Monday, October 13, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 2008-2009 Season Preview: Milwaukee Bucks

Milwaukee. Home of beer, Laverne and Shirley, Steve Miller, and the Harley-Davidson Museum. Much like Jay-Z, circa 2000, the Bucks are trying to start a new religion. They've made drastic changes to change to try and reinvent the mindset in the land of beer and cheese. But will any of it stick? Your opening preview is by Matt Moore.

At Summer League I met my first Bucks fan. Frank from BrewHoop hung out with Watson and I as we chased rookies and ended up wandering the strip arguing about the exact degree of how much Kirk Hinrich sucks. I make a habit of observing the demeanor and habits of NBA fans. Spurs fans are critical and reserved. Warriors fans are like Tiny Tunes characters. Mavericks fans are like Cowboys fans that need another outlet, that is, insane. Celtics fans and Lakers fans are remarkably alike. Passionate, devoted, self-entitled, and obnoxiously obnoxiously blessed.

Meeting a Bucks fans was fascinating. Frank was like most great NBA fans, particularly the ones devoted enough to run blogs. Passionate, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, involved. But to a certain degree, there's a certain sense of reality that sneaks in. A few times when discussing free agency or the viability of Andrew Bogut as a franchise player, he'd mention, "Well, we're the Bucks."

In a way, this is reflective of what has to change. It's not unique to Milwaukee, the Bucks, or Frank. Charlotte and Memphis face the same issues. But it's something that has to shift for the Bucks. The organization, for its part, seems to be dedicated to the same goal.

They hired Scott Skiles, which instantly shifts the approach of the team. They needed defense, they're going to get it. Hiring Hammond to run the team brings an elite level of professionalism. And the immediate changes to the roster are indicative of a sense that complacency will not be tolerated. Yi Jianlian? See ya. They're bringing in a legit superstar 3, Richard Jefferson. They shipped out Mo Williams, opting for a youth movement at the point. And they kept Michael Redd. That in itself was a bold choice. It said "We're not far off enough to trade the best player. We're going to stick with the guns we have and build around them, and we'll assess from there." Call it the Anti-Grizzlies, for better or worse. That's not a criticism of what happened in Memphis, it's apples and oranges. This is a team that made the playoffs a few years ago.

So now the question becomes how much change can you instill in a year? Jefferson boosts their wing scoring, which is a plus. And Michael Redd should play better with conditioning from the Olympics and more motivation to produce. Bogut promptly banged himself up a little bit after the monster extension, but Bogut also has the capability to have the kind of breakout year that changes the complexity of this team.

So what's left?

Oh, Charlie.

Charlie Villanueva is one of those mid-level guys who runs the gamut of opinion. Some think he's a tremendous talent with unbelievable athleticism and the capability to pour in a statstuff to make people drool. Others think he's an undersized four that doesn't get his hands dirty enough and needs to quit playing the perimeter. Others think he just looks weird. This is a make or break season for him. He's going to get a shot at the starting role at the four. He's going to be given exact expectations. His ability to translate his skills to meet those goals is what will decide his fate.

One of the central things the Bucks might run into as a problem is Skiles' propensity to not play the most talented guys. It's weird, this is a talent driven league that is often handcuffed by its need to play and reward the most naturally gifted individuals. Scott Skiles doesn't give a crap about that. You play hard, his way, or you don't play. This is a plus and a minus. Discipline is great. But playing Malik Allen instead of Villanueva is going too far. So too is playing Luke Ridnour extensively because he's "your guy" and not playing Ramon Sessions. Young guys are malleable, and will respond to defensive coaching, even if they don't understand it. Skiles needs to be willing to do that, even though he got burned on it in Chicago which led to last year's desperate grasps at straws.

But when you think about a Sessions, Redd, Jefferson, V-Nuv, Bogut line, that's a little exciting. Certainly an upgrade from MoWil, Redd at 50%, V-Nuv and the Chairman wandering around nonsensically, and Bogut trying to be an anchor. Richard Jefferson is likely going to be a bigger impact than people think. He usually is. So there's some bright spots here. It's going to come down to a coin flip as to whether the team gels or disintegrates.

