Bringing Back the Bucks
Success is buying into the system.
by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
The Bucks addressed last season’s scoring deficiencies in the offseason, but until recently, the team struggled to make offensive strides. The Bucks have grappled with a combination of new additions acclimating to the team, guys recovering from injuries and everyone flat out missing shots. But the shots will start to fall when everyone falls into place. And when the cylinders begin to click, the Bucks will show why they are better than their record.
The Bucks averaged less than 98 points per game last season and ranked second-to-last in field goal percentage at 43.6. Forward Corey Maggette, acquired from Golden State this offseason, is one of the new faces that will be counted on for a scoring punch. Recovering from off-season ankle surgery, Maggette is adjusting to a new team with a more conservative offense.
On the team’s start, Maggette says, “We actually have not been shooting the ball well at all, but we’ve been in games because of our defense.”
While the Bucks can’t continually score their way out of deficits like the Warriors, the team’s focus on defense has been a testament to not letting up on one end of the floor because things aren’t going their way on the other. “I think our defense is what drives us. We’re keeping teams in the 80s and 90s,” says center Andrew Bogut.
While the team’s defensive identity has remained largely intact from last season, the offense has been slow to improve. “It’s just one of those things where things are working in games, we’re just not making shots. Guys aren’t taking shots when they’re open… Guys just gotta take their shots when they’re open and be confident with them. I think if guys step up, knowing it’s their shot to take — no one’s gonna take them out if they miss it — they’ll be fine,” says Bogut.
Asked if guys are unsure of their roles, Bogut says, “Obviously, yeah. I think every NBA team’s probably going through the same thing cause when you bring in five or six new faces, guys are still kind of — even coaches are unsure of who to play where. So we’re still in that little honeymoon period where we’re trying to figure out each other and you know it’s not causing any negative effects for us. It’s just human nature — in the NBA and sports — is when you add new faces, you’re trying to figure out rotations and so on.”
Bogut is recovering from a horrific elbow injury he suffered in April after a breakout season. “It’s OK, it’s getting better, but it’s still a ways from 100 percent,” he says. While Bogut is playing while recovering, the Bucks won’t be able to show their true potential until they have their man in the middle back at full strength.
The Bucks lost five of their first seven games this season, averaging a league-worst 89.6 points on 39.9 percent shooting. The team surpassed their season average with 90 points through three quarters in a November 9 win against the Knicks.
The next night, the Bucks faced the Hawks and turned a 13-point deficit into a 30-point lead. The Bucks outscored Atlanta 67-33 in the second and third quarters combined on the way to a 108-91 victory.
Bucks coach Scott Skiles sees both progress and obvious shortcomings within the short season. He pointed to Atlanta’s 20-7 run to begin the game, which was not the start he wanted after the blowout win against the Knicks.
On Atlanta chipping away at the lead, Skiles says, “I understand it’s human nature, when you get that type of lead, to relax a little bit. But you know we have to battle that. I mean, you know one of the things we talked about in the timeout is we’re 3-5. We hadn’t won the game yet. If we’re relaxing out there, probably not a wise move. We need to keep working on our game. But back-to-back good performances, first time we’ve done that—had back-to-back solid performances.”
Guard John Salmons sees some of the team’s positives translating from practice to games. “Particularly our last practice,” he says, “we really focused in on the offensive end and trying to move the ball and I think it turned over to these last two games.”
“We still growing, just getting used to playing with each other,” says Salmons, “finding each other’s weaknesses and strengths and trying to play to everybody’s strengths, getting everybody involved. We got a lot of guys who can score the ball so we just gotta be able to move the ball and just find the open guy.”
Guard Brandon Jennings says if guys buy into the system “everybody will get their shots.” He adds, “We’re a really unselfish team. Last year, we were so successful because we were unselfish and a lot of great things were happening on the offensive end. I think, you know, it starts with me from being aggressive and making things happen and getting guys the ball at the right time.”
“Not a lot of NBA teams move the ball like we did last year… if we can do it again this year, hopefully we’ll be more successful,” says Jennings.
Asked if his experience in the Playoffs last season will be instrumental to his game this year, Jennings says, “Of course, ’cause now I know what I’m playing for every year and that’s to get to the Playoffs and get further and further.”
The Bucks look to pick up where they left off last season when success was largely the result of a system, not a superstar. So are the two big wins an indication of something beginning to work within the team? “When you make shots,” says Jennings, “everything clicks.” Winning has a way of working things out.