At 18-27, the Bucks have already passed the mathematical midpoint of the season, so the time seems ripe to take stock of the roster with one of those grandstanding, soapbox-ish "grade the players" posts. We fully acknowledge this is an incredibly subjective approach to analyzing players (and thus massively flawed in all likelihood). But it's also fun and gives us something to talk about, so by all means give us your thoughts in the comments.
What was our methodology? Well, nothing very concrete, but salary, expectations and mitigating circumstances (injuries, role, etc) matter; you don't grade your 13th man by the same standards as your $15 million shooting guard, so we won't bother trying. That said, if you're not very good then simply overachieving isn't going to get you an "A" either. So the best way to think about the grade is that each player's talent and expectation levels set some baseline for their grade, and their actual performance relative to those expectations dictates how far above or below the baseline they end up. Mike Redd could get an "F" if he shot 40% and averaged 12 ppg, while Awvee Storey might get a B for the same performance. But if both guys simply meet expectations, Redd's always going to grade out higher, since he's actually kinda good and Awvee isn't.
Along with our write-ups, we've provided the most relevant stats, including true shooting percentage and PER (NBA average = 15), which gives you some means of comparing guys who play different amounts at different positions. I'd include winscore stuff but I've yet to find a site that organizes the data conveniently, so for the time being go to winsproduced.com. It doesn't appear to break out 07/08 data from 06/07 (hence you've hot Julius Hodge and company in there), but I'll leave it to Ty at Bucks Diary to write more about the Bucks in those terms. So without further ado, here's our rundown of your 07/08 Milwaukee Bucks, 45 games in.
We like: After two years of inconsistency, Bogut's brought effort every night, guarding the opponent's best post scorer and adding a shot-blocking element to his game. After he went "Emo Bogut" on us in December (11/9 on sub-50% shooting from both the field and line), he's rediscovered his confidence and had easily his best month ever in January (17/10). In a fairly forgettable season for the Bucks, Bogut's at least shown promise as a leader on both ends.
We don't like: Here are Bogut's ft% numbers from his Utah days until now: .640 (OK), .692 (Improving!), .629 (Uh, OK), .577 (Dude?), .560 (Seriously?). Not surprisingly, he's also shown no ability to hit the midrange shot, another skill that he purportedly had entering the NBA. He's crafty and strong enough to use his ambidextrous hooks to good effect most nights, but if he's going to reach all-star level he has no choice but to become a more respectable shooter.
We'd like to know: The Bogut-led inside/out offense looks promising, but can the Bucks build a winner around it? Will the Bucks lock him up with an extension this summer?
Grade: B. My warm fuzzies tell me to go with a B+, but let's not give Bogut too much credit for realizing the potential he's always had.
We like: In November he passed more (7.8 apg) and shot less (15.0 ppg, 12 fga/g, 53% fg), but picked up his scoring in December (17.1 ppg) when everyone but Redd went MIA. Then with Redd out for parts of January he filled in nicely as a shooting guard (18.6 ppg). Overall he's shooting at a more efficient clip from the field, distance, and free throw line. While he gets flak for not being a pass-first point guard, it's certainly nice having a PG who can score when needed (which has been often this year). And does any Buck have a better nickname than "Teen Wolf"?
We don't like: He still can't contain opposing point guards, with Krystkowiak noting the team's weakness at the "point of attack" a number of times this year. While no one would accuse Mo of not being a good guy, there's been talk of a recent locker room clash with Tony Brown over his defense (update: confirmed by the JS). Offensively he's prone to pounding the ball into the floor and not being decisive when doubled. Doesn't throw alley-oops, which makes Desmond Mason sad. Lastly, the second season of "The Mo Williams Show" has been derivative and fallen short of its epic first season.
We'd like to know: Can he and Redd ever form a winning backcourt? Of the various hats he's worn this year, which one is the long-term answer?
Grade: B-. Could go lower on account of his defense but he's also had to change his game over the course of the season to make up for the Bucks' injuries and lack of scoring punch.
We like: The only all-star caliber player on the team, he leads the Bucks in scoring and shoots more efficiently than anyone else on the team (Jake Voskuhl's sharpshooting excluded). The talk in the preseason was that he would bring a more all-around game this year, and he's responded with career-highs in assists and his best rebounding numbers in five years, all while shooting less than he ever has since becoming a starter (17.2 fga/g).