Okay, maybe not a coin flip. There's not much help off the bench. When Skiles inevitably starts Ridnour they'll have Sessions, but Sessions is a scoring guard and not a pure distributor and that will cause issues unless Bogut is feeling very "Sure, I'll screen!" Tyronn Lue can be a capable backup, but it depends on how much of a sparkplug they want him to be and how much of a leader he has to be at point. Adrian Griffin is a yawner. I'll come out and tell you right now. I think Joe Alexander will be the biggest bust of the 2008 Draft Class. I didn't like his game to translate before, and Summer League only confirmed my suspicions. I hope the kid proves me wrong. Damon Jones? Filler. Gadzuric? Filler. Mbah A Moute could be explosive, but he's also likely to spend some time in Fort Wayne. They're not bad, and they're actually, surprisingly, deep at guard. But the question is whether they're strong enough to support a winning campaign.
Defensively, everyone's got to be tougher. Mentally, physically, spiritually. And that's a hard thing to become in a year. The offense isn't loaded with talent, and the defense is something you have to coax and prod. How fast they catch it may be the difference between missing the playoffs and making them.

Looking at this team from a philosophic standpoint, I get a very ABA feel from them. They took guys they knew could shoot, focused on resigning the big white guy, brought in a comfortable guard, and traded for an established veteran. That sounds pretty ABA to me. Not second rate, by any means, just against the "trade vets for youth unless you're on the cusp" thinking. By that extension, there's something very familiar with them. You feel like you know this team, even if you don't know the players. Versus the Bucks of old who were the mystery men getting dunked on, this team feels like they could be the answer to a Trivial Pursuit question. We'll have to see how Skiles fairs to see what the question is.

IMAGE NATION by Rob Mahoney:


Sure, you can jump on the Blazers. You can think the Sixers are hot. But they're not obscure. Not really obscure. They're like TV on the Radio. They went from the band no one was talking about that everyone should to the band that everyone was talking about how no one was talking about them and they should to the band everyone was talking about. But if you want to be really indy? Get on the Buckwagon, people. I can't make a comparison to a band because that would mean I've heard of them, and therefore the analogy is inadequate. The Bucks are quirky, mofos. Their center is Australian. They have a power forward with alopecia areata. Richard Jefferson will wilt and cry one second, then play through a concussion the next. Their coach has a gigantic skull like sputnik. This team is strange. And they play in Milwaukee. Come now. You know this is the kind of team you want to love. Love them. You'll be cooler for it.


Herb Kohl. By now, many of you have forgotten where HP was when their name became irrevocably entrenched in the MSM. That's right, those halcyon days of yore, when we mighty 2 were just barely able to insert hyperlinks. Yet, there we were, roundly welcomed by those sages at ESPN, where they realized our true mission and vision, right there in the pages of The Sports Guy. Yes, we at HP had arrived as... Bucks bloggers?

No offense to the Bucks and much more so to The Sports Guy, but if their front office is too stupid and incapable of hearing our sensible demand to make Simmons the head of that team, then they are to be loathed. So what, we got singled out on ESPN as a Bucks blogger. Their could be worse things to be labeled, like a Bucks fan or Desmond Mason. But really, this team should be (mildly) interesting and take a ton of freakin' shots with Redd and Jefferson running around. Bogut could end up with a breakout year. VNuv is still VNuv. I don't even know what that last sentence is supposed to mean. You, dear reader, can figure that out, while you take time to stick pins into your very own HP custom Herb Kohl voodoo doll.
(BTW, we got nothing but love for the ACTUAL Bucks blogs out there like BrewHoop and the like. I'm just saying that we aren't that way. Although, now everyone who lives and dies by the words of Simmons surely thinks we are.)


A Jay-Z track from the Nutty Professor soundtrack about starting a quality, if not monogamous relationship, two years before he hooked up with Beyonce, with video clips from the film. Say hi to the Bucks!


Ridiculous Notes:

PLAYER MOST LIKELY TO GO AWOL: Richard Jefferson. The guy is a consistent performer, but he also sometimes seems like he's one bad day away from going Falling Down.

PREDICTABLY BAD ROTATION MOVE: Tie between giving Ridnour 30 minutes, squashing Sessions, and giving Malik Allen more minutes than VNuv, inevitably causing Nuv to want out again. Let's go ahead and write the posts now.

SURPRISINGLY GOOD WHITE GUY: Even though I think Sessions should get a fair amount of time, I think Ridnour will play well. He's just got to do what he does well and do little else.

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