Jake's Take: Turning the Corner, 12/18/2010
Jake LeRoy [@JakesTake34]
Bucks at Jazz
The first month-and-a-half of the NBA season was rarely pretty on the offensive end for the Bucks. This may be the understatement of the year. The team-wide offensive struggles this squad endured were the cause of many shaking heads and face-filled hands. It was astonishing that every player on an entire team could all go into such a severe funk at the exact same time. It was an epidemic that swept through the locker room with frightening ferocity.
It seemed unlikely that this would continue forever, though. Almost every player was shooting at well below their career norms. Eventually the team would turn the corner and become a squad that didn't need to hold every opponent below 80 points for any chance of securing a victory. I'm not going to go as far as to say the Bucks have completely rounded the corner, but at the very least they've peered around the bend with strong intentions of making a move.
Milwaukee's return to a competently offensive team has occurred due to vast improvements from top to bottom. It's like the team boarded a bus and took a road trip to the doctor's office, where they turned and coughed, said "aah" and received injections of confidence. The Bucks struggled as a team and are now turning it around as a team.
Over the last three contests, nine of Milwaukee's 12 players are shooting higher than their season number. Some of these differences mark significant improvements. Andrew Bogut is shooting 65.1 percent over this last three, nearly 14 percent higher than his mark for the season. Additionally, John Salmons and Ersan Ilyasova are shooting 10 percent higher, and CDR and Keyon Dooling are both shooting eight percent higher. All told, the Bucks are shooting 46.7 percent over their last three, 5.5 percent better than their season percentage.
The marked improvement has been especially prevalent from behind the arc. The Bucks have put up less than 11 three-pointers per game over this period, but they've made the most of those attempts. Milwaukee is shooting just 33.8 percent from distance for the season, but is at a stellar 59.4 percent over its last three. CDR, Dooling and Salmons are each shooting 66.7 percent, Brandon Jennings is at 61.5 percent and Ilyasova is hitting at a 42.8 percent clip.
I think most probably thought it was inevitable that the Bucks would return to the offensive level that allowed them to win 46 games a year ago. There's too much talent on this roster for that not to be the case. I'm sure we can all agree that it would've been nice for this turnaround to come a little sooner, but now that it's happening we can finally see what Milwaukee is capable of.
- One facet of tonight's contest I'm going to keep a close eye on is the rebounding margin. The Bucks got killed on the boards 48-26 in Utah with Bogut sidelined, so I think tonight could offer a telling testament to the importance of Bogut on the interior. I'm thinking the early 8-6 rebounding edge for Milwaukee will roughly hold true throughout.
- The slow starts that plagued Milwaukee against Dallas and San Antonio seemed to have stayed in Texas. The Bucks shot 9-of-19 in the first quarter in grabbing a nice six-point lead. I'm a big fan of the starting lineup (Jennings, Salmons, CDR, Ilyasova, Bogut) Skiles trotted out tonight. I think having four shooters surrounding Bogut around the perimeter will open up things inside for the big man and it gives him numerous options to kick out to if double-teamed in the post. It also allows Drew Gooden and Corey Maggette to play more prominent roles offensively with the second unit, an area in which they should ideally excel.
- Keyon Dooling got his share of flack early this season with many yearning for the days of Luke Ridnour. Dooling's recent resurgence from the floor should help alleviate any concerns. In the last three-and-a-half games, Dooling has hit 5-of-7 from deep and 10-of-20 overall. Combine this kind of output with his bigger frame, versatility and attention to defense and you've got a pretty effective two-way backup point guard.
- The Bucks quickly put Utah in the bonus in the third quarter with five fouls in the frame's first four-and-a-half minutes. Their defensive work improved after that as they moved their feet better and kept their hands to themselves. The Jazz were on a pace to shoot 24 freebies in the quarter, but ended up going just 5-of-8 in the quarter. Credit the Bucks with some stellar free-throw defense as well, holding Utah to just 61 percent shooting from the stripe through three quarters. They were really making the Jazz work at the line, throwing Utah's free throw routines way out of whack.
- I've read numerous times that Utah's Al Jefferson has one of the league's most advanced post games, but I've had very few opportunities to see it first-hand. Those reports seem pretty accurate to me. Jefferson has decent range out to about 15 feet in face-ups, owns a relatively deceiving pump fake, can go over the left or right shoulder and isn't afraid to bust out a hook/floater hybrid. Calling him a black hole would be an understatement, but it's hard to blame him if he's consistently scoring.
- I don't know what happened when he was in Milwaukee, but Francisco Elson has had a quietly effective outing for the Jazz. He's knocked down a couple of jumpers and kept numerous possessions alive with offensive rebounds or tap-backs. He actually looks pretty serviceable.
- Milwaukee's rebounding has been better this go-around with Utah (it couldn't have gotten any worse), but it still needs work. Utah's bigs - Jefferson, Elson and Paul Millsap - have been outworking Milwaukee's bigs, helping the Jazz build a 12-3 edge in offensive rebounds. Utah has taken advantage as well, taking a big 18-2 lead in second-chance points through three quarters.
Closing It Out
Tonight's game had a slightly different slant, but the same basic problem of not playing a full 48 minutes persisted. The Bucks played well in the first quarter and were pretty good in the second and third. The fourth quarter was a different story, though. The Bucks took an 80-79 lead on a Jennings lay-up with a little over six minutes remaining. Utah took over from there, though, finishing the game on a 16-6 run to put Milwaukee away.
The Milwaukee offense maintained its momentum from the games against the Texas trio, shooting a solid 45.1 percent from the field that included a 7-of-18 showing from beyond the arc. The offense just chose a bad time to hit the skids with only six points in the game's final six minutes. Bogut led the way with team-highs of 19 points and nine boards, followed by Salmons with 18 points. Dooling and Gooden provided a nice spark off the bench, combining to score 26 points on 11-of-15 from the floor.
Rebounding continued being an issue against the Jazz, though. The Bucks, fourth in the NBA in rebounds per game, are typically a very sound squad in the trenches, but Utah's frontcourt has Milwaukee's number. Utah's starting frontcourt of Millsap, Jefferson and Andrei Kirilenko each tallied nine total rebounds and combined to pull down eight offensive boards. All told, the Jazz scored 25 second-chance points on 14 offensive rebounds.
I was hoping for a little delectable home cooking prior to Milwaukee's upcoming three-game West Coast swing, but sadly that was not to be. The West Coast has been historically unkind to the Bucks, but a successful trip isn't out of the question. Portland and Sacramento bookend the trip and both squads have been struggling as of late. Beating the Lakers will obviously be a difficult task, but taking two out of three isn't a hugely daunting task. If the Bucks play the way they played on their last road trip, a 2-1 trip is entirely possible.
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.