The Milwaukee Bucks couldn't be any less relevant right now in Cheesehead country because the Green Bay Packers are the prohibitive Super Bowl XLVI favorites. Unfortunately since the NBA lockout was finally lifted, I have to give the Bucks some coverage because this is a Cheesehead sports blog not just a Packers blog.
Just for a quick re-cap of the NBA lockout. After 149 days the NBA Players Association and the NBA Owners agreed to a new ten-year Collective Bargaining Agreement with an opt-out clause for both sides after six years. The Basketball Related Revenue that the players get went from 57% to somewhere between 49% and 51% depending on revenue.
A 66-game (48 conference games and 18 non-conference games) season will happen this year instead of the customary 82-game season. The 66 games will be played from December 25th to April 26th, which means each team will play 66 games in a mere 123 days. As a result the Bucks have 20 back-to-back sets and one back-to-back-to-back set this season. The Bucks longest road trips for the season are a three-game road trip and a five-game west coast swing.
Finally the Bucks will get a $10 million increase in revenue sharing from $5 million to $15 million. For a much more in-depth discussion of the new CBA, check out Vishnu Parasuraman's excellent breakdown on Grantland.com.
Thanks to the lockout, it feels like a million years ago that I gave my annual advice to John Hammond for how to approach the 2011-12 NBA season. Although very presumptuous, I like to think that Hammond followed some of my blueprint in constructing the 2011-12 Milwaukee Bucks.
Is the current roster more like the pleasant surprise 46-win Milwaukee Bucks from the 2009-10 NBA season or the utterly disappointing 36-win Milwaukee Bucks that was the most injury plagued team in the NBA losing 275 "player games" from the 2010-11 NBA season?
Only time will tell but with the cast of characters ranked below I am going to wuss out and say the 2011-12 Milwaukee Bucks are somewhere in between, especially since the schedule gods did them no favors. The Bucks play 12 of their first 18 games on the road with five of those 12 road games coming on a huge five-game west coast swing.
Not much has changed since I looked at the roster in June, which I dubbed 2011-12 Milwaukee Bucks 1.0 but here are my actual initial player rankings of the 2011-12 Milwaukee Bucks:
#15) Darington Hobson (#11, SG/SF, 6'7", 210 lbs, New Mexico, 2nd NBA Season):
Suffice to say the Bucks would have been much smarter to hold onto shooting guard Jodie Meeks instead of trading him for the pick they used to draft Hobson in the 2010 NBA Draft. So far Hobson's best contribution since being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks is tweeting updates about his surgery. In fact, the Bucks thought so little of Hobson that he was already cut yet somehow resigned since the 2010 NBA Draft.
#14) Jon Brockman (#40, PF/C, 6'7", 255 lbs, Washington, 3rd NBA Season):
Reminds me a lot of A.J. Hawk which is obviously a huge compliment to Brockman and a huge dig at Hawk. Brockman does all the dirty work and despite the head coach being a defense first guy, he still can't get meaningful minutes so let's just move on since I have a feeling this post is going to run long.
#13) Tobias Harris (#15, SF/PF, 6'8", 226 lbs, Tennessee, Rookie):
I had Tobias Harris right around where the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him in my 2011 First Round NBA Mock Draft. I obviously could not foresee that the Bucks were going to make a "blockbuster" trade right before the 2011 NBA Draft that would have them picking 19th instead of 10th. Most of the guys that I targeted for the Bucks to draft with the 10th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft went between picks 10 and 19. With the 19th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft I wish Hammond would have drafted Kenneth Faried, the only guy left on my target list. Although Harris has a higher "potential" ceiling, I would bet a decent sum of money that Faried is a much more successful NBA player than Harris just based on Faried's rebounding ability alone. Harris is one of the youngest players in the NBA so he has a huge upside. Hopefully the workouts Harris did with George Gervin and Dale Ellis help but unfortunately I have a much easier time seeing Harris as the next Joe Alexander as opposed to the next Vin Baker.
#12) Larry Sanders (#8, PF/C, 6'11", 235 lbs, Virginia Commonwealth, 2nd NBA Season):
It might be wishful thinking but Sanders has a chance to "make the jump" this year. Last year as a rookie Sanders looked overwhelmed by everything. This year Sanders at least knows what to expect off the court so hopefully that comfort will lead to more consistent play on the court.
#11) Mike Dunleavy Jr. (#17, SG/SF, 6'9", 230 lbs, Duke, 10th NBA Season):
This lower ranking is due in part to the fact that I played, actually probably road the pine, against Dunleavy in grade school. True story, Dunleavy fouled out of a game and started crying on the bench so badly that Mike Dunleavy Sr. (head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks at the time) had to console him on the bench. I guess it only makes sense that Dunleavy went to Duke right? By NBA standards a two-year, $7.5 million contract is not that bad for a guy with Dunleavy's skill set. That said, I will never shake the images of Dunleavy crying as an 8th grader so I have a hard time letting him crack the Top 10 in the initial rankings.
#10) Drew Gooden (#0, PF/C, 6'10", 236 lbs, Kansas, 10th NBA Season):
Candidate 1A (or 1B if Stephen Jackson acts like Stephen Jackson) for the Bucks to use their amnesty clause on (read the Grantland article refereced above if you don't know understand). All reports are that Gooden is a great guy but he missed 41 games last season with a foot injury. With the glut of talented power forwards that are much younger than Gooden on the roster, Gooden better stay healthy and play well or the Bucks will amnesty him this off-season.
