By Andy Weise and Jake McCormick
AW: The border battles for Minnesota and Wisconsin never stop. After another fantastic Vikings-Packers game last Sunday, it’s time we turn our attention to the next legendary battle between the two states. OK, this battle might not receive 1/100th of the attention the Vikings/Packers game got but it will feature two rebuilding teams in the NBA.
My ‘Sconnie counterpart Jake McCormick and I will try to impress our readers with our great NBA minds. I’ve been trying for years to get Jake more into the NBA and I think he would be if the Bucks became a team worth watching, unfortunately it’s been awhile since that has happened.
There is some reason for excitement for both franchises though: rookie point guards Jonny Flynn and Brandon Jennings. These two are already capturing attention just a week into their first years and are getting plenty of opportunities to learn on the job with a bad team. Both teams desperately need these guys to pan out after plenty of disappointment with losing season.
Jake, what’s the feeling in Milwaukee with the Bucks? I remember seeing plenty of upset people on a realgm.com forum after the Bucks failed to match the offer sheet to Ramon Sessions, who is now Flynn’s backup point guard. Letting Charlie Villanueva walk away and trading Richard Jefferson for expirings can’t get a fan base completely excited when Michael Redd’s monster contract sits on the books for possibly another two and a half years.
JM: I’m going to start with the positives, because things aren’t exactly sunny in Milwaukee. GM John Hammond and coach Scott Skiles needed to land a stud in the making in this year’s draft at No. 10, and I think Brandon Jennings is immediately making his case for the pick. Of course, things could be different once the New Year comes around, but so far he has been impressive against some decent opponents. I didn’t think he’d be hitting some of the long range shots he has, but it’s definitely gotten my attention as an average fan of the NBA.
I was definitely surprised they didn’t match the Wolves offer for Sessions, because as much as I liked Luke Ridnour in college, I don’t really think he’s the answer if Jennings runs out of gas or gets hurt. Otherwise, as a fan of Wisconsin teams, I’m used to hearing the words “rebuilding,” so the Jefferson and Villanueva moves weren’t a shock. My guess at the start of the season was that the Bucks were going to see where they were by the trading deadline and try to shop Michael Redd for draft picks and cash. Seeing as he is out for a couple more weeks, I think his value for other teams has diminished. Although a part of me thinks it’s going to turn out like the Ray Allen trade if we do get rid of him.
By the way, a big positive for the Bucks is this deal: $22, beverage voucher, Bucks pilsner glass, post-game entry into the Courtside Club, and a photo op/autograph opportunity with the Energee! dance team. Can’t beat that right?
Tonight’s matchup is going to seem more like a scrimmage between first and second year players. More than half of the Timberwolves’ roster is new to the blue, green, and black. What’s your take on Minnesota’s complete roster overhaul? Do you think that helps or hurts the case for them being ahead of the Bucks in terms of returning to the playoffs?
AW: I think the Wolves right now are ahead of the Bucks in terms of rebuilding mainly because they’ve pretty much overhauled everything now. They have gotten rid of all bad contracts and are an asset rich team with first round picks owed to them and two talented Euro players in Ricky Rubio and Nikola Pekovic. The hopes of a high draft pick and cap space for the summer of 2010 has Wolves diehards like myself hoping playoff basketball comes to Minnesota for the first time ever without Kevin Garnett. Realistically, if the pieces fall into place I think the Wolves could challenge for the playoffs next year but luck might have to help in the lottery.
I know some of writers on the Sports Bank haven’t liked the moves David Kahn has done but in my opinion it’s all part of the process of building something from very little (can’t say nothing because guys like Kevin Love and Al Jefferson need to be held over from the McHale era). Flynn gives the Wolves the most exciting point guard since Stephon Marbury was in town over 10 years ago. They had Terrell Brandon, Chauncey Billups and Sam Cassell after Marbury but names like Marko Jaric, Mike James, Randy Foye, Sebastian Telfair, Bobby Brown all did nothing for this franchise. Foye and Jaric being the biggest busts because one was traded straight up for Brandon Roy and Jaric because he was traded for Sam Cassell and a first round pick, which the Wolves still owe to the Clippers.
There is hope for both of these franchises and as a Bucks fan you have to be excited about Brandon Jennings. Just a year after the Bucks took Joe Alexander (who they declined his option for next year, something that RARELY happens to second year players); the Bucks are putting a lot on Jennings to get the franchise back in a good spot.
Nothing wrong with those ticket deals either, I’m a young working adult just a couple years removed from college and am enjoying the perks of a partial season ticket holder for the Wolves. I’ve already been to two of the three home games and will be attending at least next week, maybe even tonight. It’s kind of nice in that sense for us young bucks to have bad hoops teams right now so we can afford to go!
JM: Jennings could present an interesting case if he blossoms as expected. He spent that first year in Europe mostly riding the bench, but said he thinks he became a lot more NBA-ready throughout the process because it “put him in his place” so to speak. I can see where he’s coming from because colleges tend to glorify the athlete ego, and it could be interesting to see if more prospects (at least point guards) follow suit in the future.
I was kind of surprised about the Joe Alexander move as well, seeing as Richard Jefferson was traded and Alexander was expected to see more playing time. That makes him the highest pick ever to have his rookie contract declined. Granted the eighth pick was where the drop off in talent began, but it definitely makes you wonder what they were thinking in the first place when guys like Jason Thompson, Courtney Lee or Brook Lopez were available. I actually think the move could benefit a guy no one really knows: Ersan Ilyasova. He was drafted in 2005 but spent the last three years in Europe, and could reap the benefits of Alexander’s departure.
Skiles has the Bucks playing an all-too-familiar (at least to Wisconsin fans) defensive brand of basketball, and they are living up to that end of the court so far, with Milwaukee coming in sixth in defensive field goal percentage and third in average points allowed. Having a cheaper and younger Bruce Bowen (Luc Mbah a Moute) definitely helps, as Mbah a Moute is one of those rare defenders that can guard star players at three or four spots on the floor. The defense will probably stay pretty consistent throughout the year, but the Bucks’ offense is a much different story.
Redd is always going to put up good numbers from the outside, and Bogut will average a double-double (provided they are healthy of course), but neither player can carry the team through rough stretches as a true team leader. Hakim Warrick has actually been somewhat of a surprise, but I wouldn’t expect a 12-10 performance every night. Jennings is on his way to filling that dominant player void, but I think like the Wolves, the Bucks will need some help from the 2010 NBA Lottery. Having Redd injured for two weeks could be seen as a positive from the standpoint that it allows Skiles to look at the possible future if he is traded.
I’ve always been a big fan of buying low as a fan on teams in rebuilding mode in any sport, mostly because it allows you to really experience the transformation of an organization from beginning to end. Tonight’s game will definitely be a battle of rookie point guards, but in the end I think Minnesota will show that it is a few years ahead of Milwaukee in the rebuilding process. The Bucks will keep it low-scoring, of course.
AW: Should be a competitive game tonight, it might not be pretty but they’ll be going at it for a win. I just found out I will be in attendance so it’ll be a good chance to see how everything is working for the Bucks. Scott Skiles and Kurt Rambis were two gritty players in the league and right now with both teams lacking in talent, they’re trying to install that scrappy play they both displayed when they were in the NBA.