We don't like: It doesn't seem like anyone enjoys playing with him. Ideally, Redd plays within the flow of the offense and then only starts freelancing late in the shotclock or whenever Bogut/Mo are on the bench. But he's yet to figure out the best way to get his shots without everyone else standing around scratching their heads. Early on he seemed to embrace the role of facilitating the offense more--after all, that's how other stars had earned some cred--but he seems a bit disenchanted at being more of a spot-up shooter in a Bogut-centric offense. When doubled he has a bad habit of holding the ball too long, and his defense has been mediocre.
We'd like to know: Will another lottery trip trigger an offseason trade? Will we ever see him pass in a 2-on-1 situation?
Grade: B-. He's somewhat out of his depth as the Bucks' franchise player, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that he's also the only proven scorer on the team.
We like: He's been like any rookie with plenty of ups and downs, but no one would have been disappointed with 10/6 before the season, so in the big picture it's difficult to complain. He's seven feet tall, can run all day and has a perfect shooting stroke, while his strong work ethic and focus have helped him adjust much more quickly on the defensive end than anyone expected. Nothing seems to faze him and he hasn't been afraid to take (and make) big shots.
We don't like: Inch for inch the worst finisher on the team, Yi gets blocked down low at an almost incomprehensible rate and hasn't seemed to improve much in this regard over the course of the season. Though he was primarily a post player in China, he hasn't shown an ability to get his own shot or post up smaller players, something he absolutely must begin to do if he's going to take the next step in the NBA.
We'd like to know: Even the best 23-year old Chinese guy deserves a year in order to adjust to the NBA, but will he be able to make the necessary strides next year to back up the hype? Will playing non-stop for a full year give him enough time to prepare for 08/09?
Grade: B-. He deserves a bit of a pass given the massive adjustment he faced, but in spite of his recent struggles he's also given plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
We like: Jake sets the hardest screens on the team and has raised the pulling-the-chair method of post defense to an artform. Unlike Gadzuric, he knows his limitations and plays within himself (team-leading TS%), which is exactly why he's been getting Gadz's minutes. He's by far the best towel-waver on the team and easily the dude we'd most like to go bar-hopping with.
We don't like: That Gadzuric ever plays ahead of him.
We'd like to know: Would he go bar-hopping with us?
Grade: B-. How transparent is the bias in this grade?
We like: He's a physical, hard-working combo guard who's provided surprisingly solid play for a late summer veteran's minimum signing. His 10.48 PER is actually a career-high even though it's well-below average. While it's never a good sign when Ivey is starting for your basketball team, the Bucks have racked up a surprising 5-4 record with him as a starter. Has taken over David Noel's role as the team's designated huddle dancer during player intros.
We don't like: He's a pretty limited player who can't create shots for himself or others. When he does make a few shots he seems to inevitably get the mistaken impression that he can drive to the hoop, which usually leads to his shot getting packed into oblivion.
We'd like to know: With Sessions waiting in the wings, do the Bucks try to bring him back next offseason?
Grade: C+. In an ideal world the Bucks wouldn't need a guy like Ivey to provide valuable minutes, but he's done about as well as one could hope given the expanded role he's been asked to take on.
We like: A warm defensive body who can bang with most 4/5s in the league, Ruffin understands his role and works his tail off on both ends. For the first time in his career he's averaging more FG (0.4/g) than turnovers (0.3/g). Huzzah!
We don't like: John Hollinger has called him possibly the worst offensive player in NBA history, and he's continued his seven-year streak of racking up more fouls than points.
We'd like to know: Could we beat him in a game of H-O-R-S-E? No dunking, obviously.
We like: He's a veteran presence who despite his mediocre numbers has actually been better this year than in his two previous years. While not a lock-down defender, you never have to worry about his effort or intensity.
We don't like: His jump shot's results are as ugly as its looks; unfortunately his last name is an apt description of his shooting ability. Mason's game really isn't suited for a halfcourt pace, yet the Bucks have only begun to run a bit since he's been out.
We'd like to know: Will his foul line performance ever come back? Will the Bucks run enough to make him more useful?
We like: He's had a long road back from his double heel surgery a year ago, and has played his best ball of the season in January. He's unselfish and passes into the post better than any of the Bucks' guards.
We don't like: Still looking to get back the consistency in his shot and unable to keep up with
any many SFs, he's highly unlikely to earn the roughly $10 million per year he's owed through 09/10.
We'd like to know: How close is his foot to 100%? How close to his 04/05 or even 05/06 form can he get? Can he shed some more weight by next season?
Grade: C-. Deserves some serious slack for his injury and a major offcourt issue that he had no control over, but he still has put up well-below average numbers.
