Alex Boeder's Wish List Revisited

Wish List Revisited

How many wishes do you remember?

Birthday wishes, wishing well wishes, wishes upon shooting stars… we all make them. Sometimes they sort of just float away, and sometimes they come true, even after you forget about them.

Back in December, I wrote a Bucks Holiday Wish List. The idea was to highlight ten things that I felt were both possible and necessary in order for the Bucks to keep giving us hope transitioning from holiday season to playoff season.

Almost three months later, the Bucks are pushing toward the playoffs. Here are the wishes, revisited.

Wish: Lift Starting Backcourt Shooting Percentage

Then: At the time, Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis were the top-scoring backcourt in the NBA. Yet the backcourt tandem struggled in terms of efficiency: Jennings was posting a 44.9 eFG% while Monta Ellis carried a career-low 41.8 eFG%. Both numbers ranked among the lowest for guards playing major minutes.

Now: Both guards have considerably improved their shooting percentages, which has been instrumental in pushing the offense forward recently. Jennings is all the way up to a 47.3 eFG%, which is just shy of his career-best 47.6 eFG% from last season. Meanwhile, Ellis now holds a 43.7 eFG%. With some help in the form of Ersan Ilyasova’s renaissance and J.J. Redick’s addition, the starting backcourt mates are together shooting less and shooting more efficiently since December.

Status: Granted, with room for more improvement.

Wish: Play Second Half Like First Half

Then: First halves were great. The Bucks were the sixth best second quarter team in the NBA and were outscoring opponents in the first quarter. Unfortunately, games were not ending at halftime. The team struggled in the third quarter, and they were the third worst team in the NBA in fourth quarters... just one season after being one of the best fourth quarter teams in the NBA.

Now: The Bucks are now being outscored overall in the first quarter (-0.9 per game), which is a downgrade. Meanwhile, they are the best second quarter team in all of the Eastern Conference, and fourth best in the NBA (+1.4 per game). And the Bucks were red-hot after halftime recently, having won six straight third quarters before dropping a third quarter in Sacramento. Yet they are still not closing so strongly overall, despite some late-game heroics, and they rank 28th among all teams in the fourth quarter.

Status: Mixed results. Third quarters are getting better but fourth quarters remain problematic.

Wish: Maintain Health

Then: The Bucks had battled through some injuries – notably to Luc Mbah a Moute, Beno Udrih, Mike Dunleavy, and Tobias Harris – but they had not been stung nearly as badly as many of their foes.

Now: Assuming that someone somewhere is knocking on a door or their desk or another piece of wood, it should be noted that the historically ultra-durable backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis has once again been extraordinarily durable this season. They have both played in every game, and both have logged heavy minutes. Larry Sanders missed a couple weeks in early February with a back injury, and the Bucks missed him even more. The team just played against the Kings without Sanders (knee), Ilyasova (bone bruise), and Redick (ankle), but none of the injuries sound serious.

Status: The Sanders injury hurt. The Bucks lost three of four during that stretch. But the team has mostly continued to fly around – and not directly into – the injury bug.

Wish: Establish Starting Lineup

Then: Scott Skiles tried seven different starting lineups inside the first two months of the regular season. None of them performed all that well or all that poorly, thus propagating the cycle of new starting lineups. Eleven different players started, and that didn’t even include two of the team’s more efficient players in Mike Dunleavy and Beno Udrih.

Now: Jim Boylan’s first major course of action was bringing Ersan Ilyasova back into the starting lineup, and with that, establishing a set starting lineup moving forward. The Jennings/Ellis/Mbah a Moute/Ilyasova/Sanders unit has started every healthy game since Boylan took over, with only injuries causing exceptions to the rule. And it is working. The Bucks are 13-9 with that lineup, good for a .591 winning percentage. For reference, a .591 winning percentage would place the team fourth in the Eastern Conference.

Status: Granted, in full effect.

Wish: Take Back Defensive Boards

Then: After an unexpectedly great start on the defensive glass, the Bucks had fallen all the way to 24th in defensive rebounding by mid-December.

