As the Cinderella Project Milwaukee, a Milwaukee Bucks charity event created by The Gadzuric Foundation, came to a finale Saturday night, the team unfortunately was forced to open up another Cinderella-like project on the court. Whose going to be fill the role and the shoes of Andrew Bogut? Quite frankly, the Bucks roster doesn’t have one player that can even partially answer that question. The loss of Andrew Bogut will of course limit the Bucks chances of success come playoff time, but if there’s one NBA team that could find a why to be successful through such an devastating loss, it most certainly is the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks are far too familiar with key losses and aren’t a team that’ll change their mindset or make excuses. As the Bucks continue to move forward, here’s the Bucks personnel that’s has to step up in order for the team to further exemplify the “Fear the Deer” slogan.
Kurt Thomas: The 37 year old veteran will be primarily be the one asked to contribute more than the usual 10 to 20 solid minutes he’s been giving mostly all season. To Thomas’s credit, it’s important to stress solid minutes because that’s exactly what he’ll give you each and every night. Having been a variety of different teams throughout his 14 year career, Thomas has always been a quick adapter to change and I see this change in role being no different. Many night’s should look close to identical to his numbers against Phoenix adding 10 points and 7 rebounds in 30 minutes of play. For the remainder of the year look for Thomas to be a regular 10-12 point, 8-12 rebound, 1-2 block type guy averaging a little over 30 minutes of action.
Primoz Brezec: Not much has been asked or expected upon Brezec since coming over in a trade with Philadelphia, but now it seems Brezec may see the floor depending upon the matchups. Brezec hasn’t really seen the floor all year and I doubt the Bucks depend upon him for much. Spot minutes will be key though, being able to throw him out there if any foul trouble occurs (which it will if Gadzuric becomes the primary backup). But Primoz doesn’t offer much outside of a big body, he’s slow in every way imaginable: both in transition and laterally. What’s been my concern with him since coming over is his lack of aggressiveness when he does catch/rebound the ball deep into the paint, he often times elect to kick the ball out than taking the ball up strong and drawing fouls. That’s got to change, the Bucks will need to stress getting their opponents bigs in every foul trouble each game from here on out.
Dan Gadzuric: Ahh, where to start, where to start, that’s always the hard part with good ole’ Danny G because we’re all just counting down to the days to when it ends as his huge contract finally comes off the books. But suddenly Gadzuric has found himself another bright opportunity to gain some floor time and he’s by far the best option to throw into the fire of a game off the bench with Thomas now starting. Looking at the positives, Gadzuric can run the floor, jump, and last but not least he can block shots while committing fouls. While that sounds like a horrible idea of attempting to block everything and committing fouls, it’s what the Bucks need from him. Gadz can offer a presence that sends a message to guards that they better prepare to get hammered when coming into the lane, every shot that goes up is going to be contested. At the end of the day, if Gadzuric can run the floor (making his defender run it with him) and can add some time off defensive presence in the paint, I’m content.
Ersan Ilayasova: Putting Ilayasova in the center slot of the lineup can only mean one thing, push the tempo. While I don’t necessarily seeing Coach Scott Skiles changing up any of his game plans, I do hope he does give this a whirl for a variety of different reasons. 1) It’d allow the Bucks to run and gun a little bit, change the pace of the game, always keep the defense guessing 2) Ilayasova to the 5, almost always means a Ridnour & Jennings tandem in the backcourt 3) Ilayasova’s ability to knock down the long range three can help stretch the defense against a team like the Celtics, forcing Kendrick Perkins to hold his man on the perimeter offers lanes for penetration and cutters that keep the offense moving at all times. Not saying it’s the right solution, but I hope Skiles gives it a try sometime before the playoffs.
Darnell Jackson: Even with the need for a big man to step up, I don’t see Skiles giving Jackson an opportunity to show what he can do. While he may suit up and at least offers the coaching staff an option if need-be, I think it’s wise to work with the bigs that will be able to help you come playoff time. Like I’ve mentioned with most of these guys above, many of them haven’t seen the floor in quite some time, they’ll need minutes to get back into the groove and gel. Also, keep in mind a lot of them haven’t yet played a in-game situation with John Salmons. Giving both Brezec and Gadzuric time to do that will be important in order help them get onto the same page with one another. If Jackson were to have been picked up earlier and eligible for the playoffs, then there’s no question that Skiles would use him as one of his top choices off the bench.
