The Milwaukee Bucks are currently two and a half games behind the New York Knicks for the final spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs, but Scott Skiles’ team may have an inside track to the postseason.
The Knicks are looking at up to four weeks without Amar’e Stoudemire (bulging disc) and Jared Jeffries (knee) and up to six weeks without Jeremy Lin (torn meniscus in his left knee). But even more significant than that, the Bucks are confusing the heck out of opponents, one Western Conference source told HOOPSWORLD.
“That will be an interesting team as an eighth seed since they added Monta Ellis,” the source said.
The team is just 6-4 since they added Ellis and Ekpe Udoh from Golden State and both players have looked lost at times. Still, the offense they’re currently running is a big departure from Skiles’ usual program.
They’re playing without any post player (“Drew Gooden is playing facing the basket, but that wouldn’t be the case normally”) and the pace has picked up considerably. That means less “programmed plays” and far less movement offensively, which has been replaced with more urgency.
“The last coach to run this kind of a thing was Jim O’Brien in Indiana, but his was run more from the elbow,” the source said. “Skiles has taken it to a better level this time.
“Give Skiles credit,” he continued. “He’s a set-play kind of guy and he moved to this style pretty seamlessly.”
The player who may be benefitting the most is point guard Brandon Jennings, who averaged 20.5 points and 5.9 assists per game in March while shooting over 43% from the field (he’s a career 38.8% shooter, so yes, that’s an improvement). Furthermore, Jennings has turned the ball over only five times over his last three games, which is a sign he’s adjusting to the changes.
What makes the Bucks particularly dangerous is the volume of good shooters they have on their rosters. Jennings, Ellis, Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Delfino, Beno Udrih and even 6-10 bigs Ersan Ilyasova (“he’s played so well”) and Jon Leuer can shoot from the perimeter.
Milwaukee also has a versatile roster featuring no less than 10 players that can serve in multiple positions. Shaun Livingston, for instance, has moonlighted at point guard, shooting guard and small forward.
The only real concern for Milwaukee—and this was never a problem when Andrew Bogut was on the team and healthy—is defense. This is a team that gave up 99 points to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday after yielding 125 points to the Indiana Pacers one week earlier.
“They’re not as good defensively,” the source said. “There’s more possessions per game, so they’re probably giving up more points. Skiles is a good defensive coach, but they don’t have the inside presence that they had in the past.
“(Udoh) doesn’t have a crazy effect,” he continued. “I think he’s a good player who adds to their depth, but I don’t think he really changes them defensively.”
You may believe that the Knicks are more talented than the Bucks, but you can’t argue with their respective schedules. While New York prepares to face the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic and Chicago Bulls this week, Milwaukee gets the Washington Wizards, Cleveland Cavaliers and the league’s worst team, the Charlotte Bobcats.
The Knicks are still in control of their own destiny for now, but the Bucks’ exotic new offense could be coming together at just the wrong time for New York fans.