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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings has his sights set on the All-Star team. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Good, bad or in-between? Depends which Bucks team shows up


Sitting in the doctor's office recently, someone asked me what I thought about an upcoming Milwaukee Bucks game. How would they do? Would they win?

I shrugged.

Depends, I said, which team shows up. After all, this is the team that struggles against the dregs of the NBA, with awful losses to the Charlotte Bobcats (4 points) Cleveland Cavaliers (12), New Orleans Hornets (21).

Of course, there was the hard fought overtime loss to the defending champion Miami Heat on the road earlier in the year followed up with 104-85 victory over the Heat at home on Saturday. There are the three impressive wins over the Boston Celtics, two wins over the division-leading Indiana Pacers and a thrilling comeback over the Chicago Bulls.

It would be too easy to deduce that the Bucks rise to the level of their competition based on such performances, but then there were the blowout losses to the Los Angeles Clippers (26), the Memphis Grizzlies (18 and 10 points), New York Knicks (14) and the San Antonio Spurs (11).

What are we to glean from that?

As we enter 2013 and the Bucks hit the 30-game mark tonight with a home contest against the Spurs, is this team nothing more than an entertaining collection of players destined for mediocrity? Is there something more? And if not, will this team be broken apart come the trade deadline on Feb. 21?

It's hard to say.

Larry Sanders is progressing at a more rapid rate now, but Tobias Harris has been stunted as he is just now returning from an unfortunate elbow injury.

Brandon Jennings is motivated to make the Eastern Conference All-Star team and earn a max-level deal on the restricted free agent market, yet at times he's been either matched or overshadowed by his opponents.

Rumor has it Monta Ellis will opt out of his contract and test the unrestricted free agent waters this offseason, so he, too, is motivated to play well. Yet he too struggles to make shots at the most inopportune times.

This team has created turnovers and blocked shots at an incredible rate, moving its defensive rating up to the top half of the league and providing a base of strength late in games. Yet at times will turn it over just as quickly and take bad shots, meaning the offense has slipped from the top of the league last year to near the bottom in offensive rating.

Not helping matters is that free agent signee Ersan Ilyasova has not backed up his impressive breakout season as yet, shooting 11 points lower from beyond the 3-point arc and 10 points lower altogether from the field. He is also averaging over three rebounds fewer per game.

With Ilyasova struggling and Harris sidelined, the Bucks have struggled to find a third and fourth option on offense after Jennings and Ellis, with only Mike Dunleavy averaging in double figures.

Perhaps all of that is the very definition of mediocrity, a team that will finish at or slightly above .500 with a handful of scintillating victories and terrible losses, leading to a playoff seed somewhere between four and six and a first round matchup with the likes of the Knicks or Atlanta Hawks.

Would that be a successful season in the eyes of owner Herb Kohl as he pushes harder for a new arena and opens the Bucks up for sale?

Would that signify enough progress to try and bring back general manager John Hammond and coach Scott Skiles?

Would it warrant the matching of a contract offer for Jennings, or perhaps building around Ellis instead?

Would such a first round matchup be a winnable one, leading to a lucrative second postseason series?

It all depends on which team shows up.


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