This is our contribution to the 2010 NBA Blog Previews run by Jeff over at the very excellent Celtics Blog. With the big Aussie anchoring the middle in All-NBA form, it seemed kind of obvious for us to write a Bucks preview this time round.

Every season there’s always a ‘sleeper’ that pops up out of nowhere to snare a playoff seed; ultimately scaring the pants off its more fancied opponent while tickling the balls of its own fan base. Some have even overachieved.

In 2007, it was the Golden State Warriors who did a Denver Nuggets of ’94 and knocked the number 1 seeded Dallas Mavericks out of the picture. In ’08, the Atlanta Hawks put a blowtorch to the Boston Celtics with the latter scraping home in game 7. In ‘09, the Celtics were again stretched to the decider by a young, exciting Chicago Bulls outfit with the names of Rose and Noah. With ‘young’ being the key word, last season an undermanned, yet youthfully-exuberate Milwaukee Bucks almost caused the upset of the playoffs by taking Atlanta to seven. Undermanned in the sense the Bucks were without their spiritual leader in Michael Redd and perhaps their best player in center Andrew Bogut.

To use a footy-ism, the Bucks ticked a lot of boxes on their way to the post-season, but with that come expectations of further improvement and sustainability. Neither of which head coach Scott Skiles will get a read on until the first few months of the season play out. Perhaps that is their best hand in the deck right now, the card of ‘unpredictability’. So where these Bucks end up at the tail end of 2011 will depend largely on its health and chemistry, which will once again be tested with new names coming in.

1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?

Corey Maggette was brought in via trade at the expense of guard Charlie Bell and center Dan Gadzuric. Maggette is a slashing, streaky scorer at best who gives Milwaukee a third or fourth option in the offense, but not particularly inspiring at the defensive end. Is Maggette willing to make those sacrifices? Or will he be another one season and go player? A re-inked Salmons, coupled with Maggette’s signing, along with the acquisition of second-year swingman Jon Brockman from Sacramento, the impending return of Redd, guard Chris Douglas-Roberts and the development of Carlos Delfino all spells ‘top-heavy’ in the two-guard/small forward sweepstakes. A surefire minutes headache for Coach Skiles.

The signing of forward Drew Gooden for 5-years and $32 million also reeks of future cap migraines for Bucks management. If Gooden couldn’t get the Orlando Magic or the Cleveland Cavaliers over the hump several years ago, it’s highly unlikely he’ll do it now. The smart money says he’ll be insurance given Kurt Thomas’ departure, Bogut’s health and the fact the free agent market was light on decent tall timber. Gooden will rebound, defend and chew up minutes, but expect nothing more. The player that should be making inroads into a regular starting 4 in the rotation is the athletic Ersan Ilyasova, who was a standout at the FIBA World Championships this year with Turkey and was a pleasant surprise last season in his return to Milwaukee. It appeared his developmental run in Europe two years back rounded out his game nicely and if his play at the WC was any indication, forward Luc Mbah a Moute will have his minutes severely altered. Guards Earl Boykins and Keyon Dooling inject much speed and experience into the backcourt which may work out well given Jennings is still working his way at NBA level. Both will split the time nicely playing second and third fiddle.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?

The Jennings/Bogut duo. Jennings, who after spending a year in Europe, was able to slot in comfortably last season as the Bucks cornerstone for the future at perhaps the toughest position to fill in the NBA. The highlight obviously, the 55-points he dropped on Golden State back in November of ’09. More importantly, Jennings played all 82 games and hauled in honest averages of 15ppg-6apg-4rpg. For a 21-year-old with great court vision, handle and speed, you’d take that any day. What also went right was the emergence (pre-injury) of Bogut, who boasted last season all-star stats of 15ppg and 10rpg. How he was overlooked for that game was downright ridiculous. He was also second in the league at almost three blocks a night behind Dwight Howard. Provided Redd doesn’t pass on his injury bug and if neither of these two consider LeBroning the franchise, Jennings and Bogut are undoubtedly the present and future pillars of where Milwaukee stands to be in 4-5 years time.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?

Lack of big-man depth is arguably the Bucks biggest concern, especially noticeable when Bogut was injured last season. The Bucks are incredibly reliant on Bogut for their interior scoring and defense, and nothing they did in the off season served to lessen this reliance. Inconsistency at the offensive end is another concern. The Bucks don’t necessarily know where they’re going to get their points from, which is fine because they don’t score a lot of points. But they’re offense needs to be better structured and more potent. The addition of Maggette won’t magically solve this – I think back to the Spurs adding Richard Jefferson last season hoping to do the same thing. It all comes down to chemistry and how willing everyone is to buy into Skiles’ system.

4. What are the goals for this team?

On the whole, Milwaukee has a promising roster to work with and Scott Skiles will no doubt extract the best from an albeit limited bunch. Development and chemistry are the areas most pressing for the Bucks this year with its young talent. No doubt they’ll be exciting to watch and will take a few scalps along the 82 game schedule. But after a lackluster job to upgrade the supporting cast in the 2010 free agent circus, Milwaukee will simply charade as animal carcasses to the monsters at the upper end of the Eastern conference. That may sound brutal but its true. Their goal will be to make playoffs, and winning a playoff series would be an absolute dream. Anything more is fools gold.

5. What to do with Michael Redd?

A few years ago Michael Redd was one of the stars of the league, and an undisputed ‘franchise player’. Yet last season the Bucks franchise moved ahead in leaps and bounds without him. The gun-slinging Redd won’t see action at least until February next year as he recovers from his second knee op. The big question for Milwaukee right now is whether Redd’s $18 million in his final year is worth dangling at the trade table for future gains? If he does return healthy, how then do the Bucks work him into the rotation with re-signed swingman John Salmons? His 5-years and $40 million at last season’s 15ppg average won’t be enough to scare anyone, also given the fact Salmons will be 31 by season’s end. Still, he is a solid scorer and one of the NBA’s most underrated closers. He does go a long way to filling the Redd void, and seems to have integrated well with the rest of his Bucks teammates. Who’s to say whether having a healthy Redd alongside him will truly work?

Predicted record: 44-38 and a first-round exit.


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