We like: He's improved his rebounding (14.3 rebound rate) and shown flashes of the dynamic offensive potential that he first showed in Toronto. He's had a rough go of it since coming to Milwaukee, with his shoulder injury last year and this year losing his job to the new PF of the future, but he's been a good sport for the most part.
We don't like: He scored some points on a bad Toronto team as a rookie, but he really hasn't progressed much since then. Unlike Yi, his defensive intensity comes and goes (mostly the latter), and it's really hard to be a star(ter) in the league that way. Offensively he falls in love with his outside shot, and as much as you like his in-between game, he doesn't shoot a high percentage or draw fouls.
We'd like to know: Is he traded by the deadline or during the summer? Will it take a change of scenery to embrace the notion of being a role player?
We like: He's finally putting together a solid month (10.7 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.3 apg) after a cataclysmically bad November and December. As expected, he'll play wherever necessary and provides a nice luxury when injuries hit. Plus, are there any other NBA players who post over at RealGM?
We don't like: Even with his improved play in January, 34% shooting from the field is downright ugly. He's still the best example of why the Bucks' role players have been a major letdown this season.
We'd like to know: Is his shot finally back? Has he gotten his revenge on Royal Ivey yet?
Grade: D. He'd probably be closer to the B-range if we only looked at January, but alas, November and December really happened. And they were really, really bad.
We like: His uncontested dunks.
We don't like: The way he's played since Toni Kukoc left town.
We'd like to know: Will the Bucks ever be able to move him? Will he some day be able to harness his powers for good?
Grade: D-. We don't dislike Danny G, we just dislike the way he plays basketball.
We like: He throws himself around with reckless abandon, which doesn't make him a great basketball player, but at least we know he cares. He hasn't killed any of his teammates in practice, so we should probably be thankful for that.
We don't like: We're still not sure why he got a two-year deal, as he's mostly been the last man off the bench (Noel being hurt and Sessions being in Tulsa don't count). At 30, he doesn't appear to have much of an NBA future.
We'd like to know: How does he feel about a single-payer health care system?
Grade: Incomplete. Sunday was the first time he'd seen real minutes in a non-blowout situation, so I'm not going to bother grading him just for that (though I liked what I saw).
We like: He's filled up box scores down in Tulsa, regularly threatening triple doubles and getting to the line like a (D-League) star. He's already had ten games where he's shot 10 or more free throws, a skill that the Bucks outside of Redd sorely lack. His reputation as a strong, physical defender is great to hear given what the Bucks are used to on defense.
We don't like: Well, we have no idea what he's capable of in the NBA, and unless injuries mount in the backcourt we will probably have to wait until next year to find out. He doesn't have NBA range at the moment, and he turns the ball over a ton.
We'd like to know: What will he do on the next level?
We like: His jumbotron dance routine has been a regular highlight at the Bradley Center. Has an "NBA body" that you'd think could at least translate into good defensive abilities. Finally getting some burn down in Tulsa after hurting his wrist in November.
We don't like: He never plays, so we can only assume that his lack of ballhandling and inconsistent shooting are still there.
We'd like to know: Will he get a chance to earn himself another NBA deal?
We like: Has mostly said all the right things, emphasizing defense and accountability, and when he's been wrong he isn't afraid to admit it. He seems committed to making Bogut a greater focal point offensively, which is what most Bucks fans had been hoping for. If you like the idea of using the words "gritty" and "hard-nosed" and "lunchpail" to describe an NBA head coach, you will like Larry Krystkowiak.
We don't like: Unfortunately he's had to admit a number of mistakes this year, such as forgetting about guys on the bench and not being more proactive about involving Bogut offensively. The emphasis on a defensive, half-court game just hasn't worked; the Bucks are 27th in defensive efficiency and are now a below-average offensive team (19th) to boot. You hear murmurs that his style just hasn't resonated with NBA players. We love "energy," but we're getting kind of sick of hearing it in press conferences.
We'd like to know: Can he parlay rookie mistakes into sophomore success? How much are players actually buying into Krystkowiak's philosophies?
Grade: C-. Since the Decline of the George Karl Bucks, Herb Kohl has now hired three bargain-basement young coaches in a row, so it's perhaps not surprising that there's been something of a learning curve for each guy. Krystkowiak seems to have the raw materials to be a good NBA coach, but Bucks fans will have to hope that he learns a lot from a fairly rocky start.
[ETA: If you think we're a half-grade too high on many of these, you're probably right. But I guess we're just the glass is 1/4 full rather than 3/4 empty types; otherwise it's tough watching eight hours of Bucks basketball per week.]