Unity takes Bucks up the charts, standings
Ellis, Udoh buy in quickly
“We were talking with Monta about what he could do and how he could help our team,” Bucks GM John Hammond said. “We just mentioned Ekpe’s name and right away he started telling us, ‘You guys got something special here. You guys got a heck of a player and a guy who's going to help this team win games. He might be the steal of this trade.’
When Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh met the Milwaukee media for the first time after being acquired by the Bucks from the Golden State Warriors, they spoke into separate microphones.
They shared many of the same, team-first perspectives, though, and since they joined the lineup March 16, they and their new teammates have, in turn, shared the basketball effectively.
In the process, they have collectively contributed toward the most-improved chemistry grade in the NBA from last season to this one.
When the Bucks throttled Cleveland 121-84 on March 30 – achieving their widest margin of victory since 2002 – they handed out 32 assists, clearing 30 for the fifth time in eight games since Ellis and Udoh came aboard. Their point total was their highest since Jan. 23 of 2010, when they rang up 127 in a victory over Minnesota.
Milwaukee, following its rout of Cleveland, ranked third in the NBA in assists per outing with 23.5, just one season after ranking dead in the league in that category with 18.8 a game.
One of the common threads Ellis and Udoh shared during their introductory press conference was a commitment to team. They have practiced what they preached since.
“We have looked at the roster and I think we fit in pretty well,” Ellis said when asked for his initial reaction to the trade. “I think with the team we have, first we have to try to get the eighth seed, then I think we can move up.
“We just have to go out and play together in whatever scheme Coach (Scott) Skiles has for us to fit in on this team. If we stick to it, I think we can make a big push at this."
Udoh expressed similar sentiments.
“I just want to come out and work hard, be there for my teammates on defense, get those blocked shots, get the crowd involved as well,” he said. “It’s about moving on defense, being there for my teammates, communicating ... that's really key. I’ll try to slide over and take a charge.
“Offensively I'm just going to continue to be aggressive and work after practice, then when it comes time for the game, put forth that effort.”
The Bucks have stepped up their scoring production as well as their assists since last season. They rank eighth in the NBA in scoring at 98.1 ppg after finishing last in that category last season at 91.9 ppg.
Part of the upgrade can be attributed to picking up the pace since Andrew Bogut – who went to Golden State in the trade – when down with a season-ending fractured bone in his left ankle during a Jan. 25 game against the Houston Rockets.
The team averaged 93.5 points per game in January, boosted its output to 96.7 ppg in February and to 105.6 ppg in March, aided by the additions of Ellis and Udoh to the mix March 16.
“Since Andrew went out, we have been playing at a more up-tempo pace, a faster style of play,” said Bucks General Manager John Hammond, seated between Ellis and Udoh as they met the Milwaukee media. “Obviously you add Monta to that. The other part of running is that you can't run without the ball. I think Ekpe's going to help us in that regard.
“We needed to increase and help our interior defense. This guy is going to be a really good goaltender for us. A guy who can protect the basket like that, I think will help us on the defensive end. If we’re getting stops, we can get out and run and push it. I would sure think it will be a fun and exciting style of play to watch. I hope our fans will enjoy it and hopefully some special wins come along with that.”
Hammond came away impressed following a discussion with Ellis that he had following the trade.
“We were talking with Monta about what he could do and how he could help our team,” Hammond said. “We just mentioned Ekpe’s name and right away he started telling us, ‘You guys got something special here. You guys got a heck of a player and a guy who's going to help this team win games. He might be the steal of this trade.’
“That told me a lot about Monta as a teammate. Here’s the old veteran -- and a veteran he is at just 26 years of age -- commenting about a young player like this. That’s a pretty good teammate.”
Ellis, who ranked eighth in the NBA in scoring at 24.1 ppg last season, battled through a shooting slump in his first few games in a Bucks uniform before breaking out with 33 points in a 108-111 home victory over the Atlanta Hawks on March 27 at the Bradley Center. He also accounted for a team-high eight assists.
“What we had to do was just get out and run,” Ellis said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who can get out and run, pass the ball and make shots. We’ve just got to keep doing that because it’ll open up things for everybody.
“I had just been going through a spell where my shot wasn’t going down. I’m glad I got out of that slump. My teammates did a great job of helping me get through it. Now I want to just build off of it.”
Udoh, who made his first Bucks start, tied a career high with 10 rebounds. He enjoyed being part of a much-needed victory and seeing Ellis play like the teammate he has always known.
“He just went out there and played like Monta Ellis tonight,” Udoh said. “That’s what he does.
“Adjusting to a new team can be tough, but look at the way we’ve been moving the ball around. Twenty-nine assists? We’ve just got to continue to do that. Monta’s going to get more and more comfortable and he’s going to have a lot more nights like this.”
Hopefully there will be plenty of Bucks fans watching to share in it all.