Scorers come, scorers go and still the Milwaukee Bucks struggle to light up the scoreboard.
For the second time in as many offseasons – or what passed for one this time in the post-lockout rush job between Thanksgiving and Christmas – the Bucks have tried to spruce up their offense. With dreary results.
Prior to 2010-11, it was Corey Maggette, John Salmons and an offensive-boarding Drew Gooden who were going to get buckets for the Bucks. Instead, Milwaukee slipped from 23rd in points per game to dead last in the NBA (91.9), from 29th in field-goal percentage to last (.430) and from 12th in 3-point shooting to 24th (.342).
This time around, Stephen Jackson, Mike Dunleavy and Beno Udrih were brought aboard with similar hopes and expectations. And yet, after 10 days and five games, Milwaukee is having trouble scoring again. It ranks 24th, 25th and 27th in the three categories above, while its raw numbers have declined – 90.8 ppg, .412 and .253 – in part due to lockout rust but in part, frankly, because the Bucks and coach Scott Skiles earn their scoring shortcomings.
The 85-73 loss at Utah Tuesday was the latest example of Milwaukee putting the uh-oh in offense, as blogged by Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Drew Gooden, starting in place of Andrew Bogut after the Bucks starting center had to leave the team for personal reasons, scored 24 points and was the only Milwaukee player to shoot better than 50% from the field (12 of 20).
Take Gooden’s shots out of the mix and the rest of the team made 22.7% on field goal attempts (17 of 75).
“We’ve got to recognize when we’re not scoring, and when we’re going through droughts, slow down and try to execute,” Bucks guard Shaun Livingston said. “Try to get great shots, not good shots.”
An asterisk was in order, because Bogut was joined in absentia by Dunleavy (groin injury) and Udrih (shoulder). Also, Milwaukee did average 98.3 points in its first three games, hanging 95 on the Bobcats, 98 on the Timberwolves and 102 on the Wizards. But then the Bucks’ output dropped to 86 at Denver Monday, followed by 73 last night. And remember, this is with Jackson and Carlos Delfino presumably green-lighted by Skiles and his staff and Ersan Ilyasova firing away as if he is, at least, healthy.
One contributing factor is point guard Brandon Jennings, who is back down to 37.6 percent (32-of-85) after bumping his accuracy ever so slightly from 37.1 percent as a rookie in 2009-10 to 39.0 last season. And let’s face it, bad shooting can be contagious same as good; if a defense can sag off one or two men, it can devote more attention to others. Utah contested a lot of shots at Energy Solutions Arena – Derrick Favors had five blocks and Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap swatted two each – but there were open clangs as well that made life a little easier on the Jazz.
The question now is whether the Bucks have both the personnel and the wherewithal to improve offensively. Michael Redd is gone. Ray Allen, Marques Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar aren’t walking through that door, either. The pattern under Skiles isn’t promising: Since he took over in 2008-09, Milwaukee has not ranked in the top 10 in any of the three areas above, getting as high as 12th in 3-point shooting two seasons ago.
Everyone knows, and many appreciate, the bulldog defense that Skiles preaches. But it seems odd that the guy who, as a Magic point guard, holds the NBA record for most assists in a game – 30, Orlando vs. Denver, Dec. 30, 1990 – can’t set up his team for more easy buckets.