Are you a child age 6-18? Are you a casual basketball fan that wants your team to play better in NBA 2K13 than it will in reality? If so, the current iteration of the Milwaukee Bucks is for you. The Bucks promise to (1) play at fast pace, (2) produce eye-popping highlights on a semi-nightly basis and (3) lose about half their games. If that third promise doesn’t bother you, I invite you to click over to a Bucks game every once and a while.
Milwaukee can’t really fail this year. They are loaded with mid-level talents and fringe starters. Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis will score a lot of points and use up a lot of possessions. The combination won’t ever emerge as a clearly unworkable formula – there will be too many 20-point nights for each guy – but under the surface of the box score stats there will always be reminders that the duo is far from dynamic . Highlight plays should come with the weight loss infomercial disclaimer at the bottom: these results are not typical. If you don’t understand or appreciate concepts like true shooting percentage, effective field goal percentage and team offensive efficiency, the Bucks are definitely for you.
Milwaukee can’t really succeed this year. They have no star player. Mike Dunleavy, Beno Udrih, Ekpe Udoh, John Henson, Larry Sanders and Tobias Harris will make the reserve unit better than the competition on most nights, but those guys could also crack the starting rotation and be a part of a front line quintet that can’t build leads against other NBA starters.
The Bucks say they boast great depth. I say they don’t have anyone good enough to draw a clear line of demarcation between starter and role player. Ersan Ilyasova might be the best big man on the roster, but he’s coming off a year where he boosted his offensive stats by shooting an absurd 50.8 percent (32-63) from beyond the arc over the final 28 games – the regression monster is likely coming for him.
The Bucks’ offense won’t be as good as you think. Spacing issues are going to emerge when Milwaukee is forced to play half-court basketball. They have exactly zero proven post threats (although Tobias Harris may become one), and Mike Dunleavy is the only consistently effective three-point shooter on the roster. As I wrote during the offseason, the Bucks figure to struggle with the three ball, which is a big deal -- of the 50 teams that have finished in the top-10 for offensive efficiency over the last five seasons, only four have converted less than 34.4% of their threes.
For Milwaukee to exceed expectations, they will need a big year from the defense. Jennings and Ellis aren’t going to shut down anyone on the perimeter, but Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ekpe Udoh and Samuel Dalembert will be waiting in the paint to swat away shots and alter angles for opponents. Those wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men should be able to impact the game from inside the paint, but it remains to be seen if those guys can hold their positions and grab rebounds after forcing misses. The defense should be able to create better opportunities for the offense, and if it happens on a nightly basis the Bucks could still play in the postseason.
This is a do-or-die season for the Bucks -- even though the practical aim is a slot as the seventh or eighth-seed in the Eastern Conference. Lame duck leadership will command a partially lame duck roster. Scott Skiles and general manager John Hammond are in the final years of their contracts, and veterans Mike Dunleavy, Beno Udrih and Samuel Dalembert are all playing out the season with one year remaining on their deals. Monta Ellis is expected to exercise his opt-out in the summer and Brandon Jennings could be headed to restricted free agency next year.
Even if everything goes exactly right for Milwaukee this season, there is no hope of holding the squad together for the long-term. These are things that don’t typically bother children ages 6-18 years old or casual basketball fans that want their team to play better in NBA 2K13 than in reality. The rest of us are probably in for a bumpy ride.
Follow Steve von Horn on Twitter at @stevevonhorn.