NBA 

The Enigma that is the Milwaukee Bucks

Will the collection of young talent in Milwaukee be enough to save the Bucks?

Simply put, the Milwaukee Bucks’ season has been nothing short of a train wreck. Injuries have forced management to recalibrate its original plan, chemistry issues have taken root, the offense is a globular mess, Larry Drew isn’t getting his message across to the players, and fans are not showing up to games.

With a building lease that expires in 2017, the pressure is mounting in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, owner Herb Kohl is trying to curry favor for a new arena with a price tag of $500 million  in order to prevent his team from a possible relocation. Doing so, however, will not an be an easy task for the former US senator whose team possesses the worst record in the NBA, a dormant fan base, and no incentives to attract to star free agents.

One route that Kohl and the Bucks can take is building a team of exciting young studs who will hopefully blossom into a group that can annually contend for a playoff spot, thus attracting fans. With one of the strongest drafts in recent memory approaching and the threat of relocation looming, fans have begun voicing their own opinions on what the Bucks should do. A website entitled “saveourbucks.com” has popped up, laying out a plan for the future. It starts out by identifying the management problem which has plagued the franchise for years, and and the highlights the importance of attaining  a top-5 pick in the upcoming 2014 draft and beyond. While the author (or collective group responsible for the site) is not calling for outright “tanking” by purposefully losing, development of youth and positioning for a top pick is stressed–essentially rebuilding as opposed to tanking.

The plan is a reasonable one, but it goes somewhat against the original intention of the Bucks’ decision makers.

Before the regular season, the front office (specifically General Manager John Hammond) made it clear that being “competitive” was  a key component of the Bucks’ plan of action.

“Some people use these words like ‘tanking,’ so to speak. We’re by no means in that mode whatsoever. We’re trying to remain competitive. I think we can be a competitive team. But also we really want to start focusing on the youth of this team and start talking about things like a championship-caliber team. Can they develop into a core like that? I think they can.”

While “focusing on the youth” is often a characteristic of tanking, the roster moves the Bucks made during the off-season ran parallel to Hammonds’ stark words of remaining competitive. The team hired coach Larry Drew, traded for two solid young players (Brandon Knight and Khris Middleton), signed O.J. Mayo to a three-year $24-million deal, and brought in veterans such as Caron Butler, Zaza Pachulia, Gary Neal, and Luke Ridnour via trade or free agency. At the very least, Milwaukee was attempting to remain respectable while fostering its young talent (Larry Sanders, John Henson, Ersan Ilyasova, Giannis Antetokuonmpo).

Three months into the season, the Milwaukee Bucks may be better off just tanking (if they aren’t already). Their attendance is dismal, producing some of the worst attendance numbers in the NBA.  The team is churning out 92.5 points each game, bad enough for the 29th lowest mark in the league. They aren’t efficient on that end either, ranking dead last in the league in offensive efficiency. The pace at which they play at isn’t exactly exciting. They choose to walk the ball up the floor despite not being able to get into half court sets well enough because of poor spacing and the lack of a conventional point guard.

What have they done well, you may ask?

Their defense is league average, which is due to the presence of rim protectors John Henson, Ekpe Udoh, and Larry Sanders. Some of their young players have shown promise with their improving play. In his last 12 games, point guard Brandon Knight has averaged 20 points (on 46% shooting), 5.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton have offered up some efficient scoring output and versatile play. John Henson leads the team in blocks (2.3) and has rebounded the ball well (8.0). Their production, however, hasn’t been enough and the veterans have done little to help.

At the present juncture, the Bucks are positioned to have the highest probability at getting the number one pick. Whether or not developing young talent is the answer to the root problem will be determined very soon. Time isn’t waiting on anyone and we can expect the fans in Seattle to keep an eye on the situation as they anxiously await the return of professional basketball to their city.

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