Plenty of Shots to go Around in Milwaukee
Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis are leading an offensive attack for the Bucks that has their team talking Playoffs.
by Brendan Bowers / @StepienRules
No team in the NBA has totaled more assists over the last 10 games than the Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings-led backcourt of the Milwaukee Bucks. The 5.4 assists per game that Ellis has dished out on a nightly basis since joining the Bucks, in combination with the 5.1 assists per game from Jennings in that time, has led to a League-leading average of 27.6 assists per game as a team during these last 10.
Milwaukee is currently scoring 105.9 points per game as a result, since making the move for Ellis, which is up from the 98.7 they’ve averaged on the season. The Bucks have gone 6-4 in the process too, and with New York’s late collapse at Indiana last night, they’ve stayed right on the heels of the Knicks for that eighth and final Playoff spot out East heading down this final stretch.
While most people wondered whether there’d be enough shots available to make the pairing of Jennings and Ellis in the same backcourt successful, it’s working out just fine so far.
“Playing alongside Monta has been working because he’s a willing passer, and I am also,” Jennings told SLAMonline. “So we’re just going to keep working together. It’s only been a few games, but it can only get better once we really get going.
“He gives us another scorer, a guy who can go out there and get points for us, and it takes a lot of pressure of myself”, Jennings noted. “But Monta’s also a distributor too, a guy who can score and pass, so he’s a guy defenses really have to focus on also.”
It is that ability to do both, according to Coach Scott Skiles, that has made his new backcourt a difficult one for teams to match-up with on a nightly basis right now.
“Monta plays, even though he’s scored the ball so well in his career, he plays somewhat like a point guard,” Skiles said. “When you put him in pick and rolls he’s going to make good decisions. He’ll come off the screener, move the ball to the other side of the floor, and he’s played a very unselfish game for us. Both guys have good quickness, both guys can score the ball, and both guys will give it up too.”
What the Bucks do also give up, in starting the 6-3 Ellis alongside the 6-1 Jennings, is size. But that quickness they each possess is something that’s forcing teams to adjust to them on the defensive end of the floor, as opposed to the other way around.
“It makes a lot of teams go small, the fact that we have me and Monta out there together,” Jennings said. “Right now, we’ve been playing without a true center too, with Drew Gooden playing center doing the best he can in that position, so we’ve been small ever since the trade. But adding Monta has made it harder for other teams, and hopefully that will continue.”
While the adjustment to his new team will get easier with the more games he plays in Milwaukee, Ellis says it’s been a pretty simple one to make thus far.
“It’s just simple basketball for me right now. I got two guys on me, that means the next person’s open,” Ellis told SLAMonline. “We got a lot of guys that can make shots, and make plays for others, so we’ve been having 30+ assists in games regularly since I’ve been here. There ain’t no need for me to break that up. I’m just going to continue to pass the ball, and with this offense, you’re going to get it back.”
“I’ve been watching his game for a minute,” Ellis added in regards to Jennings. “We both can find guys on the floor, so we don’t have to change our games much, just continue to do what we do. He don’t have to bring the ball down the floor all the time, I can do it, and he don’t have to run the pick and rolls all the time, he can spot up, and then vice versa.”
The two guards aren’t just opening things up for each other either. In the last three games, Ersan Ilyasova, a third-year player who will command a lot of attention as a free agent this offseason, has averaged 18.6 points per game as well. A number that is up from the 12.7 points per game he’s averaged on the season prior to Ellis’ arrival.
“They just adjusted to playing together really quickly,” said Ilyasova, a Most Improved Player of the Year candidate, in regards to Jennings and Ellis. “They’re both really good players, and adding Monta was a really good piece for us. Since he’s been here we’ve all been sharing the ball well and playing together as a team. We know the Knicks are a couple games in front of us right now, and we’re just trying to do everything we can to try and catch them.”
The Bucks do have an opportunity to catch New York at the moment too. After a home game tonight against the struggling Cavaliers, Milwaukee has two more winnable games on deck with Charlotte and Portland before playing Oklahoma City and then the Knicks on March 11.
The Knicks, who are currently two games up on Milwaukee, have dates with Orlando and then Chicago twice before matching up with the Bucks next week. But while Milwaukee considers the Playoffs a very real possibility right now, it’s still a one game at a time situation, according to Ellis.
“We just gotta continue to play together, and play hard,” he said. “We need to take it game by game, handle our business, and everything else will play itself out.”