Jake's Take 11/20/10: The Best That Never Was
Jake LeRoy [@JakesTake34]
Bucks vs. Thunder
The typical way-too-early release of the NBA All-Star ballots occurred this week, with Milwaukee’s Andrew Bogut, Brandon Jennings, Corey Maggette, John Salmons and Drew Gooden each appearing on the ballot. Personally, I think the Bucks were fairly and accurately represented on the ballot.
Unfortunately, the realist in me can’t shake the feeling that none of the above will be voted in as starters in the All-Star game. It’s regrettable, but it is the likely reality. Unless, of course, Milwaukeeans join me in stuffing the virtual ballot box with votes for one, two or five of the aforementioned Bucks. Heck, it has been six years since a Buck even played in the game, let alone started.
Milwaukee’s all-star-game drought got me thinking that often times players don’t make the all-star game not solely because they’re not worthy, but because it’s a numbers game. There are only 12 roster spots in each conference and 180 players to choose from. That means that less than 7 percent of all players actually play in the midseason contest each season. From time to time, very good players are going to be omitted from the team, or “snubbed,” as it is so regularly described.
After some serious deliberation, I came up with three players in Milwaukee’s history who never played in the all-star game, but deserved to at some point. These three players excelled in a Bucks uniform, but were never participants in the all-star game as members of the Bucks. Bogut was arguably snubbed last year in favor of David Lee and Al Horford, but he doesn’t have the long-term success of the three I ultimately chose. Jennings could be in for a long wait himself due to the presence of young, talented Eastern Conference guards like Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Derrick Rose and John Wall.
In the end, the three former Bucks I went with were Junior Bridgeman, Paul Pressey and Sam Cassell. Each played at least four quality seasons in Milwaukee, only to be ignored come February. Their respective résumés are as follows:
Bridgeman was a 6-foot-5 wing player who was one of the NBA’s most dangerous 6th men throughout his career in Milwaukee. It’s rare for a bench player to be selected to an all-star roster, but not entirely unheard of with Manu Ginobili and Milwaukee’s own Ricky Pierce being two of the more notable exceptions to the rule. Bridgeman’s best opportunity was probably in 1980 when he averaged career-bests of 17.6 points and 1.2 steals. Unfortunately, Magic Johnson, World B. Free, Paul Westphal and Dennis Johnson stood in his way.
Pressey was a 6-foot-5 combo guard who was big enough to defend 2-guards, but skilled enough to run the point. His best stretch of play came from 1984 to 1987 when he averaged 14.8 points, 7.3 assists, 5.1 boards and 1.8 steals per contest while being named to an all-defensive team all three seasons. Pressey’s best overall year was the 1984-85 season when he averaged career-bests of 16.8 points and 5.4 rebounds to go along with 6.8 assists, 1.6 steals and a 51.7 shooting percentage. Blocking his path were no-names like Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Dennis Johnson (again) and teammate Sidney Moncrief.
Sam I Am didn’t play in Milwaukee as long as Bridgeman and Pressey did, but his four years here were just as impressive. Cassell averaged 19.1 points and 7.3 assists as a Buck, but could never crack that all-star game lineup despite putting up numbers very similar to 5-time all star Chauncey Billups. Any of Cassell’s four years in Milwaukee could be considered all-star worthy, but I’d go with his first full year as a Buck when he averaged 18.6 points and nine assists a contest during the 1999-2000 season. His biggest obstacle may have been teammates Ray Allen and Glenn Robinson, who were selected by the coaches that same year.
After weighing these three very viable options, my vote for the Best to Never Make an All-Star Game went to Pressey. Cassell’s statistics were more impressive, but Pressey’s offensive versatility and defensive prowess made him a greater weapon overall. It’s just too bad nobody outside of Milwaukee ever seemed to notice.
- Just prior to tipoff, Gooden gave the most enthusiastic man-hugs to fellow Jayhawks Nick Collison and Cole Aldrich that I have ever seen. It was like they were long-separated brothers reunited on the Sally Jesse Raphael Show. That’s right, I just went all SJR on you. Gooden was legitimately super excited to see both players, and Collison and Aldrich reciprocated that excitement. I can’t help but wonder if that kind of school pride exists among alumni from all schools.
