Similar to last Friday’s preview for the Wolves-Blazers game, the preview for this Friday’s game against Milwaukee is done in collaboration with Alex Skov who covers the Bucks for BehindtheBuckPass.com. We’ve each come up with a couple of questions on the opposition to get the thoughts and analysis from someone that lives and breathes their respective team.
The Pups come into Friday’s game having lost six of their last seven including in their last game Wednesday night against the Clippers. This loss moved their record to 6-8 on the season. Despite leading the Central division with a 7-6 record, the Bucks come into Friday’s game in a similar position over the last week or so, losing four of their last five, including a home loss Wednesday night against the Knicks. The Bucks got virtually nothing out of their frontcourt on Wednesday and might struggle to do the same Friday against the Wolves. Conversely, you may also see Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis combine for 75 points against the Pups.
Let’s call this a toss-up and move immediately into the Q&A.
Bucks Question #1 for Alex Skov:
How has the backcourt of Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis come together thus far this season? With the addition of Ellis, does that make Jennings more expendable, given his lack of a new contract and impending restricted free agency?
Jennings and Ellis played more than 20 games together last season, but didn’t have ample time to coalesce as a duo because of the timing of the trade that landed Ellis in Milwaukee. We should expect better results after a full offseason together, right? Well, yeah, but they’re the same two individuals they have been since entering the league. Both are undersized and, even though Ellis’ 3.5 steals per game, they are still liabilities on defense.
Some of this can be attributed to their smaller statures, but Monta couldn’t handle Rip Hamilton earlier this week in either of the Bucks’ two games against the Bulls. Rip. Hamilton. The guy owns NCAA and NBA championships and he’s done more to popularize full-coverage facemasks than anyone outside of the Halloween movie franchise, but Hamilton is also older than Ellis by seven years and eight months. Monta should be able to keep up.
Ellis’ early season struggles (19-58 shooting through the first three games; 33 turnovers through 11 games) certainly could be taking a while to wear off and thus affecting all aspects of his game, but we’ll have a better picture of what he and Jennings can do together if/when things clear up for him.
Neither of these guards shoot the three very well and both have shoot-first mindsets more often than not. Such similar approaches do not complement each other. However, they find ways to score and keep the Bucks in games that way, plus Jennings is making a concentrated effort to find teammates more often this far along.
As far as any talk of Ellis making Jennings expendable, that’s not the case at all. Ellis will be an unrestricted free agent next summer and early signs point to the Bucks letting him walk. The hope is Doron Lamb will be able to translate his three-point shooting and off-ball capabilities to the NBA game within that time. Jennings has a lot riding on this season and is expected to see offers in the $9-10 million per year range when this season ends and he’s a restricted free agent. That number could deviate depending on performance, but I would expect Milwaukee to match anything short of an offer sheet like the one that landed Jeremy Lin in Houston. That would leave it up to Jennings to trust a franchise whose head coach and general manager have caught flack in the recent past. The Bucks are on a trajectory to make the playoffs for the first time since Jennings’ rookie year and that’s an experience that does wonders for a small market team trying to keep young talent. Wilder things have happened.
Pups Question #1 for John and Big Al:
To put it mildly, Ersan Ilyasova has been less than stellar for the majority of this season and Kevin Love came back strong in his surprise return against Denver last week. Love should win that one-on-one match-up barring an end to Ily’s slump, but John Henson started at PF on Monday. How will Love deal with defensive rotations by the long Henson-Ekpe Udoh-Larry Sanders-(and to a lesser extent) Samuel Dalembert front court? How will he handle it when some combination of Henson-Udoh-Sanders takes the court at the same time (something Bucks fans are coming to appreciate more and more)?
One thing that I’ve come to learn about Kevin Love is that no matter who guards him and what the matchup looks like, he finds a way to get his. While he has struggled in his return thus far in terms of shooting percentage (39%), Love will get his points from all over the floor. With the longer lineup he is likely to see against the Bucks, I expect Love to start an even greater percentage of his moves in a facing up position and trying to drive against these guys, lowering/throwing a shoulder into them to create separation. If he can get his jumper going, including his three point range which has been off so far, this will take them out of the paint and create some opportunities for cutters and Pekovic down low. From a rebounding perspective, again, Love will get his. Fundamentally, he’s probably the best rebounder the league has seen since Dennis Rodman and knows where to be and when.
Conversely, I am a little concerned about what Milwaukee might be able to do with their length while on offense against Minnesota. Love plays a solid man to man defense but does not block shots and struggles mightily on help defense. Milwaukee should be able to post up Love in the paint and then run cuts all day from their wing and PG positions for potential layups. The Bucks big men will be able to see over him and hit their open teammates on the cuts, which could also lead to early foul trouble for the Wolves’ starting front line.