#9) Shaun Livingston (#9, PG/SG, 6'7", 175 lbs, Peoria Central High School, 7th NBA Season):
Seeing potential career re-births for guys like Livingston are one of the big reasons that people love following sports. Sure L.A. Clippers fans are disappointed at how many injuries Livingston suffered but deep down they are pulling for Livingston to finally succeed in the NBA. After playing a career high 73 games last year for the Charlotte Bobcats, smart money says that Livingston gets injured this year. Hopefully I am wrong because coming out of high school, Livingston looked like a franchise player in the making. It's highly unlikely but with Bogut and Livingston in the same locker room may be two injury prone guys cancel each other out so both actually stay healthy for the whole season.
#8) Ersan Ilyasova (#7, SF/PF, 6'10", 235 lbs, Turkey, 4th NBA Season):
I am sticking with my "Poor Man's Dirk" comparisons. There is no denying that Ilyasova has the physical tools to succeed in the NBA but his slight build and timid personality on the court has held him back so far. Ilyasova strikes me as the type of guy that would push to be a league MVP in Europe but is just a little too overwhelmed by the NBA. One thing Ilyasova should keep in mind is that he is in a contract year. If Ilyasova wants to get a nice extension in the United States then he better back-up my "Poor Man's Dirk" comparison by the end of the season or he will be playing somewhere in Europe next season.
#7) Beno Udrih (#19, PG/SG, 6'3", 203 lbs, Slovenia, 7th NBA Season):
The left-handed Luke Ridnour comparisons are obvious. As I said following the 2010-11 season, the Bucks need a quality back-up combo guard to help Brandon Jennings improve. For all the moves that Hammond made since taking over as GM of the Milwaukee Bucks, if he re-signed Luke Ridnour then trading for a guy like Udrih would not be necessary. At least Hammond learned from his mistakes and made the move. Udrih will have a reduced role with the Bucks this year compared to last year with the Kings so it will be hard to match his 13.7 points and 4.9 assists averages from last season. Stats aside, Udrih is a great addition to the roster and I expect him to be one of the first players off the bench this season.
#6) Jon Leuer (#30, PF/C, 6'10", 228 lbs, Wisconsin, Rookie):
I know many people will say this is way too high but my man crush on Jon Leuer is even higher now than it was last year when he played for the Badgers. Thanks to Leuer playing valuable minutes in Germany during the lockout it looks like he will play meaningful minutes sooner rather than later this season. I targeted Jon Leuer as one of the guys that John Hammond should draft in the second round before the 2011 NBA Draft. Luckily Hammond did in fact draft Jon Leuer because as I said immediately following the 2011 NBA Draft, Leuer will have a better NBA career than the already discussed Tobias Harris.
#5) Stephen Jackson (#5, SG/SF, 6'8", 220 lbs, Oak Hill Academy, 12th NBA Season):
This pains me to put Jackson so high but he should get significant minutes for the Bucks unless he is suspended. I put the under/over at 20 games before Jackson is suspended for "conduct detrimental to the team". There is no denying that Jackson is the most talented of the three players that the Bucks acquired in their draft day trade but his me first attitude is the last thing the Bucks need to help Brandon Jennings mature as a player on and off the court. Hopefully Bogut will continue to be a leader and keep Jackson in-check. This is no shot at Bogut but I take the under on 20 games before Jackson is suspended.
#4) Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (#12, SF/PF, 6'8", 230 lbs, UCLA, 4th NBA Season):
The Prince (Google it if you don't understand by now) was a restricted free agent heading into the season when he signed a four-year, $18.7 million offer sheet with the Denver Nuggets. The offer could have been much higher and it would still be money well spent for one of the better lock-down defenders in the NBA. If The Prince can develop a more consistent mid-range jumper, Scottie Williams might have some competition for my Mount Rushmore of favorite all-time Milwaukee Bucks. In case you were wondering, my Milwaukee Bucks Mount Rushmore is: Big Dog, Ray Allen, Scottie Williams, and Oscar Robertson.
#3) Carlos Delfino (#10, SG/SF, 6'6", 230 lbs, Argentina, 7th NBA Season):
The Syndey Crosby of the Milwaukee Bucks in terms of concussions as opposed to natural talent that is, could be a very meaningful contributor in a contract year. If Delfino can stay healthy he deserves an extension for much less than the Bucks gave to John Salmons, but a long-term deal nonetheless.
#2) Brandon Jennings (#3, PG, 6'1", 169 lbs, Oak Hill Academy, 3rd NBA Season):
How sad is it that I weigh five pounds less than Brandon Jennings? I would like to blame it on the holidays, but I can't. Let's see what happens before the end of the NBA season, do I get my weight under 160 lbs or does Brandon Jennings finally develop into a top-tier NBA point guard? I hope both happen but I feel better about my chances of getting below 160 lbs than Jennings maturing. As it stands right now, Jennings can either turn into a potential franchise player or a shoot first point guard that helps get Scott Skiles fired before the end of the 2012-13 NBA season. Although I sound pessimistic so far in describing Jennings, I am going to take the former and hope that Jennings blossoms into a franchise player.
#1) Andrew Bogut (#6, C, 7'0", 260 lbs, Utah, 7th NBA season):
Injury experts claim that Bogut's injury takes two years to fully recover. Hopefully that's the case because Bogut looked like a shell of himself last year. The one positive that came out of the injury is that it forced Bogut to improve his ability to score with his left hand, which should make him "amphibious" according to Shawn Kemp.
Let me give you the understatement of the year. Barring a huge surprise, the 2011-12 Milwaukee Bucks will only go as far as Bogut and Jennings take them. If either player suffers a serious injury the Bucks will have to rely on their quality depth because stars win playoff series but quality depth is what will get you to the playoffs in this wacky lock-out shortened regular season.
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