per game is second on the team only to Andrew Bogut).
Gooden was brought in to provide offensive and defensive consistency at the power forward position, but so far Mbah a Moute is out-playing the well-traveled veteran and has a PER at 10.6 (Gooden’s is 10.1) to go with 5.7 points and 6.3 rebounds in 25 minutes per game.
Combine Mbah a Moute’s lock down defense and new-found offensive game with center Andrew Bogut’s continually improving health (17 points and 13 rebounds against New Orleans has Bogut averaging a double-double for the year), and Milwaukee’s front court is looking as solid as expected even with Gooden’s lack of production.
Realist: Defense wins championships, but a little offense can’t hurt either
The acquisition of human foul magnet Corey Maggette had most Bucks fans rejoicing that one of the team’s glaring weaknesses from 2009-10 was going to be a strength thanks to the efforts of one player. However, improving one facet of the offense doesn’t mean the rest of it will follow suit.
As expected, Milwaukee has gone from 20.4 to 26.6 free throws per game, but the Bucks’ offense is second to last in offensive efficiency (94.1), points per game (89.9), and field goal percentage (40%), and third to last in the NBA in efficient field goal percentage (44.12).
“Myself included, we’re just shooting the ball terrible,” forward Drew Gooden said. “They would come down and just burn us or when we needed a stop oin a key moment they would git a three, hit a shot or something. Anytime we play like that it’s nothing to feel great about.”
Despite the putrid shooting percentage, failure to communicate, and missed free throws, the Bucks were in this game at the end. Milwaukee is still a top 10 defensive team, but Scott Skiles has never coached a team that finished a season above 20th in offensive efficiency, and so far 2010-11 is looking like an extension of that streak.
“When you play uphill all night long, you have to play perfectly down the stretch to have a chance and we weren’t able to do that,” Skiles said.
Much like 2009-10, the defense is going to win games more often than the offense, which has yet to find a solid identity for more than a few minutes at a time. Milwaukee is already dealing with a lot of adversity in the face of heightened expectations, but as the old cliche goes, a team’s true resolve comes out when things get tough.
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