October 25, 2012
NBA Enemy Lines
Milwaukee Bucks
2011-12 Record: 31-35
Monta Ellis (pictured) and Brandon Jennings form a highly scrutinized backcourt. (Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire)

The Bucks should be better than they were last year, when they had a chance down the stretch to make the playoffs but ended up ninth in the Eastern Conference. With their depth, they have enough to make the playoffs. A lot will come down to how well their small guards play together.

I think Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis can coexist. The Bucks morphed a little after they acquired Ellis for Andrew Bogut at the trade deadline last season. They pushed the ball, got shots in transition, got a lot of secondary-break offense. They ran a lot of quick-hitter plays geared toward those two. It's fun to watch.

At the same time, they gambled more defensively. That's what small guards do. The Bucks pressured up the floor and they gave up straight-line drives and didn't have a shot-blocker. Now they have a couple guys who defend the goal, so I expect them to be better defensively.

[Chris Mannix: What to expect from the Bucks this season]

Even so, it's going to be a challenge for Scott Skiles to coach guys who don't defend the way he likes. Can they hide Ellis and Jennings defensively? You can change the tempo of the game and hide them a little bit. Ellis is going to have to show something on defense or he is not going to work with Scott. Skiles demands you at least try, and sometimes Ellis doesn't.

Ellis is as close to Allen Iverson as anyone in the league. The offense will be on his and Jennings' shoulders. Their big men are not low-post players. They have guys in those roles who can accept that Jennings and Ellis will be taking most of the shots.

Jennings is a volume scorer. He's not going to be a traditional point guard because he tends to over-dribble and doesn't move the ball well. But he shot the ball better last season and finished better in the paint. You can tell he worked on trying to diversify his scoring in the offseason, too. He is experimenting with a floater and some other finesse moves. And if you give him a good big man to play off of, he will knock down jump shots. He's a very gifted offensive player.

The Bucks have more depth at the big positions, so Skiles can shuffle them in and out. If one isn't getting it done, they will try something different. Bogut was more sure-handed than anyone they have. It wasn't that he was a go-to player, but he could catch, score and make good decisions. He could put it on the floor for the dribble hand-off, set great picks and roll hard. You had to at least pay attention to him.

I don't know how much Sam Dalembert is in that mold. But I don't think they think they are losing much by playing center by committee with Dalembert, Joel Przybilla, Ekpe Udoh and other guys. Przybilla will take a foul and he knows how to play the post defensively. Udoh is another guy who defends and blocks shots but isn't a scorer. Drew Gooden can play the 5, too. He surprised the hell out of me a couple of times last year. He was consistently hitting 17-foot jump shots.

[Chris Mannix: Central Division preview]

Tobias Harris has such great size and a nice skill set. I was looking for him to do some more things late in games and I never got to see it. He got sporadic minutes in his rookie season [when he averaged 11.4 minutes per game]. Maybe he breaks through this year with different responsibilities. But he is kind of a swing 3-4, and that's what Ersan Ilyasova and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute are. I don't know where Harris is going to find minutes.

Ilyasova matured and filled out last year. He used to be strictly a perimeter player, but last year he competed inside against bigger bodies -- and he still had those perimeter skills. His effort is consistent, and his rebounding was fantastic.

Mike Dunleavy has a lot of skills: He handles, he passes, he has length. He shot the ball very well last year. But I think he is going to have trouble playing the 2 this year; I don't know if he has the ability to stay in front of people anymore. He is going to have to play more 3 than before.

I like Mbah a Moute. He is tough as nails. You can play him at 2, 3 or 4. They don't have a problem switching anything defensively when he is in the game because he's versatile enough to guard different kind of players. His foot speed is terrific and he anticipates well. He's cut. He's a physical specimen, like a young Ron Artest. He sticks his nose in there and doesn't back down. He is not an offensive player, though. He can't shoot outside the paint or handle the ball. But because of what he can do defensively, there is a real comfort level for Skiles when he is on the floor.

[Second-round pick] Doron Lamb was one of the best shooters in the draft. He is already an NBA catch-and-shoot player with a great stroke and range. Their first-round pick, John Henson, is a shot-blocker who has a lot of competition up front for minutes.


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