What this means for the rest of the rest of the rotation:
Brandon Jennings: The loss of Bogut means more touches, more touches leads to more opportunities to score for Jennings. Whether or not that’s a good thing with the way Jennings has been shooting the ball is one thing but Jennings will be counted upon to produce. Last game against Phoenix he did a great job attacking the rim, drawing fouls, and getting to the free throw stripe. That should continue to happen and should even become easier. Jennings almost always needs a on-ball screen in order for him to get a quality look at the basket and Kurt Thomas has always been a guy able to open up opportunities for his point guard (doing so with some of the best in recent past: Tony Parker and Steve Nash). Thomas will set a solid screen for Jennings to rub off of and 9 times out of 10, he’ll pop rather than roll. That gives Jennings just another direct angle/route to attack the basket. Jennings has been much more effective on the offensive end when he gets it going early inside and working his way out after getting into a rhythm. Getting to the foul line to knock down a few free throws is an easy way shooters can find a rhythm early.
John Salmons: I don’t know how much more of the load we can put on Salmons than we already do. The guy’s been incredible since coming over and there’s not much else we can ask of him. Without Bogut, Salmons will definitely be counted upon even more so in clutch situations down the stretch of close ball games with the ball in his hands but that’s never a concern to Salmons, he lives for those moments. Scoring outputs from Salmons may slightly go up, but don’t expect much more from the guy, to think ask more from him is ludicrous, he’s given the Bucks everything he’s got since day one, not much will change with Bogut out.
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute:
Down the stretch of close games, we commonly see Coach Scott Skiles pull Mbah a Moute due to his lack of offensive abilities but now Skiles will be put into a position where he may have to leave him out there on the floor. While I got nothing but praise for Mbah a Moute’s ability to guard bigger players at the power forward position this entire season, he’s really got to try to limit his early fouls. More times than not, he’s gets into early foul trouble adjusting to each particular big man down low. Being a good defender during my playing days, I know this task is much easier said than done. When you’re assigned to guard a bigger player on defense, you really have to feel him out on his abilities and his tendencies on the offensive end, that can often times lead to early foul trouble. I got nothing but love for Mbah a Moute and it’ll be important for him to stay out of foul trouble, and hopefully he can pose as a good mid-range shooter by knocking down some of his first shot attempts.
Carlos Delfino: Delfino’s above average ability to rebound the basketball just became that much more important for the Bucks. Look for Delfino’s rebounding numbers to go up a bit without Bogut inside, the Bucks will count on Delfino to crash the boards a bit harder on defense. While this will ultimately slow down the offensive break, it’s going to be necessary if the Bucks plan to limit their opponents second shot opportunities.
Luke Ridnour: As I mentioned above, Ridnour will most likely see more time being paired with Jennings in the backcourt. This tandem worked very well together earlier on into the year and definitely helped promote ball movement on the offensive end. This ball movement will become that much more important for a postman like Kurt Thomas whose going to struggle battling for position, but with a few quick ball screens, it’ll allow Thomas to seal off his defender and hopefully lead to some close looks down low.
Jerry Stackhouse: With Thomas replacing Bogut as the everyday starting center, the Bucks bench production will become limited which means Stackhouse’s production off the bench will be that much more important from here on out. Thomas, Ridnour, Stackhouse are typically the big three bench contributors that provides that instant spark and have been relied upon to do so all season long. With the departure of Thomas into the starting role, Stackhouse along with Ridnour have a much bigger task at hand. They also are going to be the lucky ones that have to deal with playing with Gadzuric and Brezec for their spot minutes. Luckily for the Bucks, both Stackhouse and Ridnour have been guys with the ability to bail the Bucks offense out as the shot clock winds down.
The season is far from over folks, don’t give up on this Milwaukee Bucks team, they’ve come this far, it’d be a shame if the city didn’t rally behind them even during the toughest of times. Need some motivation not to give up? Look no further than Jerry Stackhouse, here’s a veteran who was looking to put himself in a position to make the playoffs. As he considered his options and Milwaukee called, the Bucks looked no where close to destined for a playoff berth, embarking on that rugged west coast trip during to being the new year. But as Redd went down with the season ending injury, Stackhouse didn’t count out giving Milwaukee a shot, he wanted to be the guy that could come in and step up, rather than declining the Bucks offer and maybe calling it quits. Back when the Bucks were well below the .500 mark, Jerry Stackhouse had hope for Milwaukee this season and didn’t throw in the towel. Same applies to Bucks fans, guys like Stackhouse, Salmons and even our fellow rookie Jennings have uplifted a Bucks team not expected to do a damn thing this year, yet here we are early April sitting in the 6th spot of the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Bucks have lived up to this season’s motto and have worked hard and played hard all year long, Bucks fans must continue to cheer hard and believe in this team in return.