Now: Only the Bobcats are worse on the defensive boards than the Bucks. The team allows the 12th most points of anyone in the league, but don’t let that fool you: it is in part due to their fast-paced nature (teams get lots of possessions and thus chances to score) but also their inability to clean up the defensive glass, allowing teams second chances to score. They recently managed to beat the Jazz despite allowing 23 offensive rebounds, but that recipe is not sustainable in the playoffs.

Status: Not granted, moved to high priority on wish list.

Wish: Makes More Threes

Then: The team ranked 28th in three point percentage and 26th in three point attempts. Ersan Ilyasova was cold, Mike Dunleavy had been injured, and few teams were more irrelevant from outside

Now: Ilyasova regained his form, Dunleavy regained his health, J.J. Redick came aboard, and the Bucks have slowly moved up to 21st in three point percentage. They still don’t take many threes (26th in attempts), but increasingly the right players are taking them. With Ilyasova (.437), Dunleavy (.437), Redick (.386), and Jennings (.383) leading the way, the Bucks should be a threatening team from deep this spring.

Status: Granted, with room for improvement.

Wish: Get Service From The Youth

Then: Tobias Harris, John Henson, and Doron Lamb helped the team in important games, from the Opening Night win in Boston in which Harris scored 18 points in a starting role, to the stunning 27-point comeback win in Chicago that featured Lamb in the second half, to the 17-point, 18-rebound game by Henson in a thrilling loss to the defending champions.

Now: The Bucks dealt Harris and Lamb to the Magic in the deal to acquire J.J. Redick, so a portion of the referenced youth is no longer with the team. And while Henson has not played consistently big minutes, he has been vital in some important wins, including a pair of quick-hitting and efficient scoring efforts in wins against the Rockets and Raptors (he loves to play against the Raptors).

Status: Undetermined. Still feels like Henson will need to pepper in some bursts of offense in any potential playoff upset opportunity.

Wish: Improve Transition Defense

Then: They were playing fast and scoring on the break, but they were also giving up more points in transition (16.0 per game, 2nd worst in NBA) than they were scoring in transition (14.8 per game, 10th best in NBA).

Now: The team is still are not scoring as many fastbreak points (13.9) as they are allowing (15.0). Both numbers are down, and the Bucks are allowing the third most fastbreak points in the NBA, a very slight improvement since December. As a reminder, the Bucks are still a good defensive team (10th overall in defensive efficiency), so this is merely a relative area of weakness, as opposed to a sore spot highlighting a major problem.

Status: Not granted, still in progress, hopefully.

Wish: Defend Home Court

Then: The Bucks were just as good on the road (7-6) as they were at home (7-6), which coincidentally was at once a testament to their road success and their home struggles. They were the only team in the NBA that did not carry a better record at home than on the road.

Now: Curiously, they remain almost the same team on the road and at home. They are ever-so-slightly better at home (16-14) than on the road (16-15). And they notably have scored a few nice road wins of late in Dallas, Houston, and Golden State. But they remain up and down at home. Moving forward, you can look at this different ways: they should be a tough out no matter where they play in the playoffs, but they won’t be the most intimidating home team.

Status: Not (yet) granted.

Wish: Pass Happier

Then: The Bucks started the season with big assist numbers in their 2-0 start. But things fell off a bit after that. They ranked 18th overall in assist percentage (meaning, percent of field goals that were assisted) when the wish list when to the presses. Related, and more troubling, they ranked 27th in offensive efficiency.

Now: Offensive efficiency has risen from 27th to 21st. Nothing elite yet, but that is an important gain. And it has a lot to do with better passing. They are up from 18th to 15th in assist percentage, and they recently strung together five straight games with 27+ assists, as the team has moved the ball particularly well since acquiring J.J. Redick. And it must be noted, if not underlined and italicized and circled, that Brandon Jennings put up 19, 17, 12, and 10 assists in four straight games. And Jennings is averaging a career-best in assists (both per game and per minute). It’s almost like March 2012 for the Bucks, which is a compliment.

Status: Granted, with room for improvement.

Alex Boeder

My passions? Writing and the Bucks, to start. So it is good to be here. I have reported on media row for just about every Bucks home game since 2009-10 – almost all of that time writing for BrewHoop. I have also written for the Milwaukee Brewers Baseball Club, SB Nation, ESPN Milwaukee, Slam Online, etc. You can follow me on Twitter @alexboeder or email me at adboeder@gmail.com.