Playoff Contention: Milwaukee Bucks
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Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings may take all the shots, but Larry Sanders is what makes the Bucks go, playing an elite brand of defense for a franchise that has been known to play it from time to time again. Sanders, who averages a league-leading 3.05 blocks per game, and the Bucks have a 98.6 defensive rating when the 6-11 second-year vet is on the floor. You'll most often see Sanders playing alongside two of his three forward cohorts who know how to complement him on the defensive end (post defender Ersan Ilyasova, perimeter defender Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and the talkative coach on the floor Mike Dunleavy). Despite playing with a backcourt that is the smallest you'll see outside of March Madness, Milwaukee is an above-average defensive squad, ranking 12th in efficiency on D with 102.3 points allowed per 100 possessions. On offense, the Bucks are subpar, ranking 21st with a 100.8 offensive rating, mainly because they have two guards who can get their shot off at anytime, and because of that, often take bad shots (Ellis' .445 true shooting percentage, Jennings' .466 TSP). That is why sixth-man extraordinaire J.J. Redick was brought in a month ago to clean the shooting up a bit. Redick has a reliable arsenal (.588 TSP) that can keep defenses honest. Someone has to do it. Otherwise, Ilyasova and Dunleavy are their only efficient offensive threats.
There are so many intriguing ways to tackle this category. Let's start with guards Brandon Jennings, Monta Ellis and new acquisition J.J. Redick, who came from Orlando at the trading deadline just over a month ago. First off, the three-guard lineup hasn't worked so well (-4.1 net rating in 144 minutes), playing most often with big men Larry Sanders and Ersan Ilyasova for a total of 58 minutes and a net rating of -4.7. That said, the Bucks have been playing better with Redick on the court (-0.5 net, +4.9 on/off) and much better when Redick plays with Ellis (+1.3 net rating in 290 minutes) than Jennings (-4.8 in 265 minutes). In fact, that Redick-Ellis combo in limited time has played better than the old Ellis-Jennings standard (-1.9 in 2078 minutes), which may affect Jennings' restricted free agency status this summer. The Bucks' go-to lineup in 2012-13 features Ellis and Jennings playing with Sanders, Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute. In a team-high 379 minutes together, that quintet has a good +7.3 net rating (103.5 offensive, 96.3 defensive). Since the trade, in limited time together (32 minutes), Redick has played well with that defensive-oriented unit, subbing in for Jennings while Dunleavy subs in for Mbah a Moute. However, the trio of bigs that is most tried and true as a unit is Sanders, Ilyasova and Mbah a Moute, who have a +9.9 net rating (105.3 offensive, 95.4 defensive) in 417 minutes together.
THE 5,000 MINUTE RULE
We have this theory about The 5,000 Minute Rule, and quite frankly, the Bucks are lacking in that chemistry department, with only Jennings (9965), Mbah a Moute (8382) and Ilyasova (7836) meeting the 5G criteria. Ellis (3328), Sanders (3159) and Dunleavy (3037) are likely still another year away from making the Bucks more of a cohesive playoff threat.
LORD OF THE RINGS
Nobody on this squad has a ring, although J.J. Redick and Marquis Daniels have played as backups in a championship series (Redick played 65 minutes in four games for the Orlando Magic at the 2009 NBA Finals and Daniels played 53 minutes in six games for the Dallas Mavericks at the 2006 NBA Finals).
Neither Hollinger Playoff Odds or Basketball-Reference give the Bucks a chance of winning an NBA championship, but both give them a minute possibility of reaching the 2013 NBA Finals (0.6 and 0.2 percent, respectively).
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C Larry Sanders: 61 games, 27.0 mpg, 9.2 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 18.5 PER, +1.9 Net, +6.7 On/Off
C Samuel Dalembert: 43 games, 16.7 mpg, 6.9 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 18.8 PER, -6.3 Net, -6.2 On/Off
C Gustavo Ayon: 49 games, 12.9 mpg, 3.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 13.0 PER, +20.7 Net, +25.5 On/Off
C Joel Przybilla: 12 games, 5.7 mpg, 0.2 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 3.4 PER, -36.3 Net, -37.0 On/Off
PF Ersan Ilyasova: 61 games, 27.0 mpg, 12.5 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 18.0 PER, +0.1 Net, +3.1 On/Off
PF Ekpe Udoh: 65 games, 17.3 mpg, 4.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 11.5 PER, -1.9 Net, -0.7 On/Off
PF John Henson: 54 games, 11.8 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 17.1 PER, -2.8 Net, -1.7 On/Off
PF Drew Gooden: 15 games, 9.9 mpg, 3.4 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 8.1 PER, -5.7 Net, -4.4 On/Off
SF Mike Dunleavy: 61 games, 26.1 mpg, 10.6 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 13.9 PER, +0.3 Net, +3.4 On/Off
SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute: 46 games, 24.4 mpg, 7.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 9.8 PER, +1.2 Net, +4.0 On/Off
SF Marquis Daniels: 47 games, 17.7 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 9.8 PER, -4.1 Net, -3.5 On/Off
SG Monta Ellis: 68 games, 37.9 mpg, 19.4 ppg, 5.8 apg, 16.2 PER, -0.6 Net, +3.8 On/Off
SG J.J. Redick: 64 games, 30.7 mpg, 14.6 ppg, 4.0 apg, 15.7 PER, -0.5 Net, +4.9 On/Off
PG Brandon Jennings: 68 games, 37.5 mpg, 18.1 ppg, 6.8 apg, 16.4 PER, -3.3 Net, -8.3 On/Off
PG Ish Smith: 42 games, 9.4 mpg, 2.1 ppg, 1.4 apg, 7.5 PER, +8.6 Net, +11.9 On/Off
2011-12 GONE BUCKS (.470)
SG Carlos Delfino: 54 games, 28.5 mpg, 9.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 11.7 PER, -6.3 Net, -10.3 On/Off
PG Shaun Livingston: 58 games, 18.8 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 2.1 apg, 11.0 PER, -3.8 Net, -3.7 On/Off
PG Beno Udrih: 59 games, 18.3 mpg, 5.9 ppg, 3.8 pg, 13.1 PER, +10.1 Net, +6.8 On/Off
PF Jon Leuer: 46 games, 12.1 mpg, 4.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 15.3 PER, +0.2 Net, -6.4 On/Off
SF Tobias Harris: 42 games, 11.4 mpg, 5.0 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 14.2 PER, -0.6 Net, -5.6 On/Off
PF Jon Brockman: 35 games, 6.8 mpg, 1.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 6.6 PER, -0.3 Net, +0.3 On/Off