On the Blazers: Blazers Edge / Oregon Live / Portland Roundball Society / Rip City Project
The Bucks got two days off after their somewhat confidence-restoring and relief-inspiring 98-88 win over the Bobcats on Saturday night, but a home/road back-to-back against the Blazers and Celtics will be a stiff test of whether the Bucks have indeed made enough progress to hang with the big boys.
Blazing Brandons. Portland started 3-0 behind the dynamism of Brandon Roy (25 ppg, 6.3 rpg), though even he was a bit off in Monday night's 110-98 loss in Chicago (4/12 fg, 17 pts, 2 reb, 3 ast). The one bright spot in Chicago was LaMarcus Aldridge, who dropped 33 on 19 shots.
On the other side, Brandon Jennings is coming off one of the best statistical nights of his career against Charlotte, dropping his first career triple-double with 20 points (on just eight shots!), 10 dimes, and 10 boards. Jennings bossed the game all night, combining his usual dose of playmaking with an uncommon amount of shot selectivity and rebounding. Delightful indeed. Still, maybe we should reserve the "best game of his career" talk for a night when he doesn't surrender 26 points on 13 shots to D.J. Augustin. Just a thought.
The Great PF Debate. It's only been three games, but it's safe to say there's a sizable segment of Bucks fans who want Luc Richard Mbah a Moute restored to the starting power forward position he occupied for the Bucks' red-hot stretch run last season. There's certainly something to be said for the "if it ain't broke..." philosophy when it comes to lineups, as evidenced by the spark he provided off the bench on Saturday night. Still, you can also understand John Hammond and Scott Skiles' interest in finding a long-term guy who at least looks like a typical NBA power forward. That was the idea behind signing Drew Gooden and immediately installing him next to Andrew Bogut in the Bucks' front line, but the early returns have been, um, mixed at best. Kind of like opinion over the summer about whether Gooden should have been signed in the first place.
Either way, Gooden is a Buck and the question now is how best to utilize him in a crowded frontcourt rotation that also includes Mbah a Moute, Ersan Ilyasova, Jon Brockman, and Larry Sanders. Personally, I don't think we've seen enough of Gooden to make any definitive judgments of his ideal fit in the rotation, but there's also no reason for Skiles to give him the lion's share of PF minutes if others are more deserving. On Saturday the Bucks were leading 13-3 when he picked up his second foul and went to the bench, so it's not entirely fair to suggest the Bucks were struggling until Luc showed up. But there's also no denying that the 6'8", 230-pound Mbah a Moute played well, while Gooden has shot just 5/17 over the past two games and has battled foul trouble throughout his first week as a Buck.
Fortunately, Gooden still has the size, rebounding ability, and scoring instincts to be a useful player, particularly given his ability to play both big man positions. I'm not going out on a limb there--Gooden's been around long enough for us to know that a) he can be a quality rotation player and b) he's never going to be much more than that. Might not be ideal for the salary he's getting, but I'm not going bury the guy after just a week. And as much as I love what Mbah a Moute brings the table, he's still a role player even as a starter. Even when the Bucks were firing on all cylinders down the stretch, Luc never averaged more than 27 mpg and a decent chunk of those came at SF as well.
So whether he's starting or coming off the bench, playing power forward or center, Gooden will play. Ersan Ilyasova will also get his chance, even if Skiles more or less gave the slumping Turk a night off on Saturday. Skiles also seems intent to get Brockman regular minutes, though if Gooden moves to the bench he could supplant a good chunk of the center minutes Brockman has been getting. And we haven't even mentioned Sanders, who seems like the odd man out unless Ilyasova's shooting touch continues to desert him or somebody else gets hurt. Even Skiles doesn't know how the minutes will end up being split up, but you can bet everyone will get a chance to prove their worth.
Portland's MIA Bigs. Greg Oden and Joel Przyzbilla are still out with knee injuries, leaving Portland with just the aging (but productive) Marcus Camby and (unproductive) Fabricio Oberto in the middle. Camby still rebounds and blocks shots, but the Bucks should be looking to test his mediocre post defense from the outset, if only to get him in foul trouble. It's a nice plan, but it's worth noting that the Clippers probably had the same one when Chris Kaman shot 4/18 from the field against Camby last week.
Nic and Wes. Bucks fans should feel pretty good about their small forward depth with Carlos Delfino and Corey Maggette, but Blazer fans are feeling pretty good about their guys, too. Nicolas Batum isn't a high volume scorer, but he's ridiculously efficient (65% TS last year, 71% going into the Bulls game) and lethal in transition, while former Marquette standout Wes Matthews is a $34 million luxury off the bench. Both guys are known for their defensive prowess, but apparently somebody forgot to tell Luol Deng, who dropped 40 on just 19 shots last night.