Over the course of the past year, the Bucks have fundamentally changed the dynamic of their frontcourt, turning it from weakness to strength. Udoh, Henson, Sanders and Dalembert are all perfect fits for Scott Skiles’ defensive scheming, and they have produced immediate returns for Milwaukee already this season. Kevin Love, who seems to defy nature in the way he scores and rebounds, usually has a tougher time against longer, athletic bigs due to his lack of elite leaping ability. With that said, Love has established the hook shot as his bread and butter in the low post, and does an excellent job positioning his body in ways that inhibit even the best shot-blockers from getting a piece of the ball. K-Love has a bevvy of moves around the rim designed to get impatient shot-blockers in the air, which has contributed to his fantastic rates of getting to the free throw line spanning the past few seasons.
Another point regarding Love is his ability to stretch the floor by knocking down threes, and if he can get hot from beyond the arc it may make it tough for Milwaukee to put Udoh, Henson, or Sanders on him. Because of the lack of strength in Love’s wrist, he has been unable to properly get into a shooting rhythm from three this season which has made him relatively easier to guard for opposing defenders. Milwaukee’s interior will need to focus on not biting at Love’s ball fakes if they are to have a chance at effectively shutting him down, and they definitely pose quite an obstacle.
Bucks Question #2 for Alex Skov:
The Wolves need to find a wing player to fill Brandon Roy’s absence and last year’s #2 pick, Derrick Williams, is the team’s likely asset in the mix. I drew up a number of scenarios a few weeks ago and one of them was the following with the Bucks – Derrick Williams and Malcolm Lee for Mike Dunleavy and Doron Lamb. As a Bucks fan would you be for or against this trade? What if it included some type of pick package that, in large, benefitted the Wolves (i.e. a pick itself, the ability to swap in the draft, etc.)?
All anyone really needs to know about Derrick Williams is that he dunked all over Duke during the NCAA tourney in 2011 and that it was great. Fond memories aside, there’s no way I would co-sign a trade structured in any of those ways. Williams and Lee are still young and have plenty of time to develop, but the Bucks don’t have a large enough sample size to give up on Lamb yet. On top of that, Dunleavy is a veteran leader off the bench who functions primarily as a guard despite a “G/F” designation that could be an intern’s idea of a joke about Internet slang from the mid-2000s.
With a squad already thin in the back court — and Jennings and Lamb both suffering minor injuries before this week — I wouldn’t import a tweener forward like Williams into an already burgeoning front court. It would be Rookie Year 2.0 for him in a front court with limited minutes available. As for Lee, he owns a negative Win Shares per 48 statistic (-0.011 against a league-average of .100) and a well-below-average Player Efficiency Rating of 4.9 in this young season despite seeing an increased role. He has to step up before becoming anything more than supplementary trade bait, which is, at best, what he is in this scenario.
An unencumbered draft pick is the most tempting asset on the trade block here, even if it’s a second-rounder, although it still isn’t enough to even the scales. Swapping picks may be a push. The Bucks are destined to land either just outside the frame of the playoff picture or snag a low seed. Minnesota is in a similar situation in the more competitive Western Conference. Five game losing streaks aside, Love (and Rubio when he returns) should be able to play the Timberwolves into Milwaukee’s vicinity in the draft order.
It kind of boils down to this though – if Minnesota or any other team wants to trade with the Bucks this season, Drew Gooden has to pack his bags.
Pups Question #2 for John and Big Al:
The Timberwolves are 27th in the league in points per game (92.3 ppg). Why? Is the answer as simple as Rubio’s absence necessitating an inside-out offense or not being able to collectively make up for Kevin Love’s production when he was injured? Would Michael Beasley’s bench scoring be a welcome return, as erratic as he was during his time in Minnesota?
(Before addressing this question, let me just start with a “darn it” based on your response to the last question. The Pups are going to get .20 cents on the dollar for Williams.)
Minnesota’s lack of scoring is largely due to the offense they have been running in lieu of Love and Rubio being on the floor, and because of the rash of injuries they have sustained already. They are not an up-tempo team right now and are looking to win ugly. Adelman has shown an ability to get the most out of his players throughout each stop of his career and that’s what he is getting right now, particularly in the first 7-8 games of the season. The Wolves guard play has been putrid since the injuries to Roy and Budinger occurred. Adelman has been rolling out a Ridnour, Barea, Lee and Shved quartet which leaves a lot to be desired, particularly in the former three in this list.
Rubio would make everything easier on the offensive end, but the shooting woes that this team is enduring are not going to be solved by his return. They desperately need Budinger back (not due back until March) or to make a move for more depth. The recently signed Josh Howard is (or will be) a rotational player, but he isn’t going to be a sharpshooter from the outside. The Pups desperately need this to help spread the floor in their sets. You have to figure that Love will get his percentages back up there as his hand continues to recover from the injury, but the struggles from the rest of the team are worrisome.
