If either a Bucks or Pistons fan pulled a Rip Van Winkle after the 2012-13 season, and just woke up now, they could probably be forgiven for not knowing which roster to root for. Both rosters have experienced an abundance of turnover the past couple of years, with Ersan Ilyasova, Brandon Jennings, Kris Middleton and Greg Monroe actually switching sides.
Jennings is still idled by the Achilles injury he suffered the last time these two teams played for keeps – a 101-86 Milwaukee victory on Jan. 24. (Since then another former Piston, Brandon Knight, has moved on to sunny Arizona.) But Ilyasova has taken on the starting job for Detroit at power forward that Monroe previously held, and is the team’s best 3-point marksman at .458. Monroe now mans the middle for the Bucks, and Middleton starts at shooting guard. Both players signed big contracts this past summer, so they will probably make their home in Wisconsin for the foreseeable future.
Frank Madden is the Managing Editor at Brew Hoop, and he graciously answered the following questions for us:
1. The Bucks are off to a rough start (5-8), and the biggest surprise is that their defense, expected to be a strength like last season, is currently rated 30th. What's going on?
That's the biggest question facing the Bucks right now, and I'm not sure there's a straight-forward answer -- or at least one that points to a clear solution. Among other things, they've been horrendous on the defensive boards (if Andre Drummond ever wanted to grab 30 rebounds, it's tonight), allowed opponents to shoot a high percentage from three, conceded a higher percentage inside the arc, and forced fewer turnovers than a year ago. Teams seem to be using ball swings and skip passes to take advantage of the Bucks' vulnerabilities on the weak side, and with a number of new pieces thrown into the mix they haven't been as cohesive as a year ago. That's spelled disaster thus far, though it's likely that their rotations continue to improve. They also can't rebound this poorly all season -- they're almost 5% worse than the 29th ranked team, which doesn't seem sustainable given they were about 5% better a year ago with comparable personnel. I certainly expect they'll improve, but the big concern is that opponents have figured out the gimmicks they used a year ago.
2. How is Greg Monroe fitting in? Has he played about how you expected?
He's been pretty much as advertised. He's scoring effectively from the block, passing well from the high post, and is seemingly the only competent defensive rebounder on the roster. Defensively, he started slowly along with the rest of the team, though the Bucks have actually been much worse defensively when John Henson has been on the court. My biggest concern is that while the Bucks have been very effective establishing him in first quarters, teams seem to make adjustments and crowd him more effectively as games go on.
3. Jabari Parker is back. How has he played so far? Going forward, how do you see his role meshing with that of Giannis Antetokounmpo?
He definitely had a feeling-out period initially -- the "just happy to be on the court" period seemed to last about a week -- but the good news is that a) he's now starting to make the sort of explosive plays around the hoop that made him so effective a year ago and b) his defensive positioning and awareness have generally been much better than a year ago (when they were rather poor). He's thrown down a number of highlight reel dunks over the past 10 days, and his 73% finishing rate at the rim speaks to the fact that he's getting past the physical and mental hurdles that come with a major knee injury. While he's been a good shooter throughout high school and college, he's shown zero interest in three pointers thus far, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand it's nice to see him aggressively looking to put pressure on defenses, but he's also going to need that shot at some point -- and he's chucked up his share of contested long twos as well.
Still, he's remained a fairly low usage guy thus far, and so hopefully the Bucks can start to involve him more directly in the offense going forward. The Bucks have played at a very slow pace with Jabari on the court thus far, though there have been signs of them pushing the tempo more with MCW, Giannis and Jabari over the past couple games. He's also added little in terms of rebounding, which has obviously compounded the Bucks' overall struggles on the boards. Still, my biggest worry with Jabari in the short term is health -- he's till just 11 months removed from major knee surgery and provided a scare last week when he missed a game with foot soreness. He came back to play 30 minutes in Cleveland, and his minutes will continue to be something to watch in the coming weeks and months.
As far as Jabari and Giannis go, I like their fit long-term, though it would obviously help if one or both of them could become more consistent threats from deep. They're fairly interchangeable in terms of position, with Giannis the more versatile defender who typically handles an opponent's best player. Playing with Middleton and MCW further helps the Bucks ability to switch, as all of them can move their feet well.
4. Bucks do not shoot a lot of threes (26th), but they are making .368 (6th). How do you see the team building on this bright spot?
No starting five has less interest in shooting threes than the Bucks', which is both reflective of their style and also rather frustrating. For instance, it seems like they go out of their way to get Khris Middleton touches on the block and off screens inside the arc, which has underutilized his terrific shooting ability outside of the arc -- not to mention the fact that defenses can sag on Middleton since he's the only perimeter threat in the starting five. After hitting 52% on corner threes last year, his share of threes from the corners has fallen form 40% to 15%, and he's struggled inside the arc despite hitting 41% of his threes overall.
Otherwise I'm not sure there's much hope MCW ever becomes more than a vaguely passable perimeter shooter -- he's hit a third of his threes this year, but that's not terribly impressive considering how much teams help off him. Giannis has shot the same rate and has looked improved from the corners (4/6), though that's still a process for him. Either way, I have much more confidence in Giannis and Jabari becoming solid three point shooters than MCW.
That leaves the bench to be the ones who stretch the floor, with Jerryd Bayless, O.J. Mayo and Greivis Vasquez the only rotation guys other than Middleton willing to put up threes with any real volume. Chris Copeland and Rashad Vaughn aren't bashful either, though they haven't found a way to crack Kidd's rotation thus far. The weird part is that the Bucks offense has been improved even without much shooting from deep. Entering the Indy game they were 11th in offensive efficiency, though a horrendous second half saw them plummet all the way to 21st.