Usually NBA season previews are best read in October, back when football games hardly mattered, Midnight Madness was a few weeks away, and baseball was winding down. Perhaps with the last of the offseason's iced tea in hand, as you whiled away on a too-warm-for-the-season afternoon.
Well, pour yourself a glass of bull shot and tighten those mittens, because it's mid-December and the NBA decided to have a season this year. As such, the exegetes at Ball Don't Lie are previewing the 2011-12 campaign in a mad rush, as if you or we would have it any other way. So put down the shovel long enough to listen to Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine and Eric Freeman as they break down each of the NBA's 29 teams, plus Toronto.
This time? It's the Milwaukee Bucks.
Kelly Dwyer's Reasons to be Cheerful
I don't enjoy stepping on Eric Freeman's territory in this particular realm, right now, but I would encourage any of the 4200 Milwaukee Bucks fans that deign to tune into their team locally and the 1200 that submit to watching the crew on League Pass to listen to this terrible song while the games take place:
Of course, Christopher Cross' "Sailing" is not a terrible song, if you have a good sense of humor and you remember that Michael Omartian was one of the leading lights behind Steely Dan's "Katy Lied." And any amplified measure would no doubt drown out what might be the best local announcing duo in the NBA -- Jim Paschke and John McGlocklin. And without trying to attempt some forced bit of irreverence, or cult-y reference-laden write-ups, I can tell you that you can safely watch these Bucks for all the reasons Dan Devine has listed below with deserved anticipation despite what could turn out to be a sub-.500 record.
"Sailing," and the LP that featured the song, was not a sub-.500 record. It won repeated Grammies in a year (or, at least, era) that may have produced the fines slate of recorded music our ears will ever have the pleasure to enjoy. The album sold by the boatloads, and yet nobody remembers the damned thing. Cross, as anonymous as pop stars come, couldn't even offer a go-to name in a bid to become his generation's Hootie. Or, at his lowest, "Schubert Dip."
The Bucks will work anonymously, but they'll be worth your time. And I write this with the full and on-record knowledge that TV's Stephen Jackson will be a member of the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team for this 66-game term.
There is some melancholy in watching a newly-shorn Andrew Bogut chase whatever guard dares to enter his zone, measured by coach Scott Skiles' smarter-than-you defense. Brandon Jennings can't hit from outside, or ever near the rim, and yet he remains everyone's second favorite player. Drew Gooden has worked for 39 NBA teams at this point, his contract may have been the reason the NBA skipped the first two months of the season, and yet you can't help but not want that goofball to succeed.
I don't mean to turn this group into the plucky cadre of achievers that basic cable loves, every word in this is not a symphony (great; now I'm paraphrasing bloody Christopher Cross), but this is a team to root for. And better? This is a team to watch. To enjoy and respect and wonder how things would have gone and how many championships would be theirs if things were slightly different.
(OK, more than "slightly.")
The Milwaukee Bucks won't be your novelty this year. But you will enjoy watching them. And each and every one of those 33 home games should result in a cheerful, holiday season-type smile from you.
That's not the colors talking. That's your love. For hoops.
Dan Devine Has Feelings about Your Team: Milwaukee Bucks
I can't tell you how excited I am for the Milwaukee Bucks' in-game entertainment crew to try to work "What's a Lockout?" into the family-friendly experience at the Bradley Center.
If you're unfamiliar with "What's a Lockout?" then you are blowing it so hard that it is almost unbelievable that you still alive. It is tone-deaf extension demander/somehow still lovable people's champ Stephen Jackson's note-perfect hip-hopera about how a well-to-do ball-playing gentleman/Port Arthur trillionaire handles his business when basketball team owners tell him that he may not come to work. I do not want to spoil all of it, but rest assured that "wearing three different Jesus pieces" and "sounding sort of like mid-period Juvenile for a while" are definitely part of Cap'n Jack's repertoire.
It is vulgar, it is absurd, it is pretty passable in its intended genre, and it is amazing. Of course it is; it was made by Stephen Jackson, who is also all of those things.
StackJack in Milwaukee feels like a social experiment that can go in many, many directions, and I am excited to see where the journey takes us. I wouldn't be surprised if Jackson joined Milwaukee's own Violent Femmes onstage at a homecoming performance to duet on "Please Do Not Go" that involved an extended breakdown in which he could freestyle the names of teammates like Larry Sanders, Jon Leuer and the always tricky Ersan Ilyasova as the crowd bopped and nodded along, unsure of what was happening.
Cheesehead Stephen Jackson. Fonzie Stephen Jackson. And, of course, Stephen Jackson treating about 231 of his closest friends to Stack'd Burger Bar, like a boss. The possibilities are endless, and potentially delicious.
Oh, right, the basketball part.
