Say what you will about the current state of the Bucks, but the 08/09 edition of the team was at least more predictable than previous editions...call it the comfort of mediocrity. Before the season, Alex and I both predicted independently (and rather unscientifically) that the Bucks would win 37 games. Ironically, I remember feeling like they could be better than that at the time (think something around .500), but they were so horrible in the preseason that even 37 wins felt like it could be a stretch. I like to think of myself as a realist, so having predicted 40 wins the previous season I was feeling a bit self-conscious.
In retrospect, a healthier squad would have been a virtual lock to exceed those still fairly modest predictions, but given the loss of both Andrew Bogut (46 games missed) and Michael Redd (49) for the majority of the season, it's not surprising that the Bucks ended up where they did. But that still leaves the more important issue--where to now? I contributed a sidebar piece to Sports Illustrated's online Bucks preview, so in the interest of full disclosure, here's the wrap-up:
In the bigger picture, that leaves the organization in something of a transition phase. On paper, the Bucks have both the talent and coaching to compete for a lower playoff seed immediately, but it's difficult to think about legitimately contending in the East following back-to-back seasons of 28 and 26 wins. With no significant cap space on the horizon, Hammond and Skiles will no doubt reassess their core next summer -- or earlier if things go poorly -- and don't expect Redd, Jefferson or anyone else to stick around if they can't fit in with the new regime's philosophy.
No huge revelations in there, but the biggest concern is that the Bucks are still in that transition phase 82 games later, with no clear direction having been gained from this past season. For better or worse, they aren't likely to part with Andrew Bogut (justifiably, he's the team MVP), Michael Redd (too expensive AND hurt), or Richard Jefferson (too expensive) before camp opens next summer.
Lets' start our rundown of the 08/09 (and look ahead to 09/10) with the backcourt. You'd think trading an "all star" like Mo Williams for, um, Luke Ridnour and losing Redd for half the season would kill the backcourt, but it didn't really happen. Per 82games, the Bucks actually had the 12th-best PER differential at the point guard position and the 11th best at the shooting guard spot. That's a huge improvement at the point over last year, when they were the worst team in the league at defending the PG position.
The two obvious reasons for the Bucks improvement are Scott Skiles and Ramon Sessions. Skiles brought the Bucks the sort of defensive accountability we haven't seen since...well, before I started following the team in 1992. And while it took Skiles a while to give Sessions the minutes he deserved, he got around to it much earlier than Larry Krystkowiak. Here are your player reviews:
Nickname: "Frodo"; "Puke" (term of affection, natch)
The Good: Ridnour was predictably mediocre for much of the season, but he's smart enough that he's not going to kill you. When surrounded by talent he does a good job of staying out of the way and letting the big dogs eat (see December) . Shot the ball pretty well from distance for a change (35%) and was respectable defensively despite being small and fairly unathletic.
The Bad: Despite the occasional floater, his forays into the paint were generally disastrous--even for a little white dude. He somehow shot only 38.9% (82games) from "close" range and was surprisingly bad in the transition game as well. His thumb injury certainly showed on the court as well as he made just 30% of his shots in February and March. Then again, for a guy who doesn't seem like a terrible shooter, Ridnour always shoots poor percentages.
The Bottom Line: Ridnour has some Trent Dilfer-like qualities--it's not completely shocking to see him managing a team to victories, but at the end of the day you're always going to want to upgrade.
Future Forecast: He's trade bait now that his $6.5 million deal is expiring, though what exactly can the Bucks get for him? A good player with a longer-term deal? A stop-gap PF to replace Villanueva?
Nicknames: Last year it was "Memo," but that didn't seem to stick. "Ramonster" has some potential. I'm just hoping opposing announcers eventually realize his actual name is not Ra-MOAN.
The Good: Once again flashed plenty of late-season upside, including a 44-point outburst against the Pistons and a triple-double against the Lakers. Equally adept at finishing in the paint or setting up teammates, he managed to consistently stuff the box score after Bogut, Redd and Ridnour went down. It seems like the scouting reports don't want to admit it, but he's a sneaky good athlete who can finish at the rim or drop in 5-10 foot floaters. He also improved defensively and flourished when the Bucks were forcing turnovers and getting out in transition. I'm not sure he quite has all-star potential, but I could see him being a Rod Strickland-type.
The Bad: His three-point shooting is a bit deceiving because half his attempts were end-of-quarter heaves, but the bottom line is that teams can still sag off him like crazy--and his inability to space the floor will be more of a problem if the Bucks don't have a three-point threat at the PF spot next year. Not a great defender (his 82games opponent splits look fishy to me) and still prone to occasional lapses (like backdoor cuts). Occasionally gives up his dribble needlessly, though he improved on that noticeably as the season wore on.
The Bottom Line: Sessions should have played more early in the season, but Skiles' preference for the low-risk (and low-reward) Ridnour meant he didn't really find his stride until the last few months of the season. But when he did--wow. The kid had some terrific games and left little doubt that he can be a quality starter.
Future Forecast: As an Arenas rule restricted free agent, the Bucks can match any offer Sessions gets and he can't be offered more than the MLE (probably around $5.8 millionish) as a first year salary. I would say bringing him back would be the main priority this offseason, but things could change if the Bucks end up drafting a PG-ish type (Rubio, Jennings, Lawson, Maynor, Curry etc) or if the market for Sessions' services is stronger than anticipated.
Nicknames: "Flintstone"; "CB"
The Good: Bell was slowed by ankle and knee injuries for much of the season, but came around more as the season went on and his effort as usual was always there. He's no longer the team's most versatile defender (that's Luc), but still willing to get in the grill of guys three inches shorter or five inches taller. Every couple weeks he has a hot shooting night where he can carry the team for stretches.
The Bad: Even when he seemed to hit his stride, Bell had trouble being consistent and overall he's no better than a sixth man (which is fine in all honesty). Plus as tireless as he is on defense, he's often stuck guarding guys who are simply too big and too good for him to stop. Doesn't rebound at all, even for a guard.
The Bottom Line: His numbers are always hopelessly mediocre but for whatever reason I'm still happy to have him. Besides, as the only Buck to post on RealGM he's also a man of the people.
Future Forecast: I'd expect him in a Bucks uniform next season. His contract's not really out of line with what he brings to the table and Skiles likes his scrappiness, plus it's not like any team is going to call the Bucks up and make an offer for him. He could be a throw-in to make a bigger deal work, but my guess is he's back next year.
Nicknames: "Max Green"
The Good: After a slow start to the season that saw him miss action with a sprained ankle, Redd finally found his touch in January (24.2 ppg on .512/.402./.762). And the Bucks were coming around as a team, too.
The Bad: And then he tore his ACL and MCL. Redd defended with a bit more urgency than in previous years, but he still does essentially nothing aside from being a lights-out scorer (not to diminish the value of that). His rebound rate cratered to a career low 5.3% (57th out of 75 SGs) and he still had his share of trying-to-do-too-much moments.
The Bottom Line: It was another lost season in Milwaukee for Redd, who had only a so-so start to the season before his knee gave out. And while John Hammond couldn't exactly have foreseen a major injury, Redd's absence also raised fresh doubts as to why the Bucks didn't dump his huge salary last summer.
Future Forecast: Everyone's saying he'll be ready for camp, but how good will he be? Redd turns 30 in August and is due a staggering $17.04 and $18.3 million the next two years, meaning he'll be difficult to trade until next summer in all likelihood.
The Good: Not a stopper, but capable of giving you some Bruce Bowen-type minutes: annoying defense and open threes (34.8% from deep as a Buck).
The Bad: He's not getting paid for his offense, people. More than 60% of his shots were threes, so his 37.6% fg% is a little deceptive...but still. Bogans can't create his own shot and even when he does he probably won't make it. He might have led the Bucks in blown layups despite spending less than half a season in Milwaukee. And while it's not his fault, I'd have rather seen his minutes at small forward go to Mbah a Moute or Alexander.
The Bottom Line: Defensive intensity helped mask continued (and predictable) struggles on offense.
Future Forecast: An unrestricted free agent, Bogans fits the Skiles mold but clearly isn't going to be a priority to re-sign.
"World's Greatest Shooter"
The Good: His suits, faux hawks, and misplaced sense of showmanship were a constant source of amusement....once he joined the team of course. Though almost all his minues came in mop-up duty, there was something fun about rooting him on to hoist threes in garbage time.
The Bad: Damon made 11 shots in 106 minutes this year, all of them threes. So yeah, you could say he's pretty one-dimensional. Aside from the ability to make threes, well you could write a lot about what Jones can't do. But let's just leave it at this: he doesn't look like an NBA player anymore.
The Bottom Line: Anyone expecting him to be a legitimate rotation player was in for a rude awakening.
Future Forecast: Thankfully his contract is expiring, though in truth the Bucks wouldn't have acquired him if it wasn't. It'll be interesting to see whether he finds a roster spot anywhere on opening night next year--especially given the extra weight he looked to be carrying.
Nicknames: "T-Lue"; "Tyronnosaurus"
The Good: Lue was primarily a sharpshooter off the bench, leading the Bucks with a sizzling 46.7% from deep before he was traded to Orlando for Keith Bogans. He was also a favorite in the locker room, getting regularly mentioned by Bogut and others as the team's most entertaining player.
The Bad: There was never much doubt about what Lue was going to do when he was in the game: shoot. While he's a very good shooter from 18 feet and out (as reflected in that 3fg%), he never got other players involved. Of course, we kinda knew that going in. In spite of that, Skiles often had Lue as the primary ballhandler even when he played with Sessions, which never made any sense to me.
The Bottom Line: Played like a backup while he was here.
Future Forecast: He's gone now, but we wish Mr. Lue nothing but the best. He's certainly more employable than DJ at this point.
Nicknames: "The Thrill" (seriously)
The Good: Over the course of his six games with the Bucks, Gill had 14 points and 11 assists in 43 minutes, making 6/9 fg and 2/3 threes. Seemed to try on defense, too.
The Bad: Turned it over five times and at age 30 won't be getting any better.
The Bottom Line: Did as well as could have been hoped while Ridnour was on the shelf.
Future Forecast: Currently back with the Colorado 14ers in the D-League Finals. I suppose he could get the call for the Bucks' summer league team but I don't foresee him in a Bucks uni unless the Bucks end up in desperate need for another PG next October.