Most of those who have monitored the Milwaukee Bucks closely during the past year would agree that they got defensive on June 27 and 28.
And because they did, Head Coach Scott Skiles didn’t have to when he discussed what the organization accomplished on those two days.
On June 27, the team acquired 6 foot, 11 inch, 250-pound center Samuel Dalembert from the Houston Rockets along with the 14th pick in the next day’s 2012 National Basketball Association Draft in exchange for forwards Jon Leuer and Jon Brockman, guard Shaun Livingston and the 12th choice in the draft.
When their turn came up on the 14th and final selection of the draft lottery the following night, the Bucks snared 6-11, 216 forward John Henson from the University of North Carolina.
Then later that evening, Milwaukee chose 6-4, 210 guard Doron Lamb, a member of the University of Kentucky’s 2012 NCAA championship team.
The 31-year-old Dalmbert, a 10-year NBA veteran who played eight seasons for Philadelphia and one apiece for Sacramento and Houston, has averaged 8 points, 7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per outing over the span of 727 regular-season games and has shot .518 from the field.
Henson, 21, averaged 10.3 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 2.6 rpg in 109 games during his three seasons at UNC, including 13.7 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 2.9 bpg in the last of those three campains. He was named Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012 and shot .497 from the floor during his career in Chapel Hill.
The 2011-12 Bucks yielded 98.7 points per game. Only eight teams in the league gave up more.
So when Skiles was asked if the Bucks’ predraft trade and their first-round selection accomplished what they set out to do, his response was affirmative and strong.
“Absolutely,” Skiles said. “I’m very comfortable saying that.”
The Bucks were left without a natural center on their roster after Andrew Bogut suffered a left ankle fracture during a Jan. 26 game against Houston, ending his season. That game would be the last one Bogut would play for the Bucks -- he was traded March 13 along with Stephen Jackson to the Golden State Warriors in exchange for Monta Ellis, Ekpe Udoh and Kwame Brown.
Milwaukee’s interior defense was exploited after the trade, prompting the Bucks to trade and draft in an attempt to bolster it.
Skiles believes the moves will help accomplish that mission.
“With Dalembert, Larry (Sanders), Ekpe and now Henson … the guys who’ve already played in the league rank near the top in blocked shots per minute, and now we have another guy that can block shots,” Skiles said. “Henson’s a developing offensive player. He has great length. He can rebound or shot-block. We’re happy that he was there when we picked and we’re happy to have him. He’s another long, talented guy and you can’t have too many of those.
“It’s hard to picture scenarios where guys are going to be driving and laying the ball in the basket on us with those four guys I mentioned. Obviously you don’t want guys penetrating your defense anyway, but people do in the NBA. It should be a strength of our team. We should be one of the better shot-blocking teams.”
The acquisition of Dalembert, a proven, veteran center, was Milwaukee’s first offseason step in the right direction.
“Sam’s got a book on him,” Skiles said. “He’s got a career. He’s been able to stay healthy. We’ve talked about that. The things he can do, he does. He blocks shots, he protects the basket, he shoots the ball and he has a nice face-up game. He moves around the floor well.
“We need those things and we’re happy to have him.”
Skiles echoed General Manager John Hammond’s positive reviews of Henson’s game, some of which came after his predraft workout with the Bucks.
“Yeah, he did, but look, these guys (the members of the Bucks’ scouting and player personnel staffs) do a ton of work all year long. I also watch college games. So it’s not just the workout.
“John can face up and shoot. He’s one of those unique guys who’s right-handed and can do a lot of things with his left hand – shoot left-handed jump hooks, block shots with his left hand, things like that. Those guys who have the ability to use both hands normally develop as offensive players.
“I don’t mean to insinuate in any way that he’s broken as an offensive player; he’s not. There’s a bunch of things he can do. We just want to get him in here, get him working and see where he’s at.”
Skiles hopes his team – and especially guards Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis – reap the benefits of a defensive upgrade on the offensive end of the court.
“We played at a nice pace last year and we’d like to keep that up,” he said. “One of the things that prevented us from maybe even doing a little bit better was our ability to get stops and block shots.
“Brandon is a very, very good player, but he’s still a developing player. He’s getting better all the time. I just, more than anything, have him focus on himself and his own game. He’s an unselfish guy anyway. He’s coming. He’s going to get better.”
Skiles isn’t concerned about his team having a possible logjam at the “4” spot.
“You can’t have too many good players,” he said. “We’re trying to get good players anywhere we can, all over the floor. You just keep trying to get more. We had an opportunity, we felt like, to get a center, move back in the draft and maybe get the guy we wanted anyway. It worked out that way.
“I think it just kind of broke right for us. People were high on Henson. But things broke right. Guys fell to other teams who they didn’t think were going to be there, and it worked out. We’re very happy about that.”
Milwaukee’s depth chart at the “3” position could get interesting as well. Skiles was asked in the days following the draft where he thought second-year man Tobias Harris and veteran Mike Dunleavy might fit in best.
“Tobias is really, really working hard,” Skiles said. “He missed out on summer league last year. My prediction is he’s gonna have a great summer. We’ll see where’s at. He just turned 20 years old July 15. He’s a very, very good young player who works very hard.”
Dunleavy, whom the Bucks signed as a free agent Dec. 10, 2011, averaged 12.3 ppg in 26.3 minutes per game in his first season with Milwaukee. He shot .399 from 3-point range and .811 from the free-throw line in 55 games, coming off the bench in 52 of those.
“I said last year that ‘Nellie’ (Don Nelson, who was Skiles’ coach when he played for the Bucks in 1986-87) used to talk about Ricky Pierce and say he felt naked if Ricky wasn’t coming off the bench,” Skiles said. “I got to feeling that way about Mike.
“We could have started Mike, but I went to Mike and he said, ‘No, I’m comfortable there (coming off the bench).’ It’s comforting to know that he can play that role. It’ll work out however it works out.”
Skiles is enthused over the prospect of having all of his players getting in and working. Last summer’s lockout denied players and teams that opportunity.
“Larry’s been in, Ekpe’s been in … guys have been in, just like they were last year until the first of July, when that came to a screeching halt,” Skiles said. “The more the guys can be in our gym, go to Las Vegas for the summer league, take a little time off and come back in here, that’s how guys get better.”