I'd worry that the trade that brought Jackson to Milwaukee -- along with Shaun Livingston, Beno Udrih and the 19th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, which the Bucks used to take Tobias Harris from Tennessee -- doesn't really solve the problem that Scott Skiles' team has had for the last three seasons, which is scoring points.
In Skiles' first two seasons in charge, the Bucks offense was bad, but not putrid -- Milwaukee put up 106.7 points per 100 possessions in 2008-09 and 104.9 points-per-100 in 2009-10, according to Basketball-Reference, placing them 23rd out of 30 NBA teams in offensive efficiency both years. Last year, though, the bottom fell out.
The Bucks placed dead last in the league with a 101.6-per-100 mark. Only one Milwaukee Buck -- one -- hit more than 50 percent of his shots last year, but four connected at a sub-40 percent clip, including leading scorer Brandon Jennings, who struggled through a broken foot and rehab en route to shooting 39.7 percent for the year. They finished in the bottom-third of the league in all Four Factors categories on offense, including dead last in Effective Field Goal percentage, and they had the worst True Shooting percentage, too. They were between below-average and terrible at everything offensively. (Except how frequently they got their shots blocked. Fifteenth in the league there. Good ol' mediocre.)
All that said, while Corey Maggette -- who went to the Charlotte Bobcats in exchange for Jackson in the three-way draft night deal with the Bucks and Sacramento Kings -- is by most metrics a more efficient and effective offensive player than Jackson, swapping Jackson for Maggette could have a couple of positive effects on the Milwaukee offense.
Jackson's style of play isn't likely to be confused for Steve Nash's any time soon, but he has been a more willing passer than Maggette and a superior facilitator over the course of his career, assisting on 16.8 percent of his teams' baskets while on the floor, compared to 13 percent for Maggette. He also uses just under a quarter of his team's offensive possessions, whereas Maggette takes the ball a little bit more (25.7 percent). Jackson's a slightly better long-range shooter, too, connecting at a career 33.9 percent clip, while Maggette checks in at 32.3 percent (though Maggette did hit 35.9 percent from 3-point land last season to Jackson's 33.7 percent). These aren't massive differences, by any stretch, but in an attack as moribund as Milwaukee's, any potential improvements, even incremental ones, should be welcome.
The problem with all that, though, is that it's not like Milwaukee's offense failed because Corey Maggette stunk, or because they played Keyon Dooling and Earl Boykins behind Brandon Jennings rather than Livingston and Udrih (although that should be a bit of an upgrade). Milwaukee's offense failed because everybody failed, including the coaches implementing it. That's not a problem solved with one trade and one draft pick, which has me worried that bringing in Cap'n Jack, while entertaining, is ostensibly just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.
I'm going to have a really hard time watching Shaun Livingston potentially play third-string point behind Jennings and Udrih. I just know it.
See, what I once called "the Livingston of my imagination" doesn't exist, never really existed, because of false steps and sorry fate, and yet now that "the Livingston of brick-cold reality" is finally healthy and playing and sticking around, I still can't seem to let this go. And it sucks, because it makes something that should be simple -- just being happy for and proud of a guy who fought through hell to get back in the league -- a little bit more complicated.
And now, he'll be getting 10, maybe 15 minutes a game behind Jennings and Udrih, and maybe some spot minutes at the two if Mike Dunleavy has to shift up to the three for a sec and Carlos Delfino's not available. He'll play, and I'll see it, and I'll smile, and then I'll stop, and try not to remember. Some games you always lose.
Eric Freeman's Culture Club
The worlds of the NBA and popular culture intersect often. Actors and musicians show up at games, players cameo in their shows and movies and make appearances at their concerts. Yet the connections go deeper than these simple relationships — a work of art can often explain the situation of an NBA team. Eric Freeman's Culture Club makes these comparisons explicit. In each installment, we'll assign one movie, TV show, album, song, novel, short story, or filmstrip to the previewed team.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS: "Varsity Blues"
Scott Skiles can be a tough guy to play under, even when he's at his best. He demands a lot from players on defense and isn't always willing to loosen the reins at the other end, but he has a track record of success. The problem is that he can often get on people's nerves after a few years, to the point where the people he's supposed to be leading begin to tune him out. In his third season with the Bucks, we might be near that point.
In "Varsity Blues," Coach Bud Kilmer had coached the West Canaan Coyotes for 10 times Skiles's tenure in Milwaukee, but for the seniors on his team three (or in some cases four) years was plenty to get on their nerves. He demanded too much and gave too little in return, and the young men in blue finally cracked.
Skiles probably won't need to leave the arena in the middle of a playoff game. But with several volatile personalities and the team coming off a disappointing years, it's easy to see things turning badly fast if the losses pile up early. Skiles is only going to exert more control if things begin to get out of hand. After a few seasons, that approach can get tiresome.