Jake's Take: Breaking in the New Year - 1/1/11
Jake LeRoy [@JakesTake34]
Bucks vs Mavericks
I've never been a big believer in New Year's resolutions. I've always thought that if you really want to do something it shouldn't require the changing of calendars or any other nonsense motivational factors. If you want to get a year's gym membership and only use it for three weeks, April is as good a month as January for that purpose.
With that being said, the idea of doling out hypothetical New Year's resolutions for the Bucks sure does sound peachy. There are obviously issues that need resolving so why not the use the antiquated timing of Jan. 1 to do just that.
Resolution No. 1: Get out and run. The Bucks are tied with Orlando for the fewest fast-break points per game in the league. The Magic can get away with that because they have a bevy of players that can create offense in the half court. Milwaukee doesn't have that luxury, which is why it needs to get out and run more. Milwaukee's half-court offense has struggled mightily this year so any easy points the Bucks can get in transition is a huge bonus. Getting more easy baskets on the break could also result in greater confidence in the half court.
Resolution No. 2: Get comfortable in the paint. As evidenced by 92 percent of his shots coming within 10 feet of the hoop, Andrew Bogut has shown great comfort in the lane. The same can't be said for the rest of the team. Outside of Bogut and Jon Brockman's 1.2 attempts per game, no other Buck has had more than 52 percent of their shot attempts come from in close. Milwaukee has relied on the jumper way too often this season and that has played a role in the team's offensive woes. The Bucks have to start finishing better when they do make their way inside, too. They're shooting a league-worst 55.4 percent at the rim and are 28th from within 10 feet, connecting at just a 38.9 percent clip.
Resolution No. 3: Finish stronger. The fourth quarter has not been kind to the Bucks this year and that has to change if they're to start winning closer contests. Instead of finding a rhythm as the game progresses, the Bucks actually regress as the game unfolds. They average 23.5 points in the first quarter, 23.0 in the second, 22.3 points in the third and a league-low 21.2 points in the fourth quarter, a whole point less than the second-to-last-place team. Milwaukee's fourth-quarter droughts have been even more troublesome recently as it is averaging just 16.7 points per fourth quarter its last three contests.
Resolution No. 4: Pump up the peskiness. The Bucks don't typically play overly risky defense, instead opting to play a more conservative brand of defense. Milwaukee is a top-10 team in forcing turnovers, but it is 24th in the league with a mere 6.7 steals per game. Being more aggressive going for the ball could result in a few more good looks for the opposition, but it could also result in more fast-break opportunities for the Bucks and, therefore, more easy baskets.
Resolution No. 5: Improve ball movement. As noted earlier, the Bucks don't have a lot of players who can consistently create good scoring opportunities for themselves or their teammates. Isolations rarely result in a good look, which is why Milwaukee needs to focus on keeping the ball moving throughout the majority of a possession. The Bucks are last in the league with 17.4 assists per game, 3.4 assists per game less than what they averaged a year ago. Crisper ball movement will yield better shots, which will in turn result in a more efficient offense.
- I think Bogut took everyone by surprise when he launched a 17-footer four minutes into the game. The attempt marked just his 11th this season from beyond 15 feet and half of those were end-of-the-quarter launches. He may have misfired, but I'd encourage him to keep firing. First of all, those are shots that he can and has hit in the past, most often during his college days in Utah. Second of all, it shows that he's feeling more confident with his right elbow, which is welcome news to all Bucks fans.
- Caron Butler's first-quarter knee injury was very deceiving. He was writhing in pain and a torn ACL seemed like a safe assumption to make. He was knocked out for the game, but he was able to walk off on his own power with only a slight limp. Before hearing that he was definitely out for the game, I half-expected him to pull a Paul Pierce and get carted off in a wheelchair only to return moments later as though cured by magic fairy dust. Butler's injury was evidently a little more legit.
- I don't think I've seen this many opponent jerseys in the Bradley Center seats all season. There's quite a few Dirk Nowitzki's in the crowd with some Jason Kidd's, Caron Butler's and Jason Terry's sprinkled in for good measure. Dallas' bevy of jersey options are pretty well represented, too, from this one to this one to this shiny number. I'm told the tilt against Los Angeles brought quite a few Laker fans out of the woodwork. I can't say I'm surprised. Those Luke Walton jerseys just fly off the shelf.
- When it comes to Ersan Ilyasova, as the pump fake goes, so goes Ersan. When Ilyasova has his pump fake going as he did in the first half tonight -- Tyson Chandler, Brian Cardinal and Alexis Ajinca all got got -- the rest of his game seams to follow. Ilyasova added 10 points and eight boards to his first-half statline and quickly finished off his fifth double-double of the year with a pair of boards in the early moments of the second half. But it all comes back to the pump fake. If it's flowing, then everything else falls into place.
- Curiosity finally got the best of me and I scoured the Internet looking for the story behind DeShawn Stevenson choosing the number 92. The all-knowing and never wrong Wikipedia helped clear the air. Apparently Stevenson wore the No. 9 when playing in Orlando and the No. 2 when playing in Utah and Washington. He then did what anyone would do and combined the two numbers into one completely ridiculous number for a basketball player. But hey, at least he can boast he's the only player in NBA history to rock the No. 92. So he's got that going for him, which is nice.
Closing It Out
Basketball is generally considered a big man's game. Every once in a while, though, the little guys like to get in on the action as well. Tonight was one of those nights. The 5-foot-5 Earl Boykins put forth a giant effort with 26 points and six assists to lead the Bucks in both categories. Every one of those points was needed to offset the career-high 29 points posted by Dallas' J.J. Barea, who is very generously listed at 6-foot even. The two battled back and forth like titans throughout the contest, but it was Boykins who led his team to victory.
The Bucks stuck to four of their five unofficial New Year's resolutions tonight. They tallied 15 fast-break points, which is five more than their season average. They scored 50 points in the paint, converting on over 65 percent of their shots from in close. They finished strong with 26 fourth-quarter points, five more than their season average. They showed improved ball movement with 24 assists, seven more than their season average. They failed to pump up the peskiness, but four out of five ain't bad.
John Salmons and Ilyasova joined Boykins as key players in tonight's win. Salmons scored 21 points on 9-of-15 shooting and tallied six boards and five assists. Ilyasova chimed in with 16 points and pulled down a career-best 17 rebounds. Bogut didn't have a huge game but he put up good numbers across the board, finishing with eight points, eight boards, a season-high five assists and three blocks.
The Mavericks may have been playing shorthanded with Nowitzki, Shawn Marion and Butler sidelined, but this is still a win to be proud of. Dallas came into the game with a league-best 11-1 record on the road and has more than enough depth to stay competitive. A season sweep of the Mavericks -- the first since the 2002-03 season -- is definitely something the Bucks can hang their hat on.
Milwaukee isn't quite out of the woods yet with three games coming up against the dastardly duo of Miami and Orlando. Once the Bucks get past those contests, though, the path starts to get a little clearer. No game is a gimme for the Bucks, but January should be a lot friendlier to the Bucks than December was. As long as the Bucks stick to their resolutions longer than the three weeks most people last in the gym, they should be in good shape.
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.