The greatest thing to happen this past offseason for the Wolves was getting rid of the knuckleheads that were in the locker room last season. They don’t miss Beasley at all. What the team had been missing before Love’s return was a legitimate offensive option. However, they had a healthy lineup of wings that had someone stepping up each night and making plays. As the wings continued to go down to injury, they have lost the ability to make up for this on either side of the ball, despite Love’s return from the lineup.
The lack of scoring this season can largely be attributed to the large roster reconstruction that Minnesota undertook in the offseason, as they removed a few very good scorers in Beasley and Randolph while adding high-energy, defensively-focused players in Dante Cunningham, Greg Stiemsma, Andrei Kirilenko, and Lou Amundson. Although it appeared that the team was able to mesh immediately as shown by their 5-2 start, missing Love and Rubio is obviously enough to significantly hamper the team’s ability to score.
Last season, the Wolves witnessed multiple prolific scoring performances from Beasley, and he was at times an effective second unit scorer. However, his lackadaisical defense and lack of individual ambition made him a must go in the offseason, and while the team ultimately improved by replacing him with high-effort team players, the offensive capacity of the team was unquestionably going to take a hit. While the team is not scoring as much as last season, the way they are playing is vastly improved. The recent addition of Love will only drive up their offensive team statistics and the anticipated return of Rubio, in my opinion, will be the key to unlocking the keys to the Timberwolves offense. Getting Chase Budinger back would be nice, too…
Bucks Question #3 for Alex Skov:
Have Bucks fans talked themselves into the John Henson era? What’s the scouting report on Henson given his limited role thus far in the season? Should Wolves fans expect to see anything from Henson given their lineup of bruisers on the front line?
This is classic Small Sample Size Theatre, but I, for one, am geeked about what Henson could do for the team. K L Chouinard dug into Henson’s role in the forward forest last weekend, so he might be on-board too.
Henson’s average per 36 minutes played goes like this: 18.5 points on 50 percent shooting, 12.6 rebounds, 2.4 blocks and one steal. The line is buoyed by a 17-point, 18-board display in 27 minutes against the Miami Heat and doesn’t include an 18-points-in-19-minutes outing against the Bulls on Monday. This is precisely what gets a fan base excited for a rookie or reserve.
Still, there’s a reason Henson wasn’t a starter coming into the season. He’s lanky and was on a college campus until May. Ilyasova may be coming out of his funk and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is slated to return when the calendar turns to December, so Henson is not likely to play big minutes in the foreseeable future unless someone comes into foul trouble (looking at you, Larry) or loses minutes for poor play (Ersan, Dalembert: you’re both on notice).
The Wolves should get a peek at Henson, though; maybe around seven minutes’ worth of viewing time. He can finish at the hoop and stretch the floor unlike the rest of the Bucks’ big men outside of Ilyasova. Questions about his defense persist, but have more to do with being behind the curve on which Sanders and Udoh currently reside. Barring drastic changes, Henson won’t get enough PT to contend for Rookie of the Year, but he’s developing at a rate that will allow him to play starter’s minutes (whether he is actually a starter or not) next season if Dalembert leaves Milwaukee and Sanders or Udoh take over the starting center spot.
Pups Question #3 for John:
Luke Ridnour’s 13.3 percent turnover rate is exactly the kind of thing Brandon Jennings — the league’s steals leader — will capitalize on. The thing is, Alexey Shved has the ability to run the point and his statistics are actually better at PG than when he’s playing SG, according to 82games.com. The Timberwolves also perform better overall when he assumes the role over Ridnour. He doesn’t have extensive NBA experience, but why not give Shved a shot at running the show?
Adelman will need Shved to be a SG upon Rubio’s return and that is the position he is sticking him in now more often than not. He wants Shved to adjust to the sixth man role, which is what he will be playing sooner rather than later. This all makes sense to me and I find it hard to argue against Adelman on this one. At the same time, Shved isn’t ready to be a full time PG. He turns the ball over too much and is still learning the offense that Adelman wants to run.
However, I hope you will see Alexey with the ball in his hands a lot on Friday, with Luke or JJ on the floor at the same time. Prior to this week, Adelman had cut Alexey’s minutes (going with a Luke/JJ backcourt which was an unmitigated disaster) and that is hard to explain. Playing with one or the other, Shved is the team’s best option right now in my opinion and needs the minutes. There isn’t any reason to not have him playing at least 25 minutes a game given where the roster currently stands. Ridnour and JJ have been getting toasted on the defensive end of floor consistently. Malcolm Lee is an albatross as a starting SG in the NBA. Give Shved more playing time!
We hope you enjoyed the preview for this Friday’s match-up between the Pups and Bucks. Again, you can read more from Alex at BehindtheBucksPass.com and/or follow him on Twitter. You can read more from John on Timberpups.com and/or follow him on Twitter.