- Nobody is more aware of the power of the beard than I am. Except maybe James Harden, whose beard was in full effect in the first quarter. Harden hit all three of his 3-point attempts in the first frame, and for whatever reason fell over after each one. Must’ve been poor balance, because nobody came close to touching him. Either way, the beard was strong that quarter, and somebody on the Bucks needs to take a razor to it.
- Gooden has most definitely broken out of his early-season slump. He’s actually been Milwaukee’s best player recently, averaging 18 points and 10.3 boards in his last three games. That success has carried over into tonight’s game as he has far and away been the best Buck out there. Gooden has 12 points and five boards midway through the second period and has been crashing the offensive glass like a rebounding fiend.
- An update to the earlier post about school pride and camaraderie. Westbrook and The Prince were quite chatty during halftime, exchanging what looked like barbs throughout most of the intermission. Oklahoma City assistant coach Maurice Cheeks not-so-covertly eavesdropped. Westbrook and The Prince didn’t quite look as giddy to see each other as the KU crew, but you could definitely tell they were tight.
- Russell Westbrook is a different kind of jumper. He has the same explosion as Derrick Rose, but he seems to get higher and farther in a shorter amount of time. I’m the last person that should talk about anything related to physics, but maybe his slight frame makes him more aerodynamic, and that’s why he covers so much air space in such a short period. Or, maybe he had the technology found in Athletic Propulsion Labs’ Concept 1 shoe, which employs a spring-based system designed to increase lift, implanted in his calves. Yeah, that’s it. Westbrook is to calf implants what Sammy Sosa is to corked bats. Mystery solved.
- The Bucks haven’t quite been able to get over the hump tonight. Just when it looks like they may go on a run, something inevitably backfires. They’ll cut a 10-point deficit down to six, but then it’ll go back up to 10. They’ll get an 8-point deficit down to four, but then it’ll return to eight. And so on, and so forth. Milwaukee certainly isn’t giving up, but it can’t quite sustain a substantial run.
Closing It Out
You know that hump I was just writing about, yeah, the Bucks could never quite clear it. They got it down to one point what seemed like a dozen times, but they couldn’t match or clear that hurdle. It all comes down to an inability to hit shots. Of the five players with more than four attempts, none came even close to clearing 50 percent. As great of a defensive team as Milwaukee is, it ultimately comes down to what team can put the ball in the basket more. And the Bucks struggled to do so tonight.
Right now, the Milwaukee offense is hit or miss, both literally and figuratively. It’s a Jekyll and Hyde act. Just when you think the Bucks are turning the corner offensively, they revert back to their early-season form. In the span of six games they scored 107, 108, 79, 118, 79 and 81 points. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen such disparity from game to game.
Jennings didn’t have a great shooting night, but I give him credit for at least attempting to lead the Bucks back tonight. He hit a couple of nice shots down the stretch, and was the only Buck who showed the willingness and ability to create on the offensive end. Gooden also had a nice game with some key points in the final minutes and great glass work on both ends throughout, but he too struggled from the field.
There are very few opportunities throughout the course of a NBA season that a team gets to play the opposition without its best player. When these rare opportunities do present themselves, you have to take advantage. The last two nights the Bucks have played Philadelphia without Andre Iguodala and the Thunder without Kevin Durant. Milwaukee wasn’t able to capitalize. Instead, secondary players like Harden and Thaddeus Young stepped up for the opposing teams and did what they had to do to get their team a win.
This past week hasn’t been a good one for the Bucks, but they have a chance to get their momentum back with two division contests sandwiching Thanksgiving. Milwaukee has Cleveland and Detroit this week, and while winning on the road against a division foe is never easy, both contests are winnable. Let’s just hope Dr. Jekyll shows up.
Note: These are the views of the 6th Fan Blogger. Thoughts and opinions expressed in this articles are not necessarily the views of the Milwaukee Bucks.