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Ekpe Udoh has been a pleasant surprise for the Bucks this season. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi)

Udoh playing key role for Bucks

ST. FRANCIS – At the outset of training camp, Milwaukee Bucks head coach Scott Skiles insisted the minute distribution between the seven big men general manager John Hammond collected would work itself out.

Such has been the case 10 games into the season as Skiles has complimented his backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis with the young legs of Larry Sanders (24.1 minutes per game), Ersan Ilyasova (23.1) and Ekpe Udoh (21.1).

Of the three, Udoh's heavy involvement in Skiles' rotation might seem most surprising.

Yet for the better part of the last year, Bucks management has insisted they would not have traded Andrew Bogut to the Golden State Warriors if Udoh wasn't coming along with Ellis. To Hammond and Skiles, it wasn't just about salary matching, and it took a bit of convincing for the Warriors to give up on the sixth overall pick of the 2010 draft.

"We wouldn't have done it without him," Skiles said. "It's not because we're trying to compare him to anybody else. We felt he was a quality big player that could help us and that's turned out to be true so far for sure. And he helped us last year. He's not just another big guy but somebody that we liked, we liked him in the draft when we came out and it made sense."

Udoh, 25, may have a limited offensive ceiling – he is averaging 4.9 points this year – but the fast pace set by his guards fits what he can do well in terms of filling the lane and sealing off defenders for his teammates to get to the basket.

"It's coming along," Udoh said of his offense. "Just being around each other, being in practice, knowing what we're going to do with different players on the team. Some games we're starting to touch the ball in the post and scoring, so you have to keep working on that and keep getting better."

What has also helped is the fact that every day in practice he is going up against defensive-minded big men like himself in Sanders, Joel Przybilla and Samuel Dalembert.

"Oh, it's tough," Udoh said with a smile. "Even offensively, they're big guys. We're going to face that with (Portland's) LaMarcus Aldridge's of the league. We're going to face that. But it also gives us some confidence if you can go and get a shot up on 'em and score."

To Skiles, there is little surprise in Udoh's development on the offensive end, even if the numbers don't jump off the stat sheet. The veteran coach was happy with the way Udoh played last year as his 36-minute averages were a solid 10.1 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.

"He's got good post moves," Skiles said. "He's still working on kind of finishing those shots. But he also does a nice job down there – he screens, he rolls, he can move around the floor, he can put the ball down and make some dribble-handoff plays and things like that help facilitate the offense for other guys."

Make no mistake, Udoh's primary contributions to the Bucks this season will come on the defensive end, which is another reason why he is seeing so much playing time. Because for as quickly as the Bucks like to move offensively, they play just as aggressively on the other end.

"His main strength is keeping the defense organized," Skiles said. "He can block shots of course, but that's obvious to anybody watching the game. What's not so obvious, unless you know what we're trying to do, what he's really doing on the defensive end. He plugs a lot of holes. He's always in the right spot."

The guards set the tone, trying to contain their man enough for a steal or to funnel them to the paint area for a potential blocked shot. Yet Udoh is quick enough to get out of the paint and create problems there as well.

"This year I'm blocking shots like I normally do but being there defensively is always big, I alter shots or am just there on pick-and-roll coverage," he said. "You always have to do know that stuff."

Udoh's understanding of his role in that regard has been noticed and appreciated by Skiles, which has helped the coach set his rotation fairly early in the season and breed some consistency on both ends of the floor.

"There are all kinds of ways a guy can improve and yet still know who he is and stay true to what he brings to the team," Skiles said. "He's been very good so far. Very good."


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