News/Notes after the jump...
JS: Bucks struggling
The Bucks have been doing a fair bit of soul-searching over the last week. A late horror show at the free throw line almost cost the Bucks a valuable road win in Indiana on Monday, while an intensity-starved effort against Washington did the cost the Bucks a much-needed home win against a team trying to catch them in the Eastern playoff race. The Bucks have now lost three straight at home and are just 1.5 games away from the ninth spot in the East. It isn't time to panic--there are 55 games left afterall--but it is time to be concerned. Scott Skiles pointed to the teams' lack of defensive execution, which has generally carried the team through the season's first two months (4th in defensive efficiency).
"Two times in the first half he (Arenas) went down low a little bit and kind of backed us down," Skiles said. "And we just stood there watching him while he took Brandon inside.
"Nobody provided support. We've been doing a lot of spectating lately and as a result we get beat. We're not good enough to do that."
Especially with Michael Redd back in the lineup, I also think it's time for Skiles to put Luc Mbah a Moute back into the starting lineup. We all know Skiles likes to bring Mbah a Moute off the bench as a sort of defensive energy booster, but with Redd back in the starting five it would stand to reason that the Bucks' best and most versatile defender might be better used from the opening tip. Redd's defensive struggles have been well documented, but Jennings has also looked increasingly vulnerable to both physical PGs (Arenas being the most recent example) and quicker guys who can get to the rack on him.
Not only can Mbah a Moute guard both backcourt positions when needed, but he's also a smart help defender who can help blunt the Bucks' defensive problems at other positions. If that wasn't enough of a reason, starter Carlos Delfino has made just 1/10 fg over the past two games and been yanked early on a number of occasions in the past couple weeks.
PtR: The Spurs' Slow Start
It might seem weird if you follow a team like the Bucks, but Spurs fans aren't thrilled with a 15-11 record. After a slow start the Spurs are 7th in the West (a much tougher task than in the East), largely thanks to their dominance of sub-.500 teams. The Spurs have won 13 straight against those teams, but are just 2-10 against teams above .500. That might be a bad sign if you're a San Antonio fan looking ahead to the playoffs, but it's definitely a good thing when you're starting a two game trip against the Bucks and Knicks. That said, the Spurs have also fattened up on home-cooking thus far, with 17 of their 26 games coming at home.
RJ and Manu
Two negative factors in the Spurs' solid-but-disappointing start have been former Buck Richard Jefferson and Manu Ginobili. Ginobili has suffered through his share of nagging injuries and his numbers suggest he's not back to his best yet: 24.5 mpg, 12.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.3 apg, .385/.404/.882 shooting. The raw stats are a little deceiving because his minutes are down and his propensity for threes and free throws means his TS% is still a very good 57.1% despite a poor raw fg% of .385. As a result, his PER is still near 20--better than anyone on the Bucks' roster--so even a down year for Manu is rather good by normal standards.
Jefferson has caught more flak, probably because he was viewed as something of a missing piece when he came over from the Bucks this summer. But as we found out a year ago, RJ's not really the player he was, which is OK if you don't mind his ridiculous price tage ($14.2 million this year, $15.2 million the next) and aren't counting on him to be a star. He certainly wasn't great last year, and his scoring is down a bit (16.8 pts/40 vs. 21.9 last year). But his rebound rate and TS% are exactly the same while his assist rate is slightly better and his turnover rate marginally worse.
Matt Bonner killed the Bucks in San Antonio last month with 23 points on just 10 shots in 25 minutes, but he broke a bone in his hand a couple games ago and is out another three weeks or so. Rookie DeJuan Blair has started the past two games with Antonio McDyess deputizing off the bench, but Blair's minutes haven't been up too much. He's played 16 and 17 minutes in those games, compared to an average around 15 mpg for the season, despite continuing to put up downright silly per minute numbers.
Per 40 minutes Blair's averaging 17.1 ppg and 14.4 rpg on 60% true shooting, and only Kevin Love and Dwight Howard have better rebound rates. The funny part is that none of this is surprising, yet he still lasted until the 38th pick in the draft. Also funny? The Spurs' official game notes list the 6'7" Blair as the starting center--anything to perpetuate the myth of Tim Duncan being a power forward, I guess.
CBS: Bucks among teams struggling at gate
Not doing anything Saturday night? Then do the Bucks a favor and buy a ticket. CBS' Ken Berger writes that the Bucks are among the teams struggling mightily at the gate, with an average paid attendance of just 8,331 (down 26.7%). That compares to the publicly available attendance number of 14,633 (23rd in the league), which can of course be manipulated through ticket giveaways and other promotions.
The other teams suffering the most at the gate are the Sacramento Kings (average gate receipts down 36.2 percent), Minnesota Timberwolves (down 24.4 percent), Phoenix Suns (down 23.8 percent), Los Angeles Clippers (down 23.3 percent), Milwaukee Bucks (down 23.2 percent), and Golden State Warriors (down 22.3 percent). Clearly, the Suns’ bottom line has not benefited from the team’s 15-7 start, nor have the Bucks been able to translate excitement over rookie point guard Brandon Jennings into ticket revenue.
It's tough to say what real impact these numbers have on the Bucks in the long-term, as it all comes down to how long this continues. Obviously the hope is that the downward pressure on ticket prices will ease as the economy begins to recover, and you'd hope that the Bucks at some point would benefit from the improved product that is being offered this year. Squad 6 alone should make people more excited about this team, and the Bucks deserve a lot of credit for their willingness to discount tickets and offer flexible packages. Buy some tix for the Spurs game here. Something tells me we'll be returning to this topic in the near future, even if it ends up being a rather unpleasant topic to explore.