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John Schuhmann

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Brandon Jennings and the Bucks have struggled to find paths to the basket this season.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

While defense excels, Bucks' quest for offense continues


Posted Nov 20 2010 10:42AM

PHILADELPHIA -- Strong on one end of the floor and anemic on the other, the Milwaukee Bucks are the picture of imbalance. Through Friday, they rank third in the league defensively, allowing just 97.8 points per 100 possessions. But they rank last offensively, scoring just 96.9.

The Bucks are the anti-Suns, except that Phoenix (fifth offensively, 28th defensively) is actually more balanced than Milwaukee.

That the Bucks' defense is much better than their offense is no surprise. Scott Skiles is their coach after all. And only the Bobcats and Raptors (in the opposite direction) were more imbalanced last season. But new additions Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette should have brought Milwaukee closer to the mean on both ends of the floor. Instead they've drifted more to the extremes.

The Bucks won 46 games last season on the strength of their defense. They were in the bottom ten of the league offensively, but decent enough to get by on most nights. This year, with their offense holding them back, they're off to a disappointing 5-7 start.

It's a credit to Skiles that he has integrated Gooden and Maggette without the defense missing a beat. And it's a credit to his players that they don't allow their offensive struggles to affect their defensive focus.

And for the most part (Friday's loss in Philadelphia is an exception), Skiles isn't really dissatisfied with how his team has played offensively.

"We just have to make shots," he said Friday, admitting that it's one of the only times in his 11 years of coaching that he's been willing to give such a simple diagnosis. "I normally hate when coaches say that, because I do think that's a cop-out to a certain degree. There's always something else you can do to affect the game. But when we're going over the tape and we're looking at ourselves play, we're not dissatisfied with the shots that we're getting."

The numbers back Skiles up. The Bucks turn the ball over just slightly more than the league average, but they're also getting to the line slightly more, a big improvement from last season. And they're a solid offensive rebounding team, giving themselves ample second-chance opportunities.

But they're flat-out terrible at putting the ball in the basket. The Bucks rank 25th in 3-point percentage and 29th in 2-point percentage, shooting less than 44 percent from inside the arc.

Brandon Jennings leads the team in field-goal attempts, and is shooting just 40 percent from the field, but that's actually an improvement off his rookie season. Gooden and Maggette are shooting just 43 percent between them, and John Salmons is shooting 38 percent, down from the 47 percent he shot after the Bucks acquired him last season.

Overall, the Bucks just don't have efficient scorers, but the shooting from those four guys will likely improve. Salmons missed the entire preseason with a sprained ankle and is still getting back into game shape. And the Bucks will eventually get back Carlos Delfino, who has missed the last five games after suffering a concussion.

One way to get guys going is to move the ball better. The Bucks' assist rate is down from 57 percent last season (12th in the league) to 53 percent this year (24th).

"We need to rely on each other," Skiles said. "We don't have one guy that you can just pencil in for 26 points a night, and then the other guys fill in."

A bigger concern than the ball movement may be the health of Andrew Bogut. As always, Bogut is the anchor of the Bucks' defense, but seven months after the nasty fall that ended his 2009-10 season, the seven-footer is still in pain. His right elbow is bothering him more than he thinks it should be, so he's considering the idea of having it reevaluated.

In the meantime, it's affecting his ability to score. Bogut's field goal percentage is only down slightly, from 52 percent to 49 percent. But he's just 19-for-41 from the free throw line, and with the discomfort affecting his aggressiveness, he's attempting four fewer shots per 40 minutes.

Bogut and the Bucks knew he was going to be dealing with this all season. He's not supposed to be pain-free for another year. But Bogut is hoping for some improvement over the way he's feeling now.

The same goes for Skiles and his team's offense. While defense is always the focus in Milwaukee, there's no denying that the offense needs a boost. But the coach is willing to be a little more patient.

"If we get to the 20-game mark, 25-game mark, and we're still in the same position we're in... I don't think we will be... but if we are, that would be a reason to be concerned," Skiles said. "But we've got to feel like we're trending up on the offensive end, and if our defense is solid, we'll be in good shape."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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