December is going to be a really tough month for Milwaukee, there can be no doubt about that. It looked like the tone was set after a disappointing loss in Denver to the mostly Carmelo-less Nuggets. Luckily, the team that could never seem to catch a break finally caught one, War of the Worlds-style. Is a victory over the Orlando Magic less meaningful when they're missing their starting center, starting point guard, and best three-point shooter? Yes, probably. Is it worth less? No way. A win is a win, especially at this point in the Bucks' season.
More importantly, though, that win over Orlando marked the return of Andrew Bogut from his most recent bout of back problems. And what a return it was, too. Bogut notched 31 points on fantastic 13-of-20 shooting (though his struggles at the line were equally tremendous, more on that later). He also pulled down 18 boards, blocked two shots, and pitched in a pair of steals. Pretty impressive stuff. Brandon Jennings, Chris Douglas-Roberts, and Larry Sanders have all played reasonably well of late, but it's all for naught unless Bogut can stay on the court and stay productive.
So a month that may have started poorly and looks to remain a bit of a struggle has at least featured a few positives. Hopefully those positives can start translating into wins on a consistent basis, especially in light of the gauntlet of tough opposition lying in Milwaukee's near future.
Role Players: As I mentioned above, the past few games have had some positives to take away, even if the results haven't been great. Milwaukee is, in some ways, a team comprised of role players (albeit some with talent far surpassing that label); a team assembled to go as far as it could with the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" mantra. The 2009-2010 Milwaukee Bucks became the posterchild of this idea, and the front office's moves this past summer made it clear that such a chemistry-dependent approach was going to remain the name of the game this season. While the teamwork and style might still be lagging behind, many of the role players, particularly those coming off the bench, have been doing their part toward making everything run smoothly.
Chris Douglas-Roberts, a guy who seemed to have instantly collected his own fan club on this and many other Bucks fan sites when Milwaukee acquired him, hasn't exactly been a model of consistency, but he's playing hard and getting some pretty good offensive results. After a relatively solid debut (especially considering the brand new specs he had to get used to), CDR took advantage of the playing time afforded him against Utah and responded by dropping 19 points on 12 shots. Larry Sanders, thrust into the starting lineup thanks to a hobbled Milwaukee front line, paid off the Bucks to the tune of 8 blocks against the Nuggets. These aren't the kind of guys who are going to get headlines or credit for swinging a game, but Milwaukee's depth was supposed to be one of its biggest strengths. While injuries and poor play have negated that to a certain extent, quality contributions from typical bench guys are always worth noting.
Free Throw Shooting: Not so much an indictment of Milwaukee's poor shooting at the stripe (they actually shot pretty well last week other than against Orlando) as yet another mention of Andrew Bogut's remarkable struggles there this season. Prior to Saturday's 5-for-16 outing, Bogut was already shooting a career-low 46% at the line. Now that number is down to 42%, 4th worst among starting centers according to Hoopdata.com. The "Attack an Andrew" strategy the Magic employed late in the game illustrated the potential problems such struggles could pose: Bogut absolutely HAS to be on the floor in close games for his defensive presence and (usually) reliable low-post offense, but if teams decide to foul him incessantly, those missed free-throws could (heck, they essentially already have) cost Milwaukee a win or two down the road.
Andrew is still getting used to the motion range of his elbow, especially now that he's playing without a brace or joint tape. As such, its not surprising that a career sub-60% FT shooter is currently under 50%. That doesn't make it any less damaging or difficult to watch. It's really hard to see how upset Andrew is with himself over his poor shooting, even when the team wins. Milwaukee as a whole has greatly improved in drawing fouls and earning points at the stripe, but Bogut is, for the time being, a liability there. He was nearly unstoppable in the Orlando game (granted, against a player not named Dwight Howard), which is a great sign, but we have to accept that teams with bodies to spare on cheap fouls will continue to put him on the line in tight situations until he shows he can hurt them there.