We're turning our eyes to the bright spots from an otherwise gloomy season. It's easy to get wrapped up in the bad news--there was plenty of it. But we'll have more than enough time to discuss all that over the summer.
To keep hope alive, we're handing out player awards to the most deserving candidates from this season's team. Despite underachieving as a whole, many of the Bucks' prominent players made significant progress this year, and there were performances deserving of praise.
We've already covered a few major awards. Reader voting favored Mike Dunleavy or Monta Ellis as Newcomer of the Year, while the staff made cases for Stephen Jackson (no, really!) and Ersan Ilyasova (Frank was confused).
Defensive Player of the Year was a three-man race in the voting, with Luc Mbah a Moute, Larry Sanders, and Andrew Bogut all garnering support despite limited playing time.
Today we're laying out our cases for Sixth Man of the Year. The Bucks' bench was one of the team's relative strengths, so there should be plenty to choose from. Yet I imagine this one might be easiest of all to predict...Mitchell: Mike Dunleavy. It has to be, right? Considering the relative equality of talent between Milwaukee's starters and bench (optimists: Hooray, depth!), Dunleavy's impact on the floor was that much more remarkable. He offered everything that Carlos Delfino purported to offer, except better and, well, existent. Between his shooting and his ability to direct the offense without the ball in his hands, he wins this hands-down.
Jacob: Mike Dunleavy. Is there any other choice? You can fault John Hammond and the Bucks upper management for being unclear as to what direction they're pushing the team in, but as has been reiterated time in and time out, Dunleavy was as good of a signing as any this past summer. In periods where the Bucks lagged in all areas, Dunleavy kept the Bucks in with his hot shooting, his 59.7% TS% (third among SF's averaging over 20 minutes) being a testament to that. In the half court, he was most effective in spot up situations (49%) but his shooting off the dribble made a difference in frustrating defenders, not to mention his knack for finding the open man and running the offense. He might not necessarily be a key piece in the Bucks' future, but he's earned every bit of his praise thus far.
Steve: Mike Dunleavy. It’s not often I say this, but the stats don’t even matter here. After the offensive wasteland that was the 2010-11 season, I honestly forgot what it looked like to watch a technically proficient shooter in a Bucks uniform. Not every moment was great, and his inauspicious start to the season tested the depth of my convictions, but Dunleavy made most of the season a pleasure to watch. There is beauty hidden in the fact that we all had to take our eyes off the ball to truly digest and appreciate his talents -- like precise cuts to set up off-ball screens, subtle shifts in speed to lose more athletic defenders and a wonderfully refined catch-and-release repeated on every single attempt. For a team where the offense all too often feels like a disjointed jumble of indiscrete happenings that may or may not produce points for totally unknown reasons, Dunleavy routinely entered games and executed intricate set plays that felt orderly and (more importantly) led to unparalleled success from the perimeter. In other words, I still love this move, and it’s all about the basketball reasons.
Dan: Mike Dunleavy. He turned in the Bucks' best TS% season since Ray Allen in 2002. His catch-and-shoot prowess brought routine and order to an offense that, while greatly improved, needed to be running wide open to function at peak efficiency. As our old pal Alex liked to point out, there were few things more enjoyable to watch than defenders flying by after a quick Dunleavy pump fake, only to see the ball glide through the net moments later. Beno Udrih continued the Milwaukee tradition of strong backup point guard play, but Dunleavy just looked too effortless on the court to give this award to anybody else.
Frank: Mike Dunleavy. No official word from Frank on this one, but I think it's safe to